Times, and the climate, they are a’ changing and it’s this very subject that has had the fashion fraternity chattering during the latest catwalk season. Industry experts have proclaimed that because the weather no longer follows the pattern of four distinct seasons, fashion can no longer do so either. Maybe it’s just me, but I never really got the impression that certain sectors of fashion – particularly the fashion shown on international catwalks – paid much heed to the four seasons anyway.
I asked one designer retailer last week what he expected to sell well this autumn and he looked slightly puzzled. Autumn 08 was over already, he said, and they were focusing their thoughts on spring 08 stock, which was due to start arriving in November. That’s right, just as it starts to get really cold, they’ll be wheeling out the cotton dresses. And they will sell because at that end of the market, it’s all about owning the latest thing, even if it will be months before it’s warm enough to wear it, by which time customers will be buying their next winter coat.
He admitted that the shortening of the autumn/winter season was a huge pressure, even if his clientele were fashion obsessives who will spend whatever the weather and whatever’s on the rail. Back in the real world of the high street, it’s an even greater pressure, judging by the number of mid-season Sales on at present and the high percentage of the discounts. It’s not uncommon to see 50% off.
Some sages have suggested that the problem will be solved by designers putting more transitional clothing into their collections, which is a perfectly sensible idea.
However, how do you convince consumers to get excited about the latest collections if, essentially, there’s not much difference in terms of fabric weights and colour from the last ones? Many designers and brands have been producing pre-season or cruise collections for years now anyway.
On top of that, the whole system that surrounds the sector is geared around two major buying seasons, from the catwalks to the trade shows and showroom rounds. Exciting though these events are, there would be few buyers prepared to go to more of them every year. That said, a tweaking of the schedules wouldn’t go amiss, so that buyers (and fashion journalists) can at least have a summer holiday at the same time as the rest of their families.
Quite what the solution is I don’t know. But it’s clear this industry can’t bet its fortunes on the weather any more. Trying to cheer up one young fashion retailer this week, I suggested the rain may encourage customers to buy macs. “No – this is no good,” he said. “What we need is snow.” And, who knows – by next week we may have it.