A RESORT collection used to be the equivalent of staring at pictures of Bali when you lived in Kansas and the truck was broke. The clothes were for people who actually went somewhere, who made plans that included special wardrobes.
But now, like so many other things once celebrated in a Slim Aarons photograph, resort has become a huge commercial entity. Some two dozen designers presented collections over the last few weeks. These included well-known names like Oscar de la Renta and Givenchy but also new entrants like Sonja Rubin and Kip Chapelle, who showed minimalist silk dresses in sunset-colored mosaic patterns at their store in the meatpacking district, which gets international customers from the nearby Standard Hotel.
The number of resort collections — beefed up by European houses in New York to present early spring clothes — is simply an acknowledgment of the obvious: the customer wants to shop wherever she is.
With the seasons virtually collapsed into one nonstop season, consumers may not be able to tell a “preseason” Lanvin reversible shift — a classic twofer with frills concealed inside — from a resort Calvin Klein dress in velvet. And she has little reason to care about the difference because in reality she is getting the same thing: wearable clothing.
The casual atmosphere of the resort shows, with small audiences and often food and drink, isn’t the only reminder of the way fashion shows used to be in New York. The clothes are a lot less complicated than they have been in recent years. Francisco Costa’s dresses for Calvin Klein might seem overly textured and dry, but their minimalist style is clear. Alber Elbaz of Lanvin equates modernity with function and playfulness, but a fuchsia bathing suit with asymmetrical straps and a matching pull-on skirt would have to be sacrificed to the spectacle of the runway. In the informal setting of Milk Studios, with editors gathered around Mr. Elbaz, the stylish hybrid makes sense.
Designers and retailers have a separate reason for liking resort. “It’s the longest-selling period at full price,” Michael Kors said the other day in his showroom. As it is, most designers have a limited time in which to make runway pieces and get them into stores before markdowns start, but resort clothing is on the floor for several months.
Mr. Kors travels a lot, and it showed in the range of his resort designs. There was a long fur vest and big sloppy sweaters in organic cashmere for cold places (he mentioned Aspen). He had a white linen suit, a shift in mud-baked duchess satin (it resembled a photographic canvas), and a long tiered dress in washed orange taffeta that said Miami or St. Bart’s. He seemed to have a place in mind, as well as a customer, for every garment.
“I think half the designers never go anywhere,” he said.
Depending on your perspective, resort collections can have either things you’re bored seeing or gems you can’t seem to find anymore because everybody’s become such big shots that they can’t do straightforward things.
Donna Karan, who had a high-styled black-and-white theme with silver, offered a couple of negligee-type dresses that by some fabric miracle are not see-through.
Diane Von Furstenberg was also working a lingerie theme, with camisoles and slip skirts and slinky wrap dresses in striped georgette. Just as appealing, and hard to find when you suddenly need them, were knit halter tops and full-cut bathing briefs in graphic patterns, a style that elides beach and street.
Stella McCartney seemed to have more fun putting together her early spring collection than she did her last runway show. Maybe it was the setting — Gavin Brown’s place in the West Village, where editors stopped in after work (some bringing their kids) and could have chipped ice drinks and veggie burgers.
Looking at a group of models in French blue and lace, Ms. McCartney said, “I’m loving a low shoe.” That was the general mood: pretty, easy-fitting clothes with an element of punch, like a notched mini-coat in cotton twill or a field of flowers on a white dress that was evocative of a botanical print.
One of the strangest looks of the prespring and resort shows was at Céline, where the designer Phoebe Philo came up with a cotton voile tunic in miniature blue paisley with matching pants. One of her press people said it was Ms. Philo’s statement for evening. The outfit looked like a pair of pajamas in a Liberty print. And the more I think about it, the more this naïve idea tugs at my heart. It’s not a boudoir cliché but instead a very particular, almost childlike and certainly very organic view of fashionable dressing, as if a modern Fanny Brawne had conceived it.
The paisley outfit is unusual in another respect. Resort collections tend to be mild extensions of a designer’s thought process. At Yves Saint Laurent, Stefano Pilati continued with his capes and turned medallions of ’70s silhouettes from his last Paris show into printed patterns on simple dresses. Ms. Philo expanded on Céline’s sports and military styles. Oscar de la Renta had a fantastic array of dresses, many with cropped jackets, and a standout example in madras. Balenciaga played with geometric patterns, Marc Jacobswith rounded or scalloped edges and trims.
Some trends emerged, like the lace bits at Givenchy, Derek Lam and DVF. What looked new was the leopard at Givenchy; Riccardo Tisci added the print as a trompe l’oeil layer to a white tailcoat. Resort clothes don’t arrive in stores until November, so you’ll just have to wait for Pucci’s new faded prints, an idea that Peter Dundas got from seeing young women in vintage Pucci.