x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Why big catwalk fashion shows seem so last year

These days it's all about the small, select, pre-collection shows.

First Tom Ford, then Azzedine Alaïa recently staged small, ultra-exclusive fashion shows for "friends", ie wealthy clients who can afford mind-boggling price tags and A-list fashion stylists who don't have a fiery editor-in-chief to answer to.

Ford's guests were made to sign an agreement forbidding them to reveal anything until the clothes were available in shops, which is around now, as it happens. Oddly enough, given the saturation of information available these days, it worked. Just how well becomes clearer as more and more images of the sumptuous black lace autumn/winter collection starts to appear on models in magazines.

How refreshing not to be already bored with a "new season" by August, which is usually the case. I'm sure Ford's customers will be equally thrilled.

Ford and Alaïa's show philosophy bucks the trend of 21st-century catwalk shows. That of spectacular son et lumière theatrics, crazy clothes, stick-thin models and a hoard of hooting photographers, pushy journalists, keen bloggers etc putting words, tweets and images online within seconds.

Not allowing photographers to your show is equally the antithesis of live streaming - the new formula super brands such as Burberry are trying out. Primarily this gives customers the novelty of instant gratification in terms of the promise of goods delivered within months, long before high-street copies appear. Expensive fashion shows, meanwhile, become an extended tool for branding.

Burberry's Prorsum show online looks far more impressive than the one I witnessed first-hand in London, in March, with its zoom-in close-ups and congratulatory air-kissing models backstage.

Last week I went to a discreetly private - secret, even - invitation-only event for the Malaysian-born, British-based designer, Justin Oh. Oh used to show during London Fashion Week, where he would attract Japanese trendy types along with fashion students who would applaud and gasp at his mesmerising handiwork (his signature is slicing fabric with an almost origami-like folding and tailoring technique).

Being particularly hard hit by the recession, he decided to cut down on show costs. Besides, his customers rarely attended the circus his fashion shows had become.

His spring/summer 2012 collection, which previewed on a warm summer's evening in the garden of an art gallery in fashionable east London, gave me an insight into what the fashion show of the future might look like.

No more than 10 static mannequins displaying handmade garments of silk habitai, which included panels that appeared to have been woven like latticed reeds, fluttered in the warm breeze, alongside a silent lily pond.

Customers invited to the Victoria Miro gallery that night included private clients who could not have been anything but mesmerised at this scene of Zen-like serenity and beauty. Here were women who collect clothes in the way one might acquire art pieces by Yayoi Kusama, the revered Japanese artist, whose work was neatly displayed alongside Oh's. Exclusivity is where high fashion is heading. Now that anyone can buy anything online, of course there's a backlash. Change is overdue.

Which brings us to pre-collections, a very modern clothing phenomenon that fits particularly well into the lifestyle of the globetrotting Middle Eastern customer.

Pre-autumn collections in particular have become a way for many wealthy women to slot daywear designer clothes, which cannot be instantly recognised, into their lifestyle.

Exclusivity is extremely important to UAE customers along with pieces that are reassuringly anonymous, lightweight and which travel well.

"Catwalk shows provide the brand with its dynamic aesthetic and creativity leaving pre-collections to demonstrate how individual pieces can be utilised into an everyday wardrobe," is how Harvey Nichols's buying director, Averyl Oates, put it to me.

In the two years since the American high-end retailers set about bridging the gap between what was the traditional summer season and the autumn/winter season, pre-autumn has proved successful for a number of reasons.

Being marketed on a less grand scale than mainline ranges (with absolutely no show), not to mention being less directional, has helped, not hindered, them. Their popularity lies in their ability to cross continents, straddle timescales and blend in with various climates seamlessly. The reassuringly expensive limited edition accessories pre-collection lines (Diane von Furstenberg's Harper bag has a certain Miss Beckham's name on it, I feel) is another bonus.

"Pre-collections serve as an indication of next season's catwalk trends but in a much more accessible form," explains Net-a-Porter's buying director Holli Rodgers, "and cater for customers who look to be at the front of the fashion pack."

Suddenly, going to a fashion show seems very old-fashioned, don't you think?