A few weeks before Chanel's Métiers d'Art pre-fall collection – a sneak peek at the forthcoming autumn 2012 season that simultaneously shines a light on the savoir-faire of the brand's craftspeople – word got out that the theme would be Paris-Bombay.
In a curving upper gallery of the Grand Palais, faded walls featured Indian decorative arch designs, massive crystal chandeliers dangled imperiously and a banquet table running the length of the room heaved under gold-dusted fruit, perfectly formed floral domes, garlands of flower buds, confectionery jars and a logo-emblazoned toy train that zipped around the display tugging decanters of honey-hued liquor. Guests were seated along long walls behind tables elaborately set for high tea.
Karl Lagerfeld focused on the bygone decadence of maharajas, adding, of course, his own edge and attitude. Mme. Chanel's classic bouclé jackets, insouciantly adorned with chains and pearls, took on a different personality when paired with draped wrap skirts and metallic liquid leggings, even more so when models came out sporting faux dreadlock coifs and nose chains evocative of traditional bridal tikka.
Although Chanel's is the grandest of pre-fall shows, the brand is just one of numerous other labels positioning a formerly industry-oriented category as a standalone season. Unlike the ready-to-wear collections, wherein each major fashion city gets its turn to host a series of shows, the pre-fall collections do not follow any organized schedule (yet). Instead, they are staged in New York, Paris and London during the last week of November and into early December.
Imran Amed, the Canadian founder of the influential website Business of Fashion, explains that larger-scale pre-fall shows and presentations offer more content for the "seemingly insatiable appetite" that has developed around fashion. "Brands have started using the pre-collections as another communication opportunity," he writes by e-mail from New York. "Static presentations for a small group of buyers have morphed into full-scale fashion events with more elaborate collections, reviewed by major websites and attended by editors of major magazines."
(Some labels do remain holdouts; Dries Van Noten signalled his disinterest in adding another collection to his plate in a recent Wall Street Journal article.) While Chanel's Métiers d'Art is a lavish exception – the clothes are pricier than ready-to-wear, reflecting the hand-applied finery – pre-fall is for many brands a specifically commercial imperative.
During a visit to Toronto last spring, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler revealed that it is their brand's "bread and butter."
"The pre-collection exists because stores want product earlier," Hernandez said.
"It's not just about the delivery," McCollough added. "It's more commercial, it's more affordable."