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Style file: Season liberally

Fashion seasons and meteorological ones have never seemed more out of sync. What has caused this stylistic climate change?

Gone are the days when swimwear on the catwalk meant you were seeing spring/summer collections, while heavy coats indicated autumn/winter. Today, as the collection cycle continues to evolve and revolve at ever faster speeds, non-catwalk collections, such as pre-fall (the 2014 season will be delivered to stores in a month’s time) and resort – or as it’s sometimes known, cruise – are becoming ever more important to brands’ commercial offerings, and their  all-important bottom lines. 

It’s the same mentality that has seen pursuit of the ultimate balance between high and low, the haute with the humble, become a designer preoccupation. And it makes sense, to a certain extent – as anyone who has ever gone to buy a bikini for a late summer holiday knows, the fashion seasons don’t correlate to the weather outside. Even the so-called January sales can’t stick to the traditional timeline: many now get under way before Christmas, with retailers caught in a stalemate that means that as soon as one starts discounting, its competitors have little choice but to follow suit.

It’s January when spring/summer stock starts arriving in store, too. Ushering in the new year with new collections may make sense, but the fact that the “season” is over by July makes shopping for summer clothes a more urgent prospect than it need be – who wants to start thinking about beachwear when they’ve barely digested the last of the Brussels sprouts?

So what is causing the fashion world to get stuck in fast-forward? Is it designers looking at an increasingly globalised customer base, with China’s rise shadowed by Brazil, Russia and India? The fact that the most recent round of shows started in New York’s Polar Vortex and ended in sunny Paris? Or are click-to-buy initiatives that have turned the catwalk into another shopping forum to blame?

Burberry has been a key player in the rise of the latter – in 2011 it was one of the first brands to launch a service that allowed its customers to buy certain looks when they were presented on the catwalk, for delivery two months later. In the same year, American site Moda Operandi launched to allow its members to pre-order pieces straight from the runways of 30 designers – essentially, before they arrived in traditional retailers. This February, mimicking the fast-food inspiration behind Jeremy Scott’s  Moschino debut, the label offered a capsule collection of 10 pieces to buy online from the boutique Browns straight after the show.

Of course, these straight-from-the-catwalk initiatives would gain no traction if customers weren’t able to actually see the shows. A decade ago, the international collections were more akin to top-secret, high-security trade shows – albeit with extremely glamorous wares on show. The images that did emerge were printed in “proper” publications – newspapers and magazines – the next day or even the next month.

But now such affairs are opesigns proliferating across Instagram and Twitter within seconds of appearing in the spotlight.

With such immediate distribution of ideas across the globe, is it any wonder that customers are ever more eager to get their hands on what they’ve just seen? After all we’re now living in a time in which the idea of delayed gratification is not just antiquated, but almost perverse.

Given the increasing demand for “next season now”, designers are turning the tables on the traditional seasonal markers. Take Miuccia Prada, for instance, who for spring/summer 2014 showed a collection chock-full of coats. Many of these were made from thick pelts of brightly dyed mink – a choice that many would find unjustifiable even in the coldest months – while others came in dark colours not usually associated with summer: khaki, black and navy-dominated.

For Prada’s autumn/winter 2014 follow-up, the seasonal pick ’n’ mix continued, with sheer dresses being one of the collection’s signature motifs.

The cliché may be that black is never out of fashion, but showing it for spring/summer still makes something of a statement, as does the use of unexpected bright or light hues for autumn/winter – just look at the fuss that was caused over last season’s proliferation of pastel coats, while winter florals are still recherché enough to cause a sense of excitement. But is that all this switch-up is? A way to generate a bit of a buzz while creating something instantly covetable?

While designs are leaping from the catwalk to the closet ever faster, there is a theory that they’re staying put longer once they arrive. Instead of seasonal obsolescence, designers are now attempting to create something less transient with their work, and so these pieces are meant to be worn this season and the next, and the one after that. Followers of fashion will continue to get excited over the new, but they’re also blending it with the old – another one of those high-low mixes that are so on trend, for now.