It's December and there is a buzz of excitement in the air. It can only mean one thing. Cruise collections have arrived. "Cruise" (don't call it cruisewear) or "resort", as Americans call it, is no longer about clothes you wear if you are planning to sit at the captain's table on a flashy, Caribbean-bound liner.
Yes, originally, cruise was aimed at wealthy Americans who travelled somewhere hot/glamorous prior to Thanksgiving/Christmas, and needed the appropriate holiday gear. And yes, it was famous for being glitzy and loud, bland and shapeless, worn by cruise-loving Sexagenarian-ish customers.
Which makes its current, ultra-modern makeover even more remarkable. While it remains glamorous and exclusive (it's still considered very "in the know" even among fashionistas) it is very youthful and universally modern.
The supermodel Arizona Muse wears the latest Louis Vuitton cruise in a beautiful campaign (shot by Mark Segal in Corsica), which is both elegant, colourful and luxurious: three very cruise attributes. Cruise, which comes out in early December until the end of January preceding spring/summer ranges, like its sister transitional range, pre-fall (which comes out in July lasting until October), is more about beautiful, covetable separates than those catwalk show pieces that you see copied on the high street.
Formerly regarded as an inconsequential "palate cleanser" before the juicy main course arrived, "pre" collections, especially cruise, are now relied upon to give a "taster" of the next season while reworking house favourites in hugely popular limited edition-type pieces.
The novelty value of cruise is being particularly embraced by designers who are looking beyond traditional markets such as Europe, with its hot summer and cold winter seasons, towards emerging high-fashion-loving markets such as the Middle East, Asia, India and Brazil - which not only happen to enjoy a year-round milder climate but also appreciate fashion as a sort of cultural Braille rather than simply an enjoyable form of "gotta-have-it" retail therapy. Elie Saab, the Lebanese designer who was beloved by Middle Eastern customers long before he was discovered by Hollywood, is the most recent designer to launch a cruise range. He seems to be using it to push his brand into less formal daywear with more casual takes on the luxurious evening wear he is famous for, with great effect.
For several years, possibly since the Lehman Brothers' collapse, cracks have started to appear in the traditional fashion seasons (spring/summer and autumn/winter) formerly set in stone. Accessibility to fashion shows and information six months before clothes hitting stores, along with global warming I fear, has interfered with the fashion calendar and will continue to do so.
It's worth noting that pre-collections now account for up to 60 per cent of department store buyers "spends" (in other words spring/summer and autumn/winter between them only get a 40 per cent slice of the pie).
If you were only now starting to refresh your wardrobe, I'd advise giving autumn/winter ranges a miss with perhaps the exception of Givenchy's homage to Versace prints, Mulberry's metallic gowns, Jil Sander's homespun knits and Valentino's cobweb lace blouses.
Cruise is a far more worthwhile investment and more up to date than winter sales. Which explains the excitement. This would be my "wish list" - in reverse order - which includes up-and-coming trends to look out for including lace, jewel colours and the latest styles of cropped, theatrical jackets.
10 Alexander McQueen's calf-length hourglass lacy dress with cap sleeves. Sarah Burton called this "romantic utility". I'd say more an edgy take on the Duchess of Cambridge's heavenly bridal gown.
9 Miu Miu's pale nude Edwardian jacket with its black Peter Pan collar and printed puffball is utterly new and yet evocative of the 2012 film, Woman in Black (out in February).
8 Stella McCartney's Hawaiian prints and blazers in tropical lemon make you want to go on a cruise.
7 Burberry London's crêpe safari trouser suit with flared trousers hint at YSL, but remain super-modern.
6 Balmain's pale pink skinny jeans. Effortlessly cool.
5 Michael Kors's "Bond girl" long black T-shirt dress with slices cut out of the waist and slashed to the navel. Outrageous yet casual.
4 Elie Saab's nude sequin pleat knee-length crossover frock sprinkled with twinkling beads. What Marilyn Monroe might wear if she were alive/age 21/on a red carpet today.
3 Carven's camel puffball dress with white Peter Pan collar, long jacket and Minnie Mouse shoes. An updated version on the girlie, Alexa Chung combo.
2 Nina Ricci 1960s satin pencil skirt and nipped-in, cropped, satin jackets are the shape of things to come.
1 Lanvin's dandy Highwayman jacket. Timelessly fashionable. A woman of any age/style could wear this. Well worth the price tag (which, knowing Lanvin prices, is possibly the same as the cost of a short cruise).