Max Azria of BCBG had the first marquee show, and seemed to offer an early indicator for trends, balancing soft, fluid fabrics with tough material and graphic patterns. Azria said it was important to make a strong impression.
"It has to have substance as the first big show," he said in a backstage interview. "I don't want you to forget it."
More than 100 previews are on the calendar here for retailers, editors and stylists over the next eight days, before this crowd heads for London, Milan and Paris. The Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week tents at Lincoln Center serve as one hub, with a smaller but growing second "home" in Manhattan's Meatpacking district at Milk Studios. Still other designers, including Tommy Hilfiger, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren, choose to have their shows in other locations, which keeps the crowd moving.
"It feels like going back to school. I'm happy to have it all start in New York," said Joe Zee, creative director of Elle magazine.
Zee, who also hosts Sundance Channel's "All on the Line," says what he most hopes to see on the catwalks is newness — and no more colorblocking. He likes the look, he explains, but it's a tired trend. Same goes for platform heels. "I know women like it and I know it's more comfortable — and I don't have to wear it — but I'm done with it. I want to see a new idea."
How about happiness? That's what Diane von Furstenberg, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, expects to see a lot of. "I think we're all looking for some lightness and happiness, and I hope I am bringing that to my collection." She shows Sunday at the Lincoln Center tents.
Hilfiger's show will be Sunday at the open-air High Line, an urban park built on an old freight line overlooking the Hudson River, which he describes as an ideal venue for springtime clothes. "I'm always excited for my own shows, but also to see what the other designers are showing; there is a creative energy in the city this time of year that I love."
Von Furstenberg says Fashion Week goes beyond industry insiders now. "People like fashion," she says. "It used to be very trade-oriented, but it's not anymore. It's accessible to everyone because of the Internet, but fashion is glamorous, and it's about dreams and aspiration and desire."
There was high contrast on the catwalk Thursday at the BCBG Max Azria runway show, with leather harnesses sharing the stage — and sometimes the same outfit — with lingerie lace.
Fluid silhouettes were tempered by the tough texture of the leather, and soft, draped crepe fabrics were strong thanks to the graphic black-and-white roots of the palette.
Azria explained that he aimed to capture the allure of femme fatales and the sharpness of Helmut Newton's photography.
Dresses, the BCBG signature, were the most impactful pieces, especially a shirtdress with patchwork lace that allowed just a peek of peony pink to come through the mostly white look, and the black double-weave dress with lace inserts that gave the illusion of many airy layers.
Lace, patchwork, crystal. That could have made for an overwrought, overdone runway, but Tadashi Shoji mostly filled his collection with dresses that captured a modern, clean femininity.
Some of the gowns seem likely candidates for the red carpet, especially the one-shoulder, wheat-colored tulle and embellished gown with floral appliques and lace that closed the show. It had a little bit of pageantry to it, but that's OK for those big moments.
Shoji alternated between those feminine sand colours and brighter hues of blue, "paprika" red and green. The blue dresses, including the boatneck sheath dressed up in lace and the chiffon-and-lace blousoned gown with pleats that created a Venetian-blind effect, were reminiscent of lovely vases from the Ming Dynasty.
Shoji, in his notes, said he aimed to take the audience on a journey along the "modern Silk Road" from Venice cutwork, to Kazakhstan ikat and onward through the Gobi Desert and the ancient city of Xi'an in China.
The Richard Chai Love collection helped set the tone for spring — and toned we'll need to be to wear Chai's clothes.
His sporty styles in a soothing palette of blues and tans that one might find at the seashore featured more than a few bare midriffs. "Apparently, what we'll all want are shorts, anoraks, halters and flat abs," said Melissa Liebling-Goldberg, editorial director of womenswear for Gilt Groupe.
Chai favoured a light touch even if he piled on a few layers: The first model out wore a sheer, shiny cotton-nylon parka with a silk-nylon floral dress with bra-style halter top and flared A-line skirt. For men, Chai offered a crinkled cotton jacket and trouser with a zip-front shirt.
There was also a men's two-tone, double-breasted blazer in contrasting fabrics that might be a hint of a possible yin-yang vibe emerging at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week tents at Lincoln Center. One could also feel it in the jersey dresses that still had definitive blocks of colour but with softer curves than the geometric lines that usually comes with traditional colorblocking.
CREATURES OF THE WIND
Swingy, bejeweled silhouettes from the '60s and shimmery, vintage snakeskin lame stood out at the show for two up-and-comer Chicagoans who call themselves Creatures of the Wind.
Focusing on the technical elements of old couture rather than a specific narrative, Shane Gabier and Chris Peters sent out bright greens, yellows and pinks in dresses, printed skinny trousers and skirts in jacquards, cottons and polyesters.
A full, pleated dress in green had a large, loose bow below the chest with three-quarter sleeves and a skirt the colour of oatmeal with star bursts of massive Swarovski crystals just above the hem.
The two kept hemlines below the knee and built panels of solid colours into prints in jackets, shirts and dresses.
Gabier, 39, said some "punky" details and the early '60s feel is always on the partners' minds as they cater to a range of customers of all ages — and sizes. Is it unusual for Fashion Week designers to show plus-size friendly clothes? "It might be," Gabier said. "I would say yes."
AP Writer Leanne Italie contributed to this report.