After a Fashion: Resorting to Pre-Spring

Confused about Pre-Spring? So is everybody else. Even Ralph and Frida.

Resort used to be a teeny-tiny little fashion season for ladies who flew south in winter and needed something un-velvet to wear to holiday galas there.

I remember you used to see these ladies at the Philadelphia Antiques Show in April, instantly recognizable in a sea of pale faces by their dazzling tans, usually set off by luxe furs.

Travel is less regimented now: People seem to resort to resorts whenever they feel like it, as long as they can afford to. Also, they go to all sorts of places — yoga camps in Costa Rica or trekking in Nepal — but hardly ever to the sort of grand 1930s hotel with a 40-piece rhumba orchestra where everybody dresses for dinner like you remember from Fred Astaire movies and think of when you hear the words “resort wear.” So there’s less call for the candy-colored evening frocks and white-linen day dresses and spectator pumps that ladies wore at those old-school resorts.

Which may be why folks are so confused lately about resort collections — which, in any case, are now more usually referred to as Pre-Collection or Pre-Spring.

There’s Pre-Fall, too. You don’t hear much about these pre-collection collections because most designers don’t do big shows with star-packed front rows and limo gridlock and chunks of plaster falling on fashion editors’ heads from the crumbling ceilings of out-of-the-way exhibition spaces. They save all that hoopla for Spring and Fall proper.

Here’s the weird thing, though: Even though the Pre-Spring and Pre-Fall collections tend to be short on fashion news, not to mention general weirdness and wild after-parties, they’re where 70 percent of the clothes that stores actually sell come from.

Which has to make you wonder: If the stores have already done 70 percent of their buying before the designers come out with the Definitive Big-Deal Damn-the-Torpedoes Spring and Fall Collections that showcase their artistic visions of the coming season to front rows full of movie stars and standing rooms packed with long-suffering fashion victims, what’s the point? Why even have them? Why pay to produce these over-the-top extravaganzas full of weird clothes that nobody’s going to wear anyway? And why make people with the bad luck not to be movie stars or Anna Wintour wait in line for hours to see them?

The standard answer used to be: “Oh, they’re just for the press.” Which makes no sense. Reporters go to fashion shows to see what everybody will be wearing next season — not what nobody will be wearing, ever.

It’s one reason I quit going to shows a few years ago. That, and the torture of standing in the endless lines and having to contend with the flustered young women who presided over the chicken-scratch seating charts. (Alphabetical order was Greek to most of them, for starters.) But of course the shows must — and do — go on, and now some designers have even started doing big-deal productions for their pre-collections, which tends to confuse things even further.

“It’s called, ‘Everyone is confused!’ ” At least according to Ralph Lauren, quoted in The New York Times after his Pre-Spring show of “tightly edited navy-and-white polka-dot and striped classics.”

“It’s very confusing for us,” Gucci creative director Frida Giannini seconded from her suite at the Carlyle, ensconced among pastel cashmeres, florals, distressed denims and giant sailor pants.

Which makes me feel better. If Ralph and Frida are confused, why shouldn’t I be?

OK, there’s a difference.

Ralph and Frida (and Michael and Carolina and Karl and Phoebe and Donna and the rest of them) are confused about the purpose and seasonal parameters of Pre-Spring — how can a single season, not to mention a mere mini-season, include both a Carolina Herrera double-faced cashmere coat and skirt that will show up in stores in October to be worn immediately and for the rest of the winter, as well as a number of Herrera’s organza gowns meant for dancing under the stars in the tropics in January, to borrow Times reporter Vanessa Friedman’s example?

My own confusion is a few seasons behind theirs. Mainly: Where are my summer clothes?

For this summer, I mean. I need them now.

In theory, they’re tucked away in polystyrene crates in the sewing room. But my crate labeling was slapdash and sporadic, so I can’t tell which crates. Also, there are too many crates in there. I can barely get into the room myself.

Another source of confusion about Pre-Spring, according to the Times story, is about dominant trends, or the absence thereof: “After five weeks of resort, no revolutionary look or ‘it’ item sticks out.” Could this be because there’s just not that much appetite for a revolutionary look? Is it possible that we’re just not in the mood for some new “it” item at the moment?

Or is it just me? I personally suspect that we’ll manage just fine muddling along with the looks we already have. You know: pants, T-shirts, dresses, shirts, jackets, jeans and so on. Assuming, that is, that we can find them.

On the bright side, there’s a chance that, if I do gather up the courage to wade into the over-crated chaos of the sewing room, I may, in the process of searching for clothes to wear now, also come across the crate of turtlenecks I never found last fall, which will put me a step ahead come September.

Write to Patricia McLaughlin in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106 or email