Under the surface of the cropped tops, slip dresses and sheer fabric trends appearing on the SS14 catwalks, another trend was forming and it wasn’t all lightness and grace. A platoon of designers didn’t seek their inspiration from the sun-drenched holiday resort or from balmy city nights, instead the collections they showed had a distinctly wintery feel.
The theme was strongest at Marc Jacobs, whose declaration, “I didn’t want that cliche of Spring and Summer,” was realised. He presented a heavy palette of pine, navy, port and black, on oversized sweaters layered over high-necked, floor skimming lace dresses. Sleeve lengths were three-quarter to full, referencing was gothic, and floral prints were more home-furnishing than wild meadows of summer. In a sea of head-to-toe white, this was all quite refreshing.
He wasn’t the only designer to veer away from the high-summer looks; Prada showed long-sleeved dresses worn with knitted leg warmers in a khaki-hinged palette. The fur coats, though decked out in bold prints, were not items you’d be packing for the beach. DKNY showed trenches layered over blazers, and dresses worn over roll neck sweaters. And then there was a host of clever designers whose entire collections could act as a year-round capsule wardrobe: Michael Kors with his leather skirts, cropped sweaters, a fur stole, bikinis and fluid silk dresses; Burberry with their seemingly candy-sweet collection which carried snuggly coats, roomy cardigans, scarves and acres of lace; and Marni, whose visors, sunglasses and bandeau tops worked seamlessly amongst patent leather bombers and full sleeved, belted dress coats.
What’s going on here? This group of designers are not an off-the-wall, commercially-shunning bunch, they’re the pack who set the bar for the industry. Generally, if they’ve spotted something, the industry will follow. Topshop Unique’s show attracted criticism for endless strappy dresses. So is the industry turning its back on the sun?
In fact, no, these smart designers have sussed that the change in the way shoppers consume fashion – in an endless stream of newness, shared repeatedly and refreshed obsessively – has resulted in a change in the way shoppers buy products. With digital allowing consumers to immerse themselves in a collection, in a moment, they want product when they see it or as soon as it is ready.
Spring/Summer collections start arriving in store as early as February and there are few places in the Northern hemisphere at that time of year ready for a camisole dress and pool sliders. As late as April this year UK retailers were battling against snow whilst merchandising their summer ranges. Non-food profits at Marks & Spencer fell by 3.8% in April, prompting them to kickstart a series of one day sales. And as Lord Wolfson, chief executive at British retailer Next, sagely says, “Consumers don’t need to shop in advance anymore”. They want to buy for now, and now is very rarely on holiday.
That’s reflected in commercial activity. Looking back in our searchable retail database, we can see summery maxi dresses selling out at Northern hemisphere retailers, and at every price point, including Elliat’s sheer number at Urban Outfitters and Michael Kors’ floral print maxi at Saks Fifth Avenue (incidentally, from his AW13 collection – he’s smart). We can also see outerwear and sweaters doing well through June, July and August when consumer attention is supposedly shifting to bikinis and kaftans.
Adjusting the filters on our database, we can hone in on a specific retailer and understand what’s been selling out for them in any given time frame. Take Net-a-Porter, for example, in the last month they’ve sold out of a £750 Canada Goose padded coat, a £1,880 wool cape by Stella McCartney, a £575 Marc Jacobs silk jumpsuit and a £400 printed silk chiffon dress by Theyskens Theory. More than ever, an online retailer’s market is global (both Net-a-Porter and Farfetch’s third biggest market is Australia, and it’s ASOS second largest), so a one-season-fits-all mindset does not work. With too many retailers stung by unseasonal weather, designers merchandising their collections to include a range of functions, occasions and climates is on the money. As demand drives these collections to be shoppable earlier and earlier, is it relevant to even slap a seasonal label on them?