02/16/2012 10:20 EST | Updated 04/17/2012 05:12 EDT

J. Mendel keeps to his furrier roots while carving out a new niche

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Gilles Mendel moved his New York Fashion Week catwalk from the smaller venues he's used in previous seasons to the largest space the Lincoln Center tents had to offer him — and he filled it with swank.

The looks that debuted Wednesday moved seamlessly between the expertly crafted fur he is famous for and the goddess red-carpet gowns that are exposing him to a larger audience.

An ivory chiffon-embroidered gown with tulle insets and a fully pleated bottom seemed ready for the Oscars.

"I love J. Mendel, first of all, but at the Emmys this year he lent me a dress that accidentally got shipped to stores two months early, and he had it pulled from all the stores so I could wear it, and I didn't have one of those things where someone has the same dress on as me," gushed Kelly Osbourne from the front row. "No designer has ever done that so I love him so much and I'd never felt so pretty before and I love it!"

Also in attendance were Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.

Mendel favoured a light, feminine touch that fashion insiders haven't seen all that much in the first seven days of seasonal previews for fall. There was a long, graceful shape to the white cashmere coat with a white fox collar worn with a pleated chiffon blouse and wide-leg pants, and he put a fresh spin on the leather look that's been all over, using textured alligator, often paired with fur.

He was inspired, he said, by a Helmut Newton-Diana Vreeland spread from an old issue of Vogue shot in Spain with Gaudi's modern architecture in the background. "I feel like it spoke to the DNA of the brand. There's the luxury of materials, rich textures and curves, which I see sliding over the curves of a woman's body."

It's not uncommon for him to mine old art books or fashion magazines, saying he is a voracious reader.

So does he have a book-club recommendation? "I'm actually not reading anything. For the past three months I've been absolutely absorbed by this collection."