Fashion In Flux

For spring, there's no clear-cut style - designers are giving us a kind of minimalist luxury.

September 15, 2005|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

As Fashion Week rolled around again, and the nation's top designers prepared to show their new looks for next spring, retailers, fashionistas and style insiders alike debated: Minimalist or luxurious? Which would this spring be?

Well, after six days of nonstop runway shows, the biannual New York showcase of all the major American fashion players is just about over, and the answer is clear.

It's neither and it's both.

"I don't know if I can call it minimal; I don't know if I can call it luxurious," says Kate Dimmock, fashion director of SHOP Etc. magazine. "It's somewhere in between."

After all, designers lined their catwalks this week with models dripping in silks and satins - and cotton. They showed elegantly tailored suits - with simple cropped pants. Intricate beading and hand embroidery shared the same runways with earth tones and crisp white shirts.

Those who predicted that season after season of over-the-top luxe was coming to an end were right. And those who foresaw an inevitable continuation of all things luxurious, well, they were right, too.

"It's opulence in a natural way, if that makes any sense at all," says celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch. "It's not so much about big beading. It's not sparkly. It's more craftsy."

Indeed, for spring - after a succession of seasons of wearable, saleable, trendsetting clothing - designers seemed to want to give consumers a reason to believe in them as craftsmen, and fashion as art, again.

"We're seeing a lot of `special' clothing," says Suze Yalof Schwartz, executive fashion editor-at-large for Glamour magazine. "A lot of the designers are trying to figure out a way to make their pieces incredibly unique this year. ... It's easy to knock off classic clothes. It's harder to knock off complicated clothes and have them look good."

Big guns Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta, as usual, showed some of the best examples of such elegantly opulent, one-of-a-kind dresses and ensembles. Rising star Zang Toi - in an African-themed collection - also unveiled incredibly gorgeous pieces, bringing back the true meaning of haute couture.

Such heavy-hitters prompted Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley to gush after the de la Renta show, "This season is shaping up as glamour, total glamour on all fronts. Women will be beautiful if they buy these clothes."

With beautiful dresses and feminine ruffles, delicate beading and deep cowl backs galore, Talley's clearly right. Women will be beautiful. But they'll also be comfy, in cuffed shorts and loose, blousy tops. True to the season, they'll be in Marc Jacobs' luxurious and practical velvet flats.

Senior fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue Michael Fink says the trend for spring is still, "Let's play dress up again."

The season will be less casual than previous short-pants-and-tank-top springs, he says. It'll be more linens and spun cottons, more put-together.

But he also says the looks are all being done in a more "humble" way.

"It's about being feminine and womanly instead of girly," says Fink. "It's much more sophisticated. Everything is much more grown-up than it has been. No pink and bows and Barbie."

In fact, there was very little pink to be seen this week. The colors for spring are more neutral: creams, blacks, beiges, olives, eggshells. Navy paired with white. Embroidery, whipstitching and eyelet details add to the season's measure of sweet.

As a sign that fashion is not for the kids anymore, waistlines are slowly creeping back up again (see Herrera's anti-low-rise skirts, for example). And even Betsey Johnson, one of Fashion Week's most playful players, toned down her spring collection, showing clothes that were wearable and pretty, not just unique and funky.

Like at Betsey Johnson, the week's shows were full of mixes of minimized luxury - classic and cutting-edge, sophisticated and sporty.

Tracy Reese showed a collection of tiered, frothy looks with lacy trains and trims, paired with quiet prints and even quieter colors, and lots of white-on-white.

Ellen Tracy's new head designer George Sharp dressed one model in a smart suit, and another in a tiny bandeau top. In fact, suits were as important this week on the runway as dresses - which saw a huge comeback for spring.

Trendsetter Marc Jacobs unveiled a deceptively simple spring collection that was punctuated by skinny, leggings-like pants as well as voluminous dresses and coats.

In fact, volume seems to be a major trend for spring. Fall's full skirt was a mere precursor to the silhouette taking hold for spring: the bubble.

Designers from Marc Jacobs to Betsey Johnson to BCBG Max Azria to Oscar de la Renta to Proenza Schouler showed variations of pieces rounded in through the middle and tucked under at the bottom, producing a circular shape.

Bubble skirts, bubble blouses, bloomer-like shorts. Each a silhouette that may take some getting used to.

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