Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Out of Season

The Milan and Paris menswear shows mark the beginning of the spring fashion round, with couture and women's ready-to-wear still to come. Except for couture, the clothes won't be in the shops for half a year. It becomes increasingly hard to find a rationale for this crazy fashion schedule imposed on designers. How much longer can this system can go on? Winter clothes arriving in the shops in July; only end-of-lines available in the run-up to Christmas, when people are more ready to buy, and nothing new in the shops in December, when the other great pull, the sales, are on. Does it make any sense to have fashion clothes available to buy when only the most demented fashionista wants to spend? (Winter coats in the shops, end of June, is a mantra of madness.) And none when the majority of women do. You couldn't make it up.

The irrationality of the situation highlights the fact that the fashion business is terminally old-fashioned. It's out of step with the realities of most women's buying needs. The calendar we work on evolved before World War I, was looking creaky in the fifties and was terminally out of date by the sixties, the era when young women realised that they didn't need a winter coat and could wear a mini in January without dying of hypothermia. In the days of strict divisions between seasonal wardrobes there was a rationale: central heating was rare; cars, buses and most transport were cold; and heating in offices and homes was kept low for economy. None of this applies today. And, even with this month's icy weather, it is clear that winters are just not as cold as they once were. Certainly in the cities where most of us work, simply because of the heat from buses and cars, neon lighting, stores with tropical temperatures belting out into the streets through open doors - and of course the body heat of the millions more workers who flood in each day – we simply do not need the luxury of winter clothing. As I see it, once everyone wakes up to that realisation, then much of what the fashion industry currently produces becomes not just irrelevant but really rather stupid. Am I missing something here? Or are they?

Less than sixty years ago, when fashion meant high fashion and designers created couture alone, secrecy was at a premium at the collections. No photographs, not even any sketching allowed, on pain of banishment for life. (This isn't the place to tell why - but another time, perhaps.) Now fashion has become a business where everybody demands immediacy - which is why the bloggers could change the whole picture very quickly.

In the past, the seasons were dictated to a degree by the lead times of magazines - two to three months (newspapers gave shows very limited coverage, if any at all). And that set the rhythm. Women waited to see the season's look in their favourite magazine. They had no choice. But not now. Why should women be expected to wait for six months to buy clothes they can see on the day they are shown? Seen the pictures, want the clothes, seems a reasonable argument.

If only the fashion industry could acknowledge that simple view then, with dramatic changes in timings of manufacturing and delivery of clothes, profits might come back. After all, buying is a 24/12 occupation for women of all ages in the West. The flow of new clothes, including those by designers, needs to be the same. Wouldn't everything get better if there were no longer the need for journalists, photographers and buyers to spend days and weeks traipsing from one capital to another to see designer suggestions for new seasons that actually don't exist any more? It would certainly save on carbon footprints and travel and accommodation bills, while also making high fashion much more realistic - and more desirable - for most women.


  1. Your arguments are so erudite and well reasoned - a voice of sanity in a fashion world gone mad! This is yet another example of how the fashion world needs to revolutionise itself in order to keep up with change. Why is no-one listening? The same argument was brought up in the September Issue by one of the USA's biggest retailers.

    Am addicted to your blog!

  2. You're absolutely right: it's insane and it's been insane for years. The arctic weather early this month only underlined the bonkersness of it all - not a decent coat or jumper in the shops for love nor money. And I have the February issue of (British)Bazaar in front of me, and - inspired as I am by the exquisite take on the new nudes, pale beige off the shoulder chiffon feels even more incongruous when one is wearing a vest, two cashmere jumpers and a scarf because the heating in the office isn't working properly.

    There's something even odder when it's online - all one can buy on Net-A-Porter right now is S/S10.

    I think the recession will force a radical overhaul of the fashion seasons - at least, I hope it does. Galliano may have said 'it's a credit crunch, not a creative crunch', but let's hope that creativity applies to the business model as well as the clothes themselves.

  3. Colin says "No photographs, not even any sketching allowed, on pain of banishment for life." (This isn't the place to tell why - but another time, perhaps.)
    Well actually yes please do! soon.
    I remember when Balenciaga and Givenchy banned Vogue et al, so that there was no mention of them in the 'Collections' issues, and one had to wait until the next month for any, if any, mention of them. Exclusivity was all. I met a lady who dressed at Balenciaga on the premise that the first season she wore the garment it stopped traffic for being so extraordinary, the second season it was thought how amazingly fashionable it was, and the third season the understated elegance was admired, so with few [relatively] garments she could always be as avant garde as she wished.
    I know this is nothing to do with the timing of clothes in the shops ... but since I mostly make my own that is not a problem for me

  4. Dear Mr. McDowell:

    Your plea for a complete overhaul of the fashion retail cycle (both the show system and the lag between presentation and delivery to stores) is one I've heard from a number of sources. I sense it's gaining traction in certain quarters.

    I first heard it from designer Roland Mouret during the launch of Net-A-Porter's iPhone application (NetApp) last July here in London. As I'm sure you know, Net-A-Porter broke new ground in July 2007 by streaming on its site Roland Mouret's inaugural RM collection and offering customers the possibility to pre-order the entire collection for later delivery.

    One of the most exciting revelations of that evening last July is when the dashing Mr. Mouret admitted that within hours of that online presentation, he had pre-sold a whopping 60 per cent of his collection. This result is all the more stunning when one considers that it was achieved without the usual fashion industry ritual of presentation to fashion editors, review by influential critics, publication in monthly style magazines, etc. Traditional fashion media was effectively bypassed (at least initially) to reach the consumers directly.

    As a consumer, I find this format very empowering. I personally don't want a designer's collection "filtered" by editors and buyers. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing an appealing garment on the runway only to learn that buyers from various retailers have decided not to stock it. Perhaps the fashion industry's salvation resides in creating a more or less direct conduit between the designers and consumers?


    The Luxe Chronicles

  5. This is going to change.....it must. The fact that designer collections have been knocked off and presented in high street chains before the original collection even hits the shop floor must surely also be a factor!! The retailers will have to realise the stupidity of selling bikini's in Jan , in Ireland? Customers will not wait 6 months to wear something they have seen online, the net a porter /RM project will be seen as paving the way, and designers will move toward direct selling, I do believe it will happen.