Designers remember a softer 1970s and '80s at Fashion Week

Sunday, February 19, 2006

NEW YORK -- Fashion designers made their case and now it's up to the retailers, editors and stylists who attended New York Fashion Week to weigh in on what will be in -- or out -- in the fall.

Of course, the real verdict will be revealed in August and September when ordinary people do their seasonal shopping.

The choices for women likely will include 1970s- and '80s-inspired clothes: skinny pants -- even leggings -- chunky-knit cardigan coats and fine-knit jersey dresses, shirtdresses, men's-style suits with feminine lace or tie-neck blouses, bow adornments and a lot of black and other somber colors.

Pleats and thick belts were all over the runways, while provocative, skin-flashing clothes were not. Coats, many with 3/4-length sleeves and swinging silhouettes, stood out in luxe brocades or soft wools.

Patricia Field, the costume designer for "Sex and the City" and the upcoming movie "The Devil Wears Prada," said the season marked a return of real American looks.

"American style is simple, a little utilitarian, strong and outspoken without being too theatrical. We're the ones who wear jeans, T-shirts, trenchcoats and sneakers. It's not only a little casual but also clean and classic," Field said. "We're not from aristocrats, we're from the cowboys and settlers, and that shows in our style."

Field said she particularly liked the unfussy beauty of Ralph Lauren's dark green collection of cashmere outfits, even the leggings, which were a popular look on other catwalks as well.

And why not, Field asked, defending the much-maligned tight pants.

"They're actually a classic. They're easy and functional. ... If you style them wrong, they look bad, but that's with everything," she said.

Michael Fink, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, added that leggings can be worn with almost every outfit. On the runways, they were shown under power skirtsuits, with long sweaters and with tough leather jackets.

Menswear-inspired vests also made a comeback, part of the overall move toward embracing fine tailoring for women.

"I love the new feminine tailored menswear -- the new portrait-collared jackets mixed with a wide, wide pant," Fink said.

One look that might take some getting used to is hosiery with open-toe shoes. For years, women have been told it was a "don't." That rule is bending, according to Glamour executive fashion editor at large Suze Yalof Schwartz.

Opaque tights can create a funky, casual look, she said, but sheer pantyhose still is a no-no.

"You shouldn't be able to see your toe polish," she advised, and it's not an appropriate look for formal occasions.

Michael Kors' collection of collegiate looks, which seemed rooted in the 1970 film "Love Story," topped Yalof Schwartz's list. She said the clothes were about "looking perfect from head to toe."

Meanwhile, Glamour's editor in chief Cindi Leive said many of the trends were extensions of things already doing well in stores. Those include flashes of metallic fabric, lace, skirts, adorned coats and neutral colors.

"These are things two or three years ago that would have been considered extreme," Leive said, "but women like wearing that metallic bag or shoe for day, and they've taken to the tulip skirt."

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