Soft launches, hard economic truths

Given the recession, it's hardly surprising designers are being told to concentrate on the resort line, which traditionally was delegated to the design studio.

Mini-films such as the Lady Dior campaign's The Lady Noire Affaire, starring Marion Cotillard, are one of the latest ways for brands to get their messages out.
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If you want to make a big impact in fashion, go for a soft launch. It's the current fashion vibe - this week, at least. A little drum roll and a lot less hype. No celebs. No gimmicks. More focus on the clothes. Take the launch of Phoebe Philo's collection for Céline, which played out in a breezy Chelsea loft in London last week. Philo, remember, unexpectedly quit Chloé in 2006 at the height of her hype so she could spend more time with her young family.

Now the cool London girl is back on the radar, proving motherhood doesn't always turn your brain to goo. She still knows what makes a chick tick - that cringeworthy term catapulted her to fame when she began her career at Chloé with her college buddy Stella McCartney. This was also a resort collection. Traditionally, designers get away with murder on this. Coming slap-bang in between the autumn/winter and spring/summer seasons, the "pre-coll", or cruise line as it's also called, tends to be a "best of" gig, a nod to the new season watered down into a refreshing, safe and extremely wearable cocktail.

Resort collections are designed to sell. And sell they do. Which is why they've become extremely important over the past five years and the last 18 months in particular. While they may not be directional or groundbreaking, their timing more than makes up for it. Hitting stores around mid-October, when the honeymoon period of the wacky ready-to-wear collections is over, they offer choice on the wearable clothes front, often in pretty colours, charming prints and lightweight styles that suit women who travel or live in warmer climates.

The Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz, who will show his resort line in New York this week, says his range is "men's tailoring for women, capsules for travelling and weekend". Sounds good, eh? No wonder buyers will have already blown more than three-quarters of their budgets on wardrobe-friendly pre-collections long before the spring catwalk shows in October. Sidney Toledano, the president and CEO of Christian Dior Couture, recently revealed that Dior resort collections now account for 60 to 70 per cent of annual sales.

Céline was keen to get the ball rolling with its newest designer with a collection that will immediately reap a financial reward as well as put the brand back in the designer super league. The show focused on luxurious standout pieces that were funky, timeless and sleek. You could still see the rock chick handwriting - especially with the long capes, quirky tuxedos, skinny trousers and fabulous heels - along with a more grown-up, womanly stamp. Well, Philo's fans have matured now, so why not her clothes too?

Given the recession, it's hardly surprising designers are being told to concentrate more on the resort line, which traditionally was delegated to the design studio. Sometimes the line gives a taste in July of what is to come in September, but given the fact it rarely gets on the catwalk (saving a big brand half a million dollars), it's an entirely different ball game. The only shock value required is through-the-roof sales.

Another soft launch/high impact approach the designer giants are toying with for the ready-to-wear shows is the mini-film. According to my new friend Leigh Odimah, the fashion blogger behind, this is the latest way for a brand to get the message out there, even if money isn't tight. Dior produced a mini-film starring the crucially hip French star Marion Cotillard earlier this year. Gareth Pugh made his Paris debut with one in January. Alexander McQueen, Karl Lagerfeld, Franck Sorbier, Viktor & Rolf and Martin Margiela have all chosen the mini-movie over a big-budget catwalk show/installation/presentation.

Anyone who thinks this is a lame option might want to observe the enigmatic Kate Moss singing and dancing on my personal favourite mini-movie, Diamond Blues by Nick Knight for SHOWstudio. Knight, coupled with the pulling power of an elusive model, shows how a fashion film can be as powerful a tool as any crowd-pleasing show. I hear the latest SHOWstudio project features Japan's virtual supermodel the fembot in a cyber screen presentation that viewers will be able to direct from the comfort of an armchair. You can't get more of a soft launch than that.