Why Are There So Many New Seasons in Fashion?

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Lanvin Fall/Winter 2011
The finale at Lanvin Spring/Summer 2011

This week, Savoir Flair takes on the confusing circumstances surrounding fashion “seasons”. Even the most uninvolved individual knows something about the dominant seasons in fashion: Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter, but trying to explain how Spring/Summer takes place in September and Fall/Winter takes place in February, with plenty of time between the catwalk and retail shelves, can be a downright headache. It used to be that the explanation was simple: the ahead-of-season show schedule was supposed to allow brands enough time to show on the runway and then create their commercial lines according to buyer interest.*

This all makes sense, at least on paper. Brands create collections that accord with the seasons, showing ahead of time in order to establish dominant seasonal trends, and to help you plan and execute a fresh wardrobe by the time said season actually rolls around. However, there are a multitude of factors that are disrupting the current model, and they start and end with fast fashion and its effects on the industry’s ability to create. Let’s say XYZ brand debuts a really cool sequined coat on the runway that has media outlets and social media platforms buzzing post-show. You bookmark the look to refer to for the forthcoming season, but on your next trip to Forever 21 or H&M you see its exact doppelganger hanging on the rack at an unbelievably low price. The staggering fast fashion model has the ability to turn around a copycat look from runway to retail in two weeks… or less. Not only is this a horrifying notion when taking into consideration the extreme pressures that real humans undergo in order to physically execute these gigantic orders – not to mention the manufacturing of fabrics, packaging, and marketing that takes place as well – but it also has a detrimental effect on the creative process overall. Fast fashion’s rip-off game has landed it in hot water plenty of times before, but that hasn’t stopped these retail giants from running roughshod over the creatives who originated the concepts they are ripping off. Unfortunately, fast fashion is a paramount example of the pitfalls in the supply-and-demand economic system. We see an idea of something amazing on the runway, and in no time can own a scaled-down, poorly made version of it to wear and dispose of before the real version ever makes it to the store.

How has the larger fashion industry responded to this? By adding more seasons. This is where it gets really confusing. The longstanding Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter seasons actually don’t spend much time on the retail shelves (usually 2-3 months). So fashion has added Resort and Pre-Fall to the schedule, because they actually spend as long as six months on the retail shelves. It seems counterintuitive to introduce new seasons rather than to adjust the current model by extending the range a brand shows at Fashion Week, increase production time, and ensure that the seasonal lines stick around in stores longer. The main difference one can find between Resort and Pre-Fall and the traditional Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter seasons is that they are trans-seasonal in nature, which means they possess an aesthetic that is functional, travels easily, and is easily mixed-and-matched with other elements of a seasonal wardrobe.

The introduction of new seasons, by financial measures at least, appears to be working, at least for some. Michael Kors was one of the first to jump on the Resort season bandwagon, and after his marked quarterly success, other brands followed suit. Now most of your favorite names in fashion show Spring/Summer, Resort, Pre-Fall, and Fall/Winter. Some also show at Paris Couture Week, and participate in diffusion lines, capsule collections, and brand collaborations either with artists, other brands, other designers, or major influencers (like Alexa Chung x A.G.).

However, there is a downside to all of this that has been reflected most recently in the departure of major designers like Marc Jacobs, Raf Simons, and Alber Elbaz, from the brands they helmed. At separate times, they have all come forward to decry the accelerating pace of the fashion industry. When they started, they were stressed enough about sketching, planning, orchestrating, and executing large-scale shows and collections for Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter, but over time their jobs evolved to include creating for the new seasons as well. This more than doubled demands on their time, and drained their creative resources.

When it comes to progress, especially the kind that lines the pockets of investors and multi-national conglomerations, there is no going back. Although we could wish for a simpler time in fashion, when we had only two seasons to contend with, that is the way of the past. The future is here, and we’re presented with only one clear path: keep up.

*Commercial lines are the products that actually make it onto the retail shelves. Only a fraction of what is shown on the runway is produced commercially, and even then can be modified from its original form to accommodate middle-of-the-road tastes or real-time brand budgets. That means the fully sequined dress you fell in love with on a runway might not be nearly as blinged-out or eye-catching once put into production.
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