The rise of the pre-collection
How fashion industry invented a new commercial practice, the role of which proves beneficial for global markets.
As a kid, every summer I used to dread the time when schoolbags commercials would show up on tv somewhere in mid-August. The slightest reminder of the forthcoming new season with its routine and obligations, would fill me with melancholy, as it would make me think that summer would end in a while and time was passing by.
Now that I ’m an adult, something similar happens to me with the September issues of monthly magazines. They show up on news stands and the office mail before we even had enough time to tan, in order to inform us what will be worn in the fall. And by July, department stores and shops with famous brands have already displayed their new fall collections. If you ’re looking for a piece you ’d seen in a magazine or something for the current season, the “new collection” signs cut your appetite. Imagine what this may feel like in a country like Greece, where summer lasts until the end of September. On the other hand, celebrities make formal appearances with designer clothing that will hit the stores 3-6 months later. And we, journalists, write about Christmas presents by October, and mumble about happy florals and the first swimsuits by the minute we wish “happy new year”.
I recently had a conversation about this twisted calendar of fashion, with a friend who happens to be an advertising executive with a deep knowledge of fashion history. As we were walking in front of shop windows whose dolls were wearing sweaters and jackets in the beginning of July, she pointed out how much this rush has deprived us of the anticipation excitement. This phenomenon, though, does not seem to have a broad negative impact on consumers. On the contrary, we seem to be very positive towards anything new, regardless its accordance to the season. We have got used to buying clothes off-season and enjoy shopping sprees without the usual seasonal hassle. After all, it is fun to know beforehand what is to be produced, shown and worn, as it satisfies our curiosity. It also shows fashion’s inner need for renewal.
In this context, a new commercial practice, the pre-collection, was born and is vastly evolving. The pre-collections are the collections that hit the stores before the main ones (Spring-Summer and Fall-Winter). They have their “roots” in “resort” and “cruise” collections, which would appeal to the jet set that set off to exotic destinations after Christmas. Modern pre-collections were developed to meet the needs of consumers, of the fashion industry or both. The most profound “need” is the one of dressing oneself in-between seasons, when the weather does not call for a mere T-shirt, neither for a sweater. There are, of course, plenty of in-between pieces in the main collections, but the power of a consumer’s mentality that may create a feeling of deficiency or a need of renewal, can prove extremely strong. Especially in the summer, when due to sales and vacation, seasonal expenses are “burnt off” long before the “official” calendar ending of the summer, the “shopping gap” that follows, urges us to shop again as soon as we get our next salary and return from vacation, regardless which season the clothes to be bought “belong” to.
That is how a new field of offer and demand and commercial activity is created. Moreover, thanks to pre-collections, merchandisers have the chance to increase the number of pieces to be sold full price, before the sales periods. Even if this sounds uncanny in times of a global financial crisis, when one would expect special offers and limited expenses by consumers, there is of course an explanation: pre-collections are cheaper, thus popular, while there is a decrease regarding the sales numbers of main collections, which are more expensive. Many consumers “build” their wardrobe based on pre-collections, and add a couple of exquisite pieces from main collections. Merchandisers, too, now appreciate the value of pre-collections, since they provide them with 50% or more of their turnover, benefiting from the more wearable style and lower prices of the pre-collections’ clothes.
So in the last few years, pre-collections were upgraded, obtaining photo shoots, ad campaigns, a place in magazines and their very own presentation days, similar to fashion weeks, while a few years before, the merchandise would just be sent to shops so that the latter wouldn’t look half-empty in-between seasons. This whole progress made the commercial “fashion production” so frantic, that some of its representatives find it difficult to follow and even quit the business.
This summer, fashion historian Vassilis Zidianakis* mentioned a very characteristic example of such despair in a conversation we had, that shows how these frantic rhythms “burnt out” a great artist, non other than Issey Miyake. The Japanese designer had told him that “he retired in 2000, because he thought it was inhuman to produce two collections every year together with parallel products (accessories, perfumes, etc.) under the same brand. It ’s like a championship”.
So, are we, consumers (especially the ladies) participating in an expenditure championship? The question is rhetorical if we take as judgement criterion the basic clothing needs of a human being. In realistic terms, each one of us knows if he or she is overindulged in spending money for clothes. What is interesting to see, is how this relatively new commercial practice of pre-collections will evolve in the future. For now, pre-collections are winning the bet, having gained an equal commercial place next to main collections, thanks to consumers’ acclaim. So, will their impact bear down on main collections, making them less expensive, in favor of a broader public, or will the industry use this acclaim to gradually raise the prices? What will happen is not of course arbitrary, but depends on global economy.
In any case, if you ’re getting pissed when you can’t find something seasonal in famous brands’ stores, check out shops at your neighborhood, the ones that don’t belong to popular brands or a local designer’s showroom.
*member of Atopos Contemporary Visual Culture, which has presented the exhibitions “RRRIPP!!! Paper Fashion” and “Arrrgh! Monsters in Fashion”
1st photo: from the May 2010 issue of Vogue US
2nd photo: from th invitation of Chanel’s pre-2012 cruise collection