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A trunk show is a special event within the fashion world in which an artist or designer puts on a special display of his or her work for review by a select group. The name comes from the fact that a designer or sales rep will literally show up with a trunk of merchandise to show off. These shows are common in boutiques and boutique divisions of department stores. The Chanel department at Saks Fifth Avenue, for example, may put on a trunk show for its best clients, showing off styles from an upcoming season before they are made available to the general public. It is quite common for attendees to have the opportunity to purchase or order items during the event.
These exclusive shows can be very beneficial to small boutiques that do not have the funds or space to buy an entire line of a designer's work. If such a business was interested in highlighting a specific artist or designer, however, a trunk show could provide the opportunity to show an entire line to loyal customers. It also gives a boutique the opportunity to test a new line of merchandise with clients before placing a wholesale order with the designer or artist. If the show is a success and the customers love the products, then the boutique owner can confidently place an order. If it does not go well, however, the boutique owner knows that the items are not right for his or her customer base.
Pre-season trunk shows can also be very informative for designers and sales reps. They can see how people react to their upcoming line before fabricating the entire thing. In this respect, it can provide artists and reps with important market information and can help them plan ahead and make alterations to their production schedules. If, for example, a specific blouse is received poorly at show after show, the designer may have time to take it out of the line before it is produced on a large scale.
These shows are also often held by artists and designers who make one-of-a-kind pieces. A fiber artist who makes lavish, hand-sewn felted coats, for example, might keep herself quite busy traveling about and giving trunk shows. Because loyal and fashionable customers are often on the guest lists, those who attend these events are often on the lookout for the next special item to add to their wardrobes.