Pre-collections, such as Karl Lagerfeld's, are on the rise. Photo: AFP
NEXT month, the fashion world begins its twice-yearly merry-go-round of fashion shows. This time around, designers and brands in New York, London, Milan and Paris will be showing collections for autumn/winter 2013. That might, in most people's minds, denote the colours of falling leaves, coats, opaque tights, hats and gloves … what we wear when the weather changes, right? Wrong. In recent years, winter collections have included exotic hothouse flowers and miniskirts with bare legs and sunglasses, while the most recent round of summer shows featured layering, coats and a whole lot of very winter-worthy black.
This isn't designers getting confused - instead, it's part of a bigger trend towards a sort of seasonless style. In a world where we spend time in artificially cold or warm environments thanks to airconditioning and central heating, the demarcations between the seasons are not as clear as they once were. Add the washout summers and warmer winters created by climate change, plus the growing global market for high fashion, and the blurring makes even more sense. It may be about 7 degrees in London, but in Mumbai it's 34 degrees and humid.
This is a problem at the heart of fashion right now - British Vogue ran a three-page article addressing it in a recent issue and designers are getting involved in the debate. ''The problem at the moment is that you look at a winter show and you want to see warm clothes,'' says Jonathan Saunders. ''In actual fact, in the whole other half of the hemisphere, it's warm, and you deliver in July.''
To an increasingly show-literate audience of shoppers who have style.com in their bookmarks bar and get access to behind-the-scenes snaps from fashion insiders on Instagram, the collection in store starts to look a bit stale earlier than it used to.
While Saunders believes that eventually the industry will have to change to accommodate this new demand, a stopgap has been the rise of pre-collections - resort and pre-fall. Originally designed for wealthy customers jetting off for warmer climes in the winter - hence the name resort - these collections are designed to come into shops in November (resort) and May (pre-fall).
''Pre-collections have probably been more visible for about the past five years,'' says Susannah Frankel, fashion director of Britain's Grazia magazine. ''The rise of fast fashion partly explains that - people know a lot more about fashion now than they used to and they want to see new things more often.''
Generally more commercial than catwalk pieces, pre-collections are increasingly bringing in a greater total revenue than the autumn/winter and spring/summer shows. A lot of stores are spending 70 per cent of their budget on these collections in order to ensure the shop floor is topped up with new pieces all the time: pieces that can be worn throughout the year.
So could this spell the end of the seasonal fashion show? Probably not - but its function will evolve. Instead of selling clothes, the catwalk is now about exposure. ''The show is about the brand image and the pre-collections are about keeping that momentum,'' says Ruth Chapman, founder of London boutique Matches. ''These pieces need to be trans-seasonal. Our online business is 50 per cent international and the climates where people live obviously make a big difference.''
Jennifer Baca, managing director of Erdem - one of the first independent London labels to add pre-collections to their brand - says it has been a learning curve. ''We have to service the customer in the Middle East, Florida, Russia - everywhere,'' she says. ''It's mind-boggling.''
In another topsy-turvy move, high-fashion brands have started to take note of fast-fashion retailers such as Zara - where deliveries are small and often, with stock delivered twice a week, for instant-access fashion.
Brands including Stella McCartney and Acne have started adding another smaller collection for high summer, dropping into store in April, and taking the total number of collections a year up to five.