Unpacking Pre-Collections, Via Chanel’s Metiers d’Art Show

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Cara Delevingne and Karl Lagerfeld during Chanel's Metiers d'Art Show in Salzburg, in December 2014Cara Delevingne and Karl Lagerfeld during Chanel’s Metiers d’Art Show in Salzburg, in December 2014

Earlier this week, Karl Lagerfeld presented his Chanel Métiers d’Art SS Paris-Salzburg collection – again. The collection — Chanel’s equivalent to pre-fall — was initially presented in Salzburg, Austria in December last year as part of the regular pre-fall schedule. This year, though, Lagerfeld decided to take the collection on tour to New York for an encore performance. Kicking off with a decadent cruise of the Hudson River on Monday night, Largerfeld presented the collection Tuesday evening at New York’s Park Avenue Armory, which was decked out to resemble an Austrian palace. Same clothes, almost exactly the same models, but with a killer after party that featured plenty of extravagance and a live performance by Pharrell Williams.

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Image: Alexa Chung at Chanel’s Métiers d’Art Show in New York

It’s not uncommon for the big fashion houses to stage an encore performance of their ready-to-wear collections, though this would usually take place somewhere like China to cater for the ever-growing Asian market. It’s even more rare to see such royal treatment for one of the so-called in between collections. As the fashion cycles just keep turning faster, though, it’s no surprise that Mr Lagerfeld would be the one to take his pre-collection on the road. Especially given that, like couture, his Métiers d’Art collections in particular are a celebration of fine artistry and craftsmanship. Now known for his mobile Métiers d’Art and Cruise collections, Lagerfeld’s Chanel tour will this year also include Seoul, Korea for Cruise in May and Rome, Italy for the following Métiers d’Art season in December. That’s not to mention his recent fall 2015 collection presented in Paris, Haute Couture scheduled there for July and the spring 2016 ready-to-wear collection that he will present there in September/October. This latest trend of doubling up the presentations across different cities has really got us thinking about the growing importance of ‘pre’ collections.

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Image: Julianne Moore at Chanel’s Métiers d’Art Show in New York

As opposed to ready-to-wear, there has always been an important commercial element to both the pre-fall and resort collections. As Harrods’ chief merchant, Marigay McKee explains to Vogue, “Whilst runway is incredibly important, it arrives much later and therefore pre-collections are vitally significant and highly commercial. All of our big International designer and contemporary labels offer pre-collections and increasingly smaller brands are introducing a pre-collection offering, to ensure the floor is constantly refreshed with new deliveries”.

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Image: Vanessa Paradis at Chanel’s Métiers d’Art Show in New York

Importantly, pre-collections can offer an insight into what’s in store for the label’s forthcoming runway collection, but they are often more accessible to the consumer as well. This is the clothing that would make up the bulk of most women’s wardrobes, as it constitutes the more practical pieces that one can wear time and again. As designers turn more time to these collections though, it seems that the face of ready-to-wear is also evolving as a result. Certain fashion industry stalwarts are particularly displeased with this process.

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Image: Karl Lagerfeld and Beyonce at Chanel’s Métiers d’Art Show in New York

Respected fashion critic Suzy Menkes, for example, is very unimpressed with the current system, suggesting that accelerated trend cycles and the growing significance of pre-collections has created a “phony current of desire and longing” in consumers. Menkes argues that fashion media and critics are out of sync with fashion’s fast new pace, reporting extensively on collections many months before they hit the shelves. In her opinion, this creates unrealistic expectations for consumers and allows high street retailers to produce cheaper imitations before the luxury labels have even released their versions. Menkes’ disdain for this process is understandable, but also a little obsolete. The fact is that fashion does move at a much faster pace today and the proliferation of technology and social media now mean that we can expect to view a collection immediately as it shows. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it has meant that the importance of the pre-collection is now greater than ever. These in between seasons help to blend both the commercial and creative sides of a brand and help to keep their designs on shelves year-round to compete with the high turnarounds of many high street chains.

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Image: Isabella Manfredi at Chanel’s Métiers d’Art Show in New York

Unlike Suzy Menkes, I don’t believe that ready-to-wear collections will soon be relegated to couture-like status, existing primarily as a laboratory of ideas. Though there may be some truth there, I believe that ready-to-wear collections will continue to remain a key part of any brand’s identity. Considering the hype that surrounds fashion month in both February and September each year, it’s unlikely that this will decline in importance anytime soon. There is still a customer who wishes to purchase looks directly from the runway and this client loyalty is what has always kept fashion houses afloat over the years. Ramon Martin, one half of New York based label TOME, says that each season they have their loyal customer who buys from the runway. That said, though, “resort and pre-fall are becoming unique seasons in their own right, so they have to stand apart from everything else you do”, he explains. “Increasingly, they are more fashion-focused, but still with that commercial element running through.” Martin goes on to explain that, for TOME, the time they are dedicating to these collections is increasing all the time, because the demand is also increasing. “[These collections] give designers the opportunity to be a bit more fashion-forward for runway and still back it up with product in a pre-collection”, he says. “More than anything though, I think it helps the customer to break into the world of a brand, because it’s a little bit more approachable. So we always have that in the back of our mind when we’re working on Resort.”

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Image: Phoebe Tonkin at Chanel’s Métiers d’Art Show in New York

Kate Reynolds of Melbourne-based label Pageant believes that consumers are a bit confused at the moment. As part of VAMFF, Pageant’s most recent collection was available for purchase direct from the runway. “That’s really powerful I think”, Reynolds says. “Especially now, with consumer expectations the way they are. It seems that people are so confused at the moment. They’ll see the new Céline collection on Instagram and be like ‘Why can’t I buy this now’?”

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Image: Courtney Eaton at Chanel’s Métiers d’Art Show in New York

But as she points out, smaller independent labels — and also many large luxury brands with mass orders to fulfill — can’t afford the tight turnarounds of companies like Zara. This is where the pre-collections can offer a reprieve amongst the madness. Usually more simplistic — and therefore more commercial — in terms of construction, these collections provide the backbone for many women’s wardrobes today and, increasingly, for many brands’ offerings as well.

Though pre-fall and Resort collections may be increasingly the go-to for consumers today, there will always be that must-have item from the ready-to-wear runway too. This is precisely what keeps that keeps the fantasy alive.

Liked this? Read these articles by Rosie Dalton:

1) 5 Practical Ways to Make Your Wardrobe More Sustainable

2) This is How Much a $10 T-Shirt Actually Costs

3) We Talk Shop With Australia’s Next Big Thing, Elissa McGowan

4) TOME Talk Returning Down Under and Making it in New York

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