Resort Report 2011: Fashion Experts Answer Ten Big Questions, Like ‘Why Does This Season Exist?’

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Photo: Courtesy of Elie Tahari, Cynthia Rowley, and Zero + Maria Cornejo

More than 75 resort collections have been presented in the last month, and the runway images continue to trickle in. What used to be an eye-roll of a season — if you could even call it that — is now an exhaustive precursor to the madness that is everything else on the fashion calendar (spring, fall, menswear, couture, etc.). How did this happen? When did resort, a collection traditionally targeting well-to-do vacationers, snowball into such an unwieldy undertaking? And what implications would an official third season have on the fashion industry, its constituents, and the public at large?

We asked designers, editors, buyers, and other industry players to weigh in on these questions and more — including what to call the damn thing if nobody wants to call it resort. Click through to read their answers, and to throw your own two cents in the comments section.

First things first: This term "resort." Some designers bristle at its use because they say it's too loaded, conjuring images of rich people flitting off to exotic destinations. Instead, they call their collections "cruise," "holiday," "pre-spring," "pre-summer," "pre-collection," and other names that make no sense to anyone working outside fashion. This can't be a legit season until we all agree to call it the same thing. So, what should we call it?
“I prefer 'new'" says Julie Gilhart, fashion director at Barneys. Designer Maria Cornejo of Zero + Maria Cornejo suggests "transitional," "since it's meant to take you from fall to spring, and has to bridge both areas." And designer Cynthia Rowley, who says "resort" sounds "elitist" and democratized the season by presenting her new-slash-transitional-slash-resort collection down by a van on the curb, would rather just count it out: “Last year ... we tried calling them collection one, collection two, collection three, which is really what it is." Clearly there's still work to be done in this arena.

Does it make good financial sense for designers to produce resort collections?
In many cases, yes. "If you talk to any designer, they'll tell you that they do really well with resort," says Council of Fashion Designers of America executive director Steven Kolb. "In some instances, it's better than spring." Gilhart concurs: "The sell-throughs [the percentage of shipments sold per month] are typically higher, so the business side of a design company is seeing opportunities for this time." Moreover, resortwear has a longer selling period than other seasons (up to six months), which means it doesn’t get marked down as quickly and items can be reordered if they’re particularly popular.

How did the resort season get its start, and when did the collections expand from dresses you'd wear on cruise-ship decks to a trans-seasonal plethora of boots, jackets, sundresses, swimwear, and everything else?
Patricia Mears, deputy director of the Museum at F.I.T., says resort collections are hardly a new phenomenon. “If you look back to the great fashion houses between the two World Wars, they were doing four collections a year,” she says. What’s different today is the sheer number of designers and labels, and the elaborateness with which they present. “[They've] ramped up quite a lot. Just look at the extent to which, say, Karl Lagerfeld hosted these really razzle-dazzle events. It’s extraordinary the degree to which [designers] are putting these things on.” Jason Wu says his resort 2011 collection was his biggest one yet, and that its sheer volume (nearly 75 pieces, only 25 of which were shown) speaks to the growth of his company. "I just added some new employees and we moved to a new space, so we're really growing up," said Wu. "I wanted this collection to show the evolution of me as a designer." Collections have also gotten bigger because designers have wised up to the fact that incorporating a host of seasonal garments results in better sales. "Designers have to look for new markets and market segments," says Simon Collins, dean of fashion at Parsons. "Many produce diffusion lines, but resort allows them to stay at the same level and expand." Designer Tory Burch, whose collection paired moon boots with parkas and hot pants, just wanted to have something for everyone: "Our main priority is making sure that our customer always has something new."

Why do most of the resort shows take place in America, as opposed to London, Paris, and Milan? Europeans take way more vacations than we do.
Nathalie Rykiel, creative director of Sonia Rykiel, says that Americans "seem to plan ahead in terms of what they’re going to need, and so buyers are always looking forward." Fern Mallis, former VP of IMG, agrees it has something to do with Americans' voracious shopping habits, but also suspects America's diversity of climates plays a role. "It's important to [stock] clothing that’s relevant to the population," she says.

Is resort a decent (read: safe) time for designers to experiment?
Linda Fargo, senior VP of fashion presentation at Bergdorf Goodman, says yes: "[Resort collections] have become important petri dishes for the crescendo of ideas seen on the spring runways." For Cornejo, it's about "trying out new fabrics and looks" to see how buyers and shoppers react.

There was a rumor flying around that resort was so much more elaborate this year because Anna Wintour decreed — er, requested — it. True or false?
False, at least according to Vogue publicist Patrick O’Connell. “[Wintour] is an advocate for both a more condensed resort collection time frame and presentations [as opposed to full-on runway shows],” he says. Cynthia Rowley, meanwhile, pinned the resort outbreak on the public's constant need for newness. "The retailers are buying smaller quantities more often and closer to the dates," she says. "So it just makes sense that you would speed it up and put more stuff out there.”

Are there any downsides to the resort boom?
"My office looks like a bomb exploded," a weary Cornejo tells us via phone. "There’s stuff everywhere from the three collections that we’ve been working on at the same time. More than ever, the pressure is on." Mears worries that smaller designers will suffer under the demand for extra output: "They're the ones under greater pressure because they don't have the cadre of junior designers."

Some resort attendees complained about the monthlong hodgepodge of shows and presentations, taking place all over town. Why isn't the season better organized?
"We send continuous memos and directives to ask people to contain their shows to the first two weeks of June," says Kolb. "There will always be people who fall outside of it, but the more that we continue to put the message out there, the more people will follow. The truth is, if you have too long a period of resort, then editors and buyers suffer from fatigue and will lose interest." Indeed, editors were scrambling to keep up. “I would appreciate more coordinating,” Harper's Bazaar editor-in-chief Glenda Bailey told us last week, as she rushed from the Hearst building to yet another appointment. “It would be great if we could get it to be more time-efficient!" Rowley suggests restricting shows to one week, especially to benefit out-of-towners.

What were the fashion highlights of the season?
"I liked all those bandeau tops at YSL, [though] I'd look a little silly in them myself," says fashion writer Derek Blasberg (whose opinion on YSL is being hotly contested at the moment). Vogue senior fashion writer Mark Holgate was smitten with Michael Kors's new collection. "He took a lot of his signature pieces and rendered them in organic fabrics," he notes. "It was an interesting way of thinking about resort, but also thinking about his label and what fashion could be." Bailey, meanwhile, appreciates the season's sense of "lightness and optimism" and the designers' return to minimalist dressing. To see a slideshow of New York fashion director Harriet Mays Powell's twenty favorite looks, click here.

Is resort finally on its way to becoming a real-deal season, equivalent in stature to spring and fall?
“I don’t think that resort will ever get tents set up in Lincoln Center or elsewhere, no," says Mallis, but she appears to be in the minority. "It already is," says Collins. "The idea of two deliveries per year [spring and fall] sustaining an avaricious buying public is becoming outdated.” Holgate seconds that: "It's a major season for retailers, and we certainly look at it very closely and use the clothes in the magazine. But it’s not going to become like the [other] collections in the sense that people are going to four cities around the world to look at major runway shows. The way it’s presented is different, but no less valid." The verdict? So long as the invites come, the editors will too. Says Mickey Boardman, creative director of Paper, "[If] they want me, I’ll come — if it’s ten times a year, twice a year, once a year."