When Is ‘Prefall’? As Soon as You Want It to Be
Clarissa Bronfman has no use for hoary fashion strictures. Ms. Bronfman, a jewelry designer and lanky social figure, was casting a covetous eye on a leopard-spotted Dior dress at a gussied-up yard sale in the Hamptons last week. True, the dress represented the designer’s prefall line. “But I’d wear it right now in the city,” Ms. Bronfman said.
She was at least as partial to a densely embroidered, flower-patterned skirt. Why stow it away, she reasoned, when she could trot it out instantly as the perfect companion to a white T-shirt and flats? The concept of seasonal-appropriate dressing is, to her thinking, as stale as a week-old croissant. “Maybe I’m wrong,” Ms. Bronfman said, “but why should I follow the rules?”
Why indeed, many of the guests were asking themselves at this invitation-only shopping event set amid the sprawling lawns of a house in Amagansett, N.Y., the home of Jennifer Carlston, a partner in Covet New York, a shopping and travel concierge service with a presence online. Visitors were poring over jewelry-laden picnic tables and were rifling through racks crowded with high-ticket dresses, ponchos and sweaters that beckoned invitingly along the garden’s outer rim.
Their ardor came as no revelation to Sarah Easley, a partner in Kirna Zabête, the progressive Manhattan fashion outpost, which, with Covet, organized and played host at the daylong affair, a Hamptons variation on a pop-up shop. “Our customers are becoming fatigued with what’s in their wardrobes already,” Ms. Easley said. “They want some instant refreshers.”
As in a pair of Azzedine Alaïa knit sheaths, an Altuzarra color-block pullover, a kaleidoscopically patterned Valentino dress — each from its designer’s prefall collection, substantial enough for autumn, but airy enough to be worn on the spot. “Early fall,” Ms. Easley said, “no longer necessarily means leather, fur and cashmere. Now it just means ‘new.’ ”
Like their style-focused counterparts across the country, many of her customers were having trouble curbing their acquisitive urges, rationalizing purchases that ranged from a few hundred to several thousand dollars with a conviction that the shelf life would extend from now until past the first frost.
“ ‘Buy now, wear now’ is such an important mantra in our industry,” said Ken Downing, the fashion director of Neiman Marcus. “Customers like the immediate satisfaction of shopping closer to need.”
Indulging in a bit of fantasy, Kara Feifer, a full-time mother, sashayed around the garden in a blue-and-gold Duro Olowu silk frock from the designer’s early fall line. “I can see wearing it on a yacht on my birthday in August,” she said.
Michelle Bergeron McMaster, a furniture designer, saw no reason to put off buying, and wearing, a Veronica Beard fall blazer with a cable-stitched dickey tucked inside. “You can switch out the cable,” Ms. McMaster said, “add jeans and a white T-shirt and a chunky necklace, and you’re done.” She wasn’t about to justify her splash-out. “So much of fashion is about immediate gratification,” she said.
The industry is, in fact, betting on it, offering items conceived to be worn throughout the year and in widely disparate environments. “Designers are becoming very climate-sensitive,” said Stephanie Solomon, the fashion director of Lord & Taylor. “The trend today is to ship more fabric-friendly merchandise, since everybody wants, sooner rather than later, to update their wardrobes. A change of print or color palette — a tweed-patterned silk, a plaid or a floral on a dark ground — will satisfy that need.”
Her arguments helped explain the allure of a riotously patterned, richly hued Peter Pilotto shift at the Kirna Zabête/Covet outing. “This would be O.K. in a corporate environment,” said Patty Trojan, a banker on break from her job overseas. “In Hong Kong, there aren’t really any seasons,” she said. “People try to adhere to a fashion calendar, but it’s hard.”
Like her contemporaries here and abroad, she gleans much of her advance intelligence from the Internet. “These women are seeing collections at the same moment we are watching them from the front row,” Mr. Downing said. “So it’s no surprise that they’re interested in pieces even before they arrive in stores.”
Certainly the web contributes to a heightened awareness of early fall trends, among them wide-leg pants, culottes, mixed tribal prints and short sleeveless dresses that, come fall, can be repurposed as jumpers or worn under bulked-up knits. Blogs, Instagram posts and fashion-centric television shows fuel a sense of urgency, especially among the style-alert.
“Fashion lovers want to be first,” Mr. Downing said. “If there is a special piece, they want it now.” In the words of Geren Lockhart, a fashion and beauty consultant who was among those scouring the racks in Amagansett last week, “You have to kind of snatch it up, because you know it isn’t going to be around.”
By Ruth La Ferla
The New York Times July 31, 2014, Page E6 New York Edition