July and August is traditionally a quiet time for designer retailers, when the racks are filled with end-of sale items and the eagerly anticipated autumn stock has yet to arrive. It is usually a time when customers give their credit cards a rest until September - much to the dismay of boutique managers. However, you may have noticed in recent years that you can buy a winter jacket in July and a bikini in January. It might sound topsy-turvy, but the stores are merely responding to customer demand for new fashion. Already celebrities are hitting the red carpet dressed in what look like summer fashions, but you've not seen them in the boutiques because they won't be delivered until November. These summery ranges are cruise collections that were shown behind closed doors to store buyers last month - and film stars naturally like to be ahead of the pack. Meanwhile, hitting Hong Kong this month are the pre-autumn collections, which were shown to buyers in January and are an appetiser to the main autumn collections that appeared on the catwalks in February and March. Cruise and pre-autumn are essentially bridge collections. 'Cruise' or 'resort' collections originate in America from the days when wealthy women took cruises in winter and needed swimsuits and summer dresses that were out of season. Pre-autumn is a transitional collection giving stores the opportunity to replenish stock in between the summer sales and autumn deliveries. The American cruise collections and a handful of Paris brands are usually presented in New York but without the same fanfare of the main collections. This is a huge advantage as many buyers spend most of their season's budgets on pre-collections (with the rest going to runway pieces). That figure is increasing every year. 'We keep our collections small and focus on our customers and buyers - not the catwalk statements,' says Justin Thornton of British fashion label Preen, which launched its first cruise collection last year with Net-a-Porter. It sold out almost immediately. Its debut pre-autumn range is about to hit the rails at D-Mop. 'It is great for stores when they need new stock mid-season and for us it is fun to target our customers directly,' he says. Lane Crawford has been stocking pre-collections for years, but 'over the past four years, pre-collections have globally taken on a stronger importance for stores and customers,' says fashion director Sarah Rutson. Rutson attributes this rise to smart shoppers who are eager for early deliveries and who want to preview the new season's trends. 'This is key, along with the fact that pre-collections are now becoming more fashion relevant,' she adds. In the past, pre-collections mainly consisted of fashion basics that bore little or no resemblance to the catwalk collection or the designers' signature style. This however has changed. Calvin Klein's creative director, Francisco Costa, says pre-collections now serve as a testing ground for the catwalk as far as designers are concerned. If a look is well received, it can be developed and embellished for the main catwalk collection. Christian Dior chief executive Sidney Toledano says the collections 'combine the innovations and ideas of the main catwalk shows yet are less exposed. They are collections that transcend seasons yet constantly add the Dior elegance to your look.' For many houses pre-collections are small, but for Dior, which presents in New York, 'it is quite the opposite - the cruise is a much larger collection with many more pieces than presented in the ready-to-wear shows.' The reason for this? 'Cruise is aimed at buyers ... we cater to a greater number of styles and combinations for each look,' Toledano says. Not only do the ranges help boutiques and design houses maintain a turnover between seasons, shoppers also like the idea of wearing clothes that are not so readily identifiable or easy to date to a season. 'Of course, it depends on customer preference,' says Audrey Sun, chief operating officer at Harvey Nichols Hong Kong. 'Some would only go for catwalk looks but some prefer more subtle outfits.' The pre-collections of Matthew Williamson, Missoni, Alexander Wang and 3.1 Phillip Lim are especially popular at Harvey Nichols. They offer pared down versions of catwalk styles, but 'with better fit and additional details, or [preview] styles that are going to be seen in the next catwalk show,' says Sun. Thornton at Preen talks about reworking the label's iconic 'power dress' (first worn by Amy Winehouse, then Gwyneth Paltrow, who helped it go global), which has a fitted bodice and bubble skirt with a banded hem. 'Evening dresses transcend seasons and it is easy to carry forward the body-con ethos, reworking it into summer and winter seasons [with different fabrics and colours],' he says. The biggest appeal of pre-collections is the price. The clothes may not have graced the catwalks of New York or Paris but they are often far more wearable and a lot less pricey than catwalk items. A catwalk dress from Preen might be GBP2,000 (HK$25,500) but a pre-autumn piece will cost from GBP650 to GBP800. The attractive prices have encouraged stores to allocate more of their annual budget to these collections, some spending up to 70 per cent. At Lane Crawford the pre-collection budget now equals more than half the seasonal buy, says Rutson, who invests in fashion favourites Lanvin, Givenchy, Alexander McQueen, Helmut Lang and Stella McCartney. These inter-seasonal ranges also make good sense to young designers who always find themselves at the bottom of a factory production schedule. There is such a short delivery period between the spring collections presented in September and delivery in February that a clutch of talented young British designers such as Giles Deacon, Christopher Kane, Erdem Moralioglu, Roksanda Ilincic and Richard Nicoll have just launched cruise collections to guarantee they have designs on the racks from November until at least next February when the main collections from Marc Jacobs, Yves Saint Laurent and Dior arrive. What started as a trickle a few years ago is gaining such momentum that it stands every chance of remaking the fashion landscape for both designers and retailers. 'I believe the timeline for collections will change in the future, so that pre-collections become the main and what was main will become a much smaller capsule collection than it is at present,' says Rutson.