There's been a significant amount of hemming and hawing over the fashion cycle: Winter clothes are shipped to stores during the worst of the July heat, and spring outfits land in January and February, when it's still bitterly cold in the Northeast.
But what's a fashion brand to do about it?
If you're Tamara Mellon, and you have the resources, the answer is to produce clothes in-season. As we reported last week, Mellon's new collection—which hits her website, Tamaramellon.com, this November—will feature winter coats when it's cold, spring dresses in the spring. And instead of securing a spot on the fashion week calendar, Mellon plans on showing the collection just a few weeks before it hits the store.
Esteban Cortázar, the fashion wunderkind/former Emanuel Ungaro creative director who famously refused to work with Lindsay Lohan after her appointment as artistic director at the long-struggling fashion house, has taken a similar approach to his exclusive collection with Net-a-Porter. In June, Cortázar showed his pre-fall collection just days before it hit the site.
Burberry, as well known for its tech-savvy approach to shopping as it is for that famous tartan, has also experimented with "buy now, wear now." In 2010, its April Showers collection was launched, rightly so, in April—hoping to be an antidote to that time when the spring collections have been on the floor for too long, and the fall items are still a few months away. While the 30-piece line of rain coats, polo shirts, dresses and more was a one-off, there are other, similar initiatives that continue. Since 2010, the brand has sold a selection of pieces straight from the runway, with a delivery time of just eight weeks.
From Mellon to Burberry and everything in between, it's hard to believe there's not some sort of seasonal sea change happening in fashion. But what we must remember is that none of these projects are beholden to the wholesale cycle. The media tends to blame itself for the customer's need for instant gratification. Remember, before the Internet, very few people got to see full collections until they hit stores. Designers, including Tom Ford and Phoebe Philo, have tried limiting photography at their shows in hopes of creating more excitement when the clothes actually hit stores (and fending off counterfeits).
But the major driver of the cycle may be department stores and boutiques. Wholesalers have required fall deliveries in July and August, spring deliveries in January and February, pre-spring deliveries in November and December, for as long as any of the buyers working there can remember. To change the production schedule now would mean many public companies losing millions and millions of dollars—something that just isn't okay in a shaky economy. Sure, there's a chance customers will be more satisfied, but retailers can't yet afford to make that bet.