09/07/2013 04:57 EDT | Updated 11/07/2013 05:12 EST

Prabal Gurung's clear catwalk updates the elegant lady of yesteryear

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Could there be a better muse for a hyper-feminine collection at New York Fashion Week than Marilyn Monroe? Not in Prabal Gurung's world.

Photos of Monroe's "Last Sitting" with photographer Bert Stern, along with ladies in 1950s shirt dresses and workers in hazard suits, decorated Gurung's inspiration board backstage on Saturday at New York Fashion Week.

"It's celebrating the preservation of and elegant woman who's always been a source of intrigue and inspiration for me and sort of presenting her in a modern context," Gurung said.

He added, "Sensuality with a little bit of a danger, femininity with a bite — that's what I've always been attracted to."

The spring collection he showed at a venue deep in Manhattan's main post office building was built on the idea of "the idealized woman."

But don't confuse Gurung's feminine muse with a girlie one: The sheath dresses with unexpected cutouts and harnesses, and the pearlescent pink shirtdress and sky-blue draped dress with a cascading back ruffle were more chic than sweet. (He did use some lovely pastel shades, though, especially mint and lavender.)

The finale gown, a black column with a white satin panel embroidered with vertical blocks of black and purple sequins, was incredibly artful and worthy of the elaborate stage setting. Gurung had all the models boxed inside clear plastic panels, and one by one, they'd take a spin around the runway.

Transparency was a theme here, including an eye-catching sheer sheath with a giant, hand-embroidered red rose, paired with a slim rose-painted pencil skirt. There also was a printed PVC raincoat worn with green silk skinny pants.

He also showed a crisp white shirt — seemingly simple from the front — that had an open back engineered with a clear, plastic harness.

Gurung said in an interview that sometimes the craftsmen he works with are skeptical of his requests, but together they'll take the risks. "They look at me perhaps as if I have twelve heads, you know, but the thing about them, I always have a way of asking them and I always say, 'Look, if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out,' but at least we have the satisfaction of trying."


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