Spring's soft, fresh breeze

Light fabrics, fruity colors, a hint of the prim and romantic

FashionWeek

September 10, 2004|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - The nation's top fashion designers began this week showing off their collections for spring, bringing the freshness of a breezy May afternoon to a city soaked by September rainstorms.

The shows in Bryant Park yesterday hinted at what spring fashion will look and feel like: floaty, fanciful, romantic and sweet.

"It's much more of a departure, rather than a continuation, of what we've seen for fall," said Kate Dimmock, fashion director for SHOP Etc. magazine. "They're trying to take a break from the sort of tweedy, ladylike thing."

For spring, fabrics will be sensuous and soft: chiffons, silks, crepes and washed cottons. The colors shown were lush and fruity, like a dessert party of tangy sorbets. And the accents - jewels, beadwork and sequins - provided the shimmer.

Carolina Herrera introduced a nostalgic collection that borrowed extensively from the innocence of the 1940s. Her lightweight skirts came below her leggy models' knees, and so did the long, cuffed shorts she showed with prim little sweaters and delicate blouses. Herrera seemed to favor a summers-at-the-beach theme, with camp shirts and sundresses. The beach theme was particularly evident in her eye-catching "swimming lady" print that worked its way throughout the collection. The print was bold, but the "lady" was demure, in the same way Herrera's bikini-style swimsuits featured boy shorts as bottoms, instead of ultra-low-cut briefs or thongs.

Cynthia Steffe's spring line leaned more toward the fanciful - evoking a summer's trek through Morocco or Marseille.

Her message seemed to be that the fashionable woman today is both feminine and adventurous. To make her point, Steffe showed delicate chiffon skirts with rugged canvas jackets, and jewel tones - persimmon, marigold, rose - with desert hues, such as sand, sage and saffron.

"Color is very important this season," said Jeffrey Banks, of Jeffrey Banks LTD, a noted menswear designer who attended the show. "The prints this year are very fresh. And I thought Cynthia's color palette was beautiful. It was vibrant without being sweet pastels."

Steffe's clothes also were notable for their exotic details: jewels, brocade and braiding. Even her models wore tight cornrows as accents in their flowing tresses.

"I love the jewel work. I love the braiding in the straps," said Today show host Katie Couric, who hugged her friend Steffe after the show. "I love that sort of Indian influence."

Backstage, Steffe talked about striving for a relaxed feel in her collection. "I chose all fabrics that had movement to them - washed linens, cotton, canvas. Even the skirts were casual," she said.

If Steffe's clothes were whimsical and fun, designer Michael Vollbracht, of Bill Blass, showed his serious side, with herringbone skirt suits and houndstooth linen pantsuits, cropped jackets and petticoats.

His evening dresses were gorgeous and classic: slim halters, chiffon cowl-necks, and full skirts (one even had a crinoline lining).

Vollbracht made striking statements with many of his accents. But some of his oversized bows, flowers - and one skirt with an ostrich-feather hem line - didn't fit the tender, delicate romantic feel that seems to be the mark of the season.

One lovely Vollbracht design - a rainbow sherbet-colored evening dress made of dreamy chiffon and draped lazily over one shoulder - was the highlight of the day.

"It was just beautiful and fluid and sexy and elegant at the same time," award-winning actress Patricia Clarkson said of the dress. She wore Vollbracht's designs to this year's Oscars and Golden Globes. "It's what Michael does best: that combination of elegance and sex."

Which seems, so far at least, to be the theme for spring.

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