NEW YORK — New York
ANYTHING VULGAR OR unfinished just doesn't belong.
"Refinement" and "ladylike" are the favorite adjectives of American designers this week as they present their spring collections to retailers and journalists gathered here from around the world.
Even the young "downtown" designers who used to shock with the unusual and bizarre have been inspired by ladylike fashion icons of the late '50s and early '60s -- women such as Babe Paley, Audrey Hepburn and the young Jackie Kennedy, who were always photographed in elegant little dresses with matching coats and little white gloves.
Designer Marc Jacobs, who in the past created many innovative looks that were not restricted by such notions as good taste, has put together an elegant spring collection for the Perry Ellis company, successfully capturing the refined spirit of the late Mr. Ellis, a Southern gentleman famous for his impeccable manners.
No gaudy shoulder dusters here, the models wore simple pearls and two-piece dresses in ivory and navy with matching coats.
One important detail kept this collection and others from ever getting too precious -- the skirts were so short that they would have to be called belts if they got much shorter.
The Perry Ellis collection also included some whimsical notions, such as clear, short raincoats with sparkling sequins worn over shift dresses.
The idea of an unfunctional see-through raincoat -- trench and balmacaan style -- is a notion that's appealed to several designers for next spring.
Other young designers who gave a ladylike edge to their clothes were Jennifer George, Rebecca Moses and Randolph Duke. Ms. George said her collection was epitomized by her white pique tank dress that she paired with a matching coat.
Rebecca Moses used shades of ivory and blue ice to give a ladylike edge to her collection that ended with 16 pristine white ensembles.
While Randolph Duke kicked off his show with sleek sexy catsuits accompanied by James Bond theme music, he quickly moved into loose-fitting trapeze and chemise dresses in gentle monochromatic shades of saffron, mango, lavender, pistachio.
His creative mixes of houndstooth, herringbone and paisley, often in the same outfit, gave interest to the simple shapes.
While so many of the young designers were playing grown-up, the older designers such as Bill Blass and Carolina Herrera mixed a little fun with their always ladylike designs.
One particularly improbable confection from Bill Blass made the model look like she was wearing nothing but a barrel covered with balls of colored net.
He also showed brightly colored trapeze dresses that ended in big flounces.
It was his bold use of color and pattern in dresses and luncheon suits that gained him the most applause, such as pairing a fuchsia floral jacket with a striking black-and-white striped pencil skirt.
Carolina Herrera put forth a new variation on the bubble skirt, shown in white and so impossibly short that diapers came to mind.
The ladylike style for which she is famous was, however, the main thrust of the collection. A pink crepe dress with magenta braid trim and a magenta evening gown with an emerald border were just a couple of designs that showed off her skill with color mixes.
While many designers, such as Ms. George, played with a whole range of colors from pale mint to chartreuse and lavender to shocking pink, Calvin Klein stayed with his signature pales, such as sage, sand and alabaster, all cut in the key shapes of the season -- the straight cut dress with U-neck and short sleeves, the sleeveless boat-neck dress and the side-slit tunics worn over slim pants or gently flared skirts cut on the bias.
He underscored the importance of white this season by concluding the show with 11 silhouettes in white matte silk crepe (many designers showed monochromatic white or ivory silhouettes). Rebecca Moses also concluded her collection with a parade of 16 white-clad models.
Gordon Henderson kept his collection from being too predictable by pairing extremely brief swing cardigans with shorts that even embarrassed the models with their brevity.
Sheer was a theme that peeked through many of the collections, especially when bodices were left unlined.
Mr. Henderson made interesting use of hopsacking, mesh and raffia fabrics, and even showed an ultra-thin perforated suede that floated around the body.
Here, too, the baby-doll pouf dress and a romper was put forth.
His shirtwaist dress, which is cut very short and very full, is one of the most promising alternatives to the dominant straight cut shifts and chemises.
Those simply cut '60s shapes were most effective for Christian Francis Roth's signature applique, which for spring was inspired by such diverse subjects as wrought-iron gates and the paintings of Matisse and Miro.
With the troubled economy on everybody's mind, one particular dress of his made an instant hit -- a strapless evening gown printed with dollar bills, also available as a loose tunic and shorts.