Trunk Shows Make a Comeback for Elite Designers

Prabal Gurung Trunk Show Invite

An invitation to a good old-fashioned trunk show.

Just when we were starting to think retail was all flash sales and online coupon deals, along comes some throwback news:  A growing number of designers are taking their collections on the road in traditional, old-fashioned trunk shows.  These designers hope to increase their customer base through the totally non-digital, face-to-face interaction, and to get feedback on their clothes from consumers.

The relatively new designer Prabal Gurung — he launched his eponymous line in 2009 — is pre-selling his Fall 2011 collection at cities all over the country, saying, “It’s important for a woman to relate and in some way have a connection to what she’s wearing. Our trunk show business continues to strengthen each season.”

Despite their quaint roots (Bill Blass popularized the trunk show after World War II) these kinds of shows are a valuable tool for keeping up with the growing expectation that buyers can get their hands on next season’s collections as early as possible.  A recent cocktail party/one-hour trunk show for designer Jason Wu yielded $200,000 in sales, some of it in pre-sales for his fall 2011 line — all of which has yet to be manufactured.

The trunk show has the potential to be a boon across the retail landscape, with major department stores hoping to share in the excitement by hosting them.  Saks Fifth Avenue, for instance, invited some of its best shoppers to lunches featuring designers like Carolina Herrera — who was happy to offer her designs for sale.  Shows like these also help retailers survey what their customers are looking for: dealing with shoppers from across the country on such a personal level reveals the difference between, say, what women in Palm Beach want versus New Jersey.

Still, despite all their benefits, trunk shows still occupy a pretty rarefied sector in retail.  The women invited to them are the women who can pre-order forty-one pieces from a runway collection, as one customer did at Jason Wu’s D.C. trunk show. As a result, trunk shows tend to be a nice-sounding throwback to another era of consumerism, while also reeking of exclusivity.  Though they’re certainly an interesting counterpoint to the increased egalitarianism of runway shows themselves.

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