The Boots of Summer Augur Seasonless Revolt of Autumn

“Ultimately, it’s the fashion industry that has simply confused the consumer about seasons,” said David Wolfe, creative director of the Doneger Group, a trend-forecasting company that advises retailers on future fashion trends. “The industry has painted itself into a corner by making shows available to the public. A woman who is faced with shopping for winter clothes is already looking at pre-spring 2009 collections, and by the time it arrives in stores, it looks a season old even though it’s just getting there.”

Anna Bingemann, a stylist with the Magnet Agency who works with Gwyneth Paltrow, Naomi Watts and Uma Thurman, was responsible for the Balmain sequined black minidress look that Ms. Paltrow wore to the London Iron Man premiere. “A winter look,” she called it.

“What I think has blended fall and spring looks into one is that we’re seeing it in celebrity weeklies in May,” Ms. Bingemann opined. “But the looks she was wearing would just now be getting to stores, in September!”

 

EYELET FOR AUTUMN

“It’s a challenge for retailers, because they want everything off the runway now!” said Ms. Solomon—“they,” meaning consumers. She recently introduced a Get the Look Now section at Bloomingdale’s, responding to the demand for out-of-season looks (and also, of course, driving it).

“When we saw that leather motorcycle jackets and ruffled blouses were coming down the runway in March, by April we had a section of motorcycle jackets and ruffled blouses,” she boasted.

A couple of years ago, Laura Wills, owner of Screaming Mimi’s, a vintage boutique on Lafayette Street frequented by Claire Danes, Chloë Sevigny and Yoko Ono, began keeping a wide selection of boots on display year round. “Our mothers used to put away the white shoes and bags after Labor Day,” Ms. Wills said. “But now you can put out a white eyelet blouse in the fall and it will sell.”

Accelerating the pace even further are the designer knockoffs executed by H&M et al. practically overnight, sometimes making it to stores before the very collections they’re replicating. “Designers recognize the problem, but they can’t change,” said Mr. Wolfe of the Doneger Group. “So what they end up doing is making fall clothes in very light fabrics so that women can wear them right away. The fall collections are very indicative of this. We saw so many lightweight dresses in sheer fabrics—things that look like summer—shown for fall!”

Critics were puzzled by the fall 2008 collection shown by Roberto Cavalli, which opened and closed with flowing, shoulder-baring summer dresses in yellows, creams and floral prints—but perhaps Mr. Cavalli should be heralded as a visionary of the new order. Chloe’s fall collection, while in richer tones, was also dominated by micro-flower prints and chiffons that looked more summer than winter. Stella McCartney, Diane von Furstenberg and Nina Ricci have also been called out by retailers for keeping up with the accelerated fashion calendar by merging the seasons.

Designer Alexander Wang, who’s still in his early 20s, has sent trans-seasonal looks heavily based on layering down the runway for his past three collections. Mr. Wang’s black leather vest ($850) has become “the hottest item ever” at the Blue & Cream boutique in the Hamptons, according to owner Jeff Goldstein. “Both Lindsay Lohan and Charlotte Ronson just bought one,” said Mr. Goldstein. “It’s a fall item, and I won’t get another delivery until October, but these girls are wearing it right now, in the middle of summer.”

Alice + Olivia designer Stacey Bendet started shipping her fall collection at the end of June. “I like designing outside of the seasons; I also like being able to mix a big chunky sweater with a slinky little dress,” she said. “I think the customer wants what’s new and fresh on the floor and often that’s a boot or a coat in the heat of summer.”

A boot or coat here or there might be new and fresh, but the new seasonlessness has also produced offensive mutations: think sleeveless coats, wool shorts, and the most severe example currently available in stores: the peep-toe thigh-high boot by Martin Margiela ($1,195). It will make your entire leg suffer in the heat of summer and expose your toes to frostbite in the winter. And knock-offs are abounding.

But Ms. Steele, at least, predicted that the days of seasonless dressing are numbered. “It will cause a huge uproar when it finally happens, but sooner or later the fashion system is going to have to shift from having seasonal collections appear six months before they hit stores,” she said. “No one wants to wait anymore! It would improve sales if the shows were scheduled closer to the date when people wear it,” she continued. “But it’s like turning around a battleship. It’s really hard.”

ialeksander@observer.com