retro runways

Designers cleverly updated trends from the 1980s and 1960s in their spring collections

Fashion Week

September 19, 2006|By Tanika White | Tanika White,Sun Reporter

On the runways at New York's Bryant Park last week, it was as if the country's most accomplished designers had been shuttled back to decades such as the 1980s and 1960s.

But they cleverly updated the fashions of those eras for a modern woman who wants ease of movement, sleekness of style and femininity without fussiness.

With only a few exceptions, just about every designer was bitten by the '80s bug, and produced spring collections full of blousy, billowy, comfortable clothes.

There were trench coats and skin-hugging leg coverings at just about every turn. And many of the best collections included some sort of dancer reference, such as Vera Wang's geisha/ballet-dancer homage and Michael Kors' lovely dancer/athlete looks.

It wasn't all '80s-dance-themed, however.

Spring also is bringing back the dress in many forms, the most prevalent of which is very 1960s short.

Whether they were empire-waist dresses, boyfriend-shirt-dresses, T-shirt dresses or comfy jersey-knit dresses, they were mainly stopping above the knee, and just about always worn with flat shoes.

"It's really a terrific spring season," says Ken Downing, senior vice president/fashion director at Neiman Marcus. "There wasn't a lot that didn't translate from the runway right to a woman's wardrobe."

Here are highlights from some of Fashion Week's biggest names:

Michael Kors

There are dozens of runway shows, day after day at Fashion Week. And if you're not careful, sometimes some of the shows can blur, especially when just about everyone is doing their take on a similar overall look.

That's why the Kors show, which was simply the best from all the heavy-hitting American designers, was so satisfying. His collection celebrated "urban movement," playing on the "grace of the dancer and the athlete," and it reimagined basics in a way that was quietly exhilarating.

Kors' cashmere T-shirts and off-the-shoulder tops, his "ballet cardigansm," wrap shirts and cowl-neck sweaters -- all in soothing blacks, tans, grays and whites and delicate pale pinks -- were comfortable and sexy, retro and fashion-forward, all at the same time.

"This season, there's loads of very loose-fitting clothing and lots of this voluminous shape, lots of fabric everywhere, but very light and airy," says Hal Rubenstein, fashion director at InStyle magazine. "It's interesting though. At Michael Kors, everything was completely body-conscious. Michael basically did the only sexy show the whole week, and that's the one everyone remembers."

Anna Sui

In a season of look-alikes, Anna Sui's definite rocker-girl's-night-on-the-town looks stood out.

Sui did the layered '80s thing but threw in some hard-edged zebra prints, roses, stars and stripes. She showed lots of billowy volume but mixed it with punk mesh. And her collection was accented with a patchwork of colors, such as reds, greens and blues.

While other designers worshiped the dancer, Sui paid homage to pirates in her themed show.

"Anna Sui is always a really, really fun show," says Nicole Phelps, executive editor of "She did a lot of that black-and-white that's popular for spring, but it was just a lot of fun."

Marc Jacobs

Years ago, Jacobs secured his position as the must-see designer of the New York collections when he showed his soothsaying skills with several-seasons-early military jackets and grunge looks.

For spring, the designer took innovation and propelled it into the future, showing on his runway billowy layers upon layers, simple T-shirt dresses and voluminous short-pants that reminded one of MC Hammer.

His fantastical looks -- bomber jackets in metallics or tweeds, entire outfits of silk jersey, satin pants, lace-and-cashmere cardigans and embroidered dresses and tops -- were the anti-elegant of the week, the Urban Outfitters of high fashion.

His clothes are risky, if nothing else, and fashion experts love that Jacobs is willing to dive off fashion's deep end.

"Marc did it in a way that stands out," says Rubenstein. "He did a very young, commercial collection -- stuff that's very young, very beautiful. It'll be interesting to see how buyers buy it and how people wear it."

Oscar de la Renta

New York's Godfather of Glamour dedicated his show -- which was on Sept. 11 -- to honoring the memory of those who died in the terrorist attacks.

But in his collection, he also honored his own time-honored tradition of making beautiful, rich-looking clothes that are on-trend but far from trendy.

"I thought it was really, really beautiful," says Jay Alexander, the flamboyant model coach on Tyra Banks' reality show, America's Next Top Model, of de la Renta's elegant collection. "I loved the skirts; the separates were great."

De la Renta's prints on dresses looked fresh and sophisticated, particularly when paired with dainty skimmer flats in patent leather.

Vera Wang

After showing her magical collection, which was dedicated to a relative who had died, the award-winning designer took a walk down the runway in tears.

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