The styles shown Wednesday as New York Fashion Week neared its end showed women softening their edges — but keeping their confidence. At Michael Kors, the models resembled a secretary pool from the 1970s that had since moved into the corner office. Those bow blouses now have a luxury coat and handbag to go with them.
Gone are the minimalist, sharp-edged looks shown on so many runways for fall. There are looser, less restrictive outfits for spring that are more soft and feminine, but still grown up.
"You know it's funny, last fall we had this very sharp, strong, urban collection, which really was for me this reaction to how fast life has gotten," Kors said backstage before his show. "But sometimes I think life is a little too fast. And when we go out to dinner put your phone down, put your BlackBerry down, have a conversation. Write a thank you note, a real one. Walk down the street in the summer when the weather gets warm and wear something that catches the wind."
Oscar de la Renta showed it's possible to be feminine and still feel like you own the room. Vera Wang softened up her look with fabric petals. Gilles Mendel's collection started with an ingénue who grows in confidence and becomes a woman.
"She's strong, she appreciates quality, she loves clothes. I like a celebration of this woman," Mendel said at his J. Mendel show.
With a palette that includes mint and blush tones and softer blouson shapes, spring styles are for a woman who's not afraid to wear a pink dress to the boardroom.
Even the bra tops appearing on so many runways are being paired with palazzo pants, not skinny jeans, making them almost — almost — office-appropriate.
Kors offered scarf-neck georgette blouses with the bow undone, a whisper light wool georgette pleated skirt in "banker" grey and a crisp white trench to top it off. There was also a sand-colored suede trench. Good thing his muse can make decisions.
A ticking-stripe boyfriend shirt was worn with denim shorts and a wrap made of white fox — yes, summer fur — with an unexpected stripe lining.
He had some moments that seemed 1970s inspired, with disco studs on slinky dresses with full hemlines and palazzo pants with bra tops.
"The challenge is to have romance for everyday life," Kors said, "and how do you have charm in everyday life?"
A good place to start is smiling models, and Kors had those. Karolina Kurkova, Frankie Rayder and Karen Elson are among the catwalkers who make infrequent runway appearances, but always seem to turn up for Kors.
To say the designers at Proenza Schouler loosened up their look for next spring, you have to know the starting point: The collection typically is inventive, cool and fairly aggressive.
Their clothes are for the model types — the young women who jet-set the globe in search of the next great party, the one that starts after midnight.
So to see the words "understated domesticity" and "serene and polished" in the notes Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough used for their runway show was more than a little surprising.
But, as promised, there was movement and ease, mixed with their other hallmark, experimental fabrics.
Accordian-pleat, below-the-knee skirts were shown in a myriad of metallics, tiered tops and jackets were paired with cropped, loose-leg pants, and a series of cotton crepe outfits were printed with the shadings and shadows of well-loved garments.
Don't worry, they took care of their model friends, too. They can wear the stunning top cast in copper, a breast plate held in place with some wide ribbon, that closed the show. Not many others can.
Pearls were still being sewn on the showstopping red carpet looks an hour before Marchesa's show, but the audience would never have known the frenzy.
When it came time for models to come down the runway in an elegant space at the New York Public Library, the delicate dresses floated with ethereal calm.
Some gowns had pearls, others butterfly appliques — and some had both. There was more of a light lingerie feel to the silhouettes than big sculptural pieces designers Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig have turned out in seasons' past.
The inspiration, according to Craig, is a Victorian-style curiosity case, where people would display treasures such as butterflies and birds.
Chapman said, "We were thinking about the romance of it and the idea of collecting all these different things and putting them together. So then we ... came to the idea of, you know, old pieces of lingerie mixed with Irish laces mixed with bird motifs, and so it's a melting pot of ideas but done in a very relaxed way."
This isn't the fashion show to see what everyone will be wearing. It's the show to see what Hollywood lovelies will wear to big events.
Predictions? The opener, a powder-blue lingerie top with a gold, metallic lace embroidered skirt, and the finale gown with an empire waist, gold lace bra top and blush tulle skirt with rose ribbon flowers will be on the red carpet soon.
Gilles Mendel's catwalk saw a young ingenue grow into a woman.
He started with short shift dresses in white, yellow and pink, and moved from there into red leather, grey lace and his signature fur. The python motorcycle jacket over a patent-leather skirt must have been his muse's transition phase.
"She's strong, she appreciates quality, she loves clothes," he said of his J. Mendel customer — and inspiration. "I like a celebration of that woman."
Think of a Charlotte Gainsbourg type, he said in a backstage interview.
Dr. Betsey Johnson was in the house with a dose of pretty, a dose of hip-hop and a whole lot of rock 'n' roll during her ever-loopy, always fun runway show.
Taking on a medical theme with looks dubbed "Tylenol Tara" and "Benadryl Barbie," models in teased pink hair put on the swagger in the 71-year-old's trademark poofy prom dresses and metal "Betsey" necklaces. They pranced in metallic black, white and pink petticoats, or flirted in tight minis and leggings done in black, and sexy animal and floral prints.
Post-bankruptcy, the first season of her Style network reality show a wrap, Johnson has no intention of growing up, though her adorable granddaughters, Layla and Ella, now join her on the runway for her traditional cartwheel and splits.
That is, after the day-of-the-week girls waved American flags and showed off their short boy undies in bright yellow, green and blue.
Lepore thinks we're emerging from an edgier, harsher period into a new Romantic era. In fashion, anyway. And so her designs are full of what she calls "a softness, a sexiness, a boudoir feeling, a neo-Romanticism."
Her preview was one of those collections that made fashionistas happy: Pretty, flouncy, colorful, wearable. Her emphasis on softness came through in the very first garment — a pair of silky shorts with a flouncy ruffle, in a blush colour but with a white stripe.
Lepore's colours went from eye-popping, as in a bright poppy red and a crisp aqua, to subtle, as in a daffodil colour akin to a minty green, and that pale blush. She also favoured a floral print in many garments, including a distressed style that she said modernizes the look while keeping the softness.
Packham put out a casual ease without sacrificing glamour.
There were scarflike halter-neck tops and palazzo pants, and drop-waist dresses and a fully beaded T-shirt dress. The inspiration for Tuesday's spring preview started with the 1975 movie "Picnic at Hanging Rock," an Australian film set in a boarding school at the turn of the 20th century.
"So it was a little Edwardian, a little '70s rock 'n' roll, and we thought it all had an upbeat mood," she said. She carried the theme through with fancy jeweled embellishment on easy-to-wear gowns.
MARC BY MARC JACOBS
Jacobs has lots of cheerleaders in the fashion world. But in his spring Marc by Marc Jacobs collection, he put some on the runway, too.
At least, that was the feel of some of his clothes for the designer's more moderately priced line, and one he has lots of fun with.
Shiny short satin dresses, rompers and jumpsuits for the girls, and satin football-style jackets for the guys, in bright reds and pinks, made it seem like these kids were headed to a hipster pep rally.
Jacobs also had fun with tuxedos. A blue tux jacket was paired with tuxedo pants in the same colour, but these were funky short tuxedo pants, and they were paired, like all the outfits, with sneakers — some low-tops here, and high-tops elsewhere. Great for the prom, preferably a fashionable one.
There wasn't much on the runway, and that's intended as a compliment. Just take a look at the white wool-silk coat or hammered-satin sheath.
They were, by definition and design, simple, elegant and chic.
Rodriguez is never much of an over-offender of bells, whistles and gimmicks, but he turned out a spring collection of pared-down, well-cut, wearable clothes — or they would be if the hemlines were a bit longer.
"I want you to leave here saying, 'I want the clothes,' 'I want those shoes,' 'I love that dress,'" Rodriguez said. "Sometimes fashion is made for fantasy ... but I want to dress women."
Rodriguez didn't bow to the trend of a looser shape; his silhouettes were trim and unfussy, his signature. They weren't constricting or boring, though.
He used the graphic play of black and white to his advantage, opening the show with a shorts suit that had white wool on the shoulders, a black laminated inset on the bodice and black laminated wool shorts.
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Jocelyn Noveck, Nicole Evatt and Leanne Italie contributed to this report.