NEW YORK - Fashion for spring is back in black.
Black never went anywhere, of course - it's a perennial favourite with the crowd at New York Fashion Week. But for spring collections, the look wasn't terribly sunny.
The nod to the spring/summer season was to offset the black with white and shades of nude, blush and stone, all part of the overall muted look that has dominated at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
Yet the black wasn't severe, especially rendered in featherweight fabrics in sheer organza, tulle and black lace. A wave of black swept the runways of Rodarte, Vera Wang, Badgley Mischka and Jill Stuart on Tuesday. It was even at a tongue-in-cheek fashion show for the Snuggie - the blanket with sleeves.
"You've heard what the new black is? It's black," joked host Ross Matthews, Ross the Intern from Jay Leno's "Tonight" show.
The ravens rose at Rodarte. With a smoke-filled runway beneath them, models wore outfits resembling the contradictory symbol of darkness and survival.
Even with tiny asphalt pebbles on the ground, haunting music and the smoke, all the drama really came from the clothes. Every garment seemed a cobweb of leather, yarn, ribbons, lace and cheesecloth. Some of the pieces were adorned with crystals, feathers and leather made to look like birdskin.
"They're incredibly inspiring, and their clothes are always inspiring," said Kirsten Dunst, wearing a glittery bronze Rodarte dress from an earlier season and sitting in the front row with the likes of Elijah Wood and Jason Schwartzman.
When stripped down without all the effect, some of the major trends of Fashion Week where here: draping, banding and lattice-like leather, among them.
Badgley Mischka, long associated with the socialite party-gown set, has made a clean break. Thank goodness.
The highly embellished, glitzy gowns that made them famous wouldn't seem right for the times, even if we may or may not be out of the recession. So the design duo of Mark Badgley and James Mischka have found themselves a new niche, showing some lovely, more sophisticated clothes - ranging from a black-and-white tweed sheath dress to a black shantung jumpsuit that had a gathered halter neckline as well as a gathered waist and palazzo-pant legs.
A strong day-to-night look was a lilac and grey-striped, satin and chiffon dress, and for a black-tie event, there was a white shantung tuxedo. A white capri-length jumpsuit wasn't as tempting.
Still feel like you saw shine on the runway? That was all baubles from their own costume jewelry collection.
No wonder Vera Wang has moved her show away from the frenzy at the Bryant Park tents - that atmosphere wouldn't do the elegance of her spring collection justice.
In her stark white SoHo store, Wang presented sophisticated styles that she said were influenced by the late Paul Poiret, who left an indelible stamp on fashion in the early 20th century. He gave women the freedom to wear looser chemise shapes, and Wang picked up on that: There wasn't a corset style in sight.
Unfortunately Poiret also championed the harem pant; Wang translated that for modern times in a droopy jumpsuit.
She mostly went for sultry instead of overtly sexy with layers of smoky-colored tulle, sheer black organza and artful, not flashy, embellished jewel details. Metallic pieces were a bit stiff, standing away from the body, while the bike shorts underneath the see-through styles hugged it.
There weren't a lot of bells and whistles in the spring Max Azria collection that debuted Tuesday at New York Fashion Week. It was mostly pared-down, pretty dresses in simple and chic shades of black, grey, white and nude.
A hint of rebel edge came from metal-chain "cage" dresses worn over silk sweater dresses. They sound more severe than they really were; they really just added shimmer and a little sex appeal.
Slashes in sleeves, bodices and backs also flashed a little skin - and continued a trend seen on many other runways at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
Designer Betsey Johnson's signature item is the party dress, so on Thursday evening she threw herself a party at the Plaza Hotel.
There was no runway for her spring collection, just pretty young things wearing upbeat, youthful clothes while dancing and singing to Blondie cover songs by the live band Ida Marie.
The models, up on a stage, were just a backdrop to Johnson, who hammed it up for cameras. Oh yeah, they were wearing strapless dresses in candy colours, a black sequin cocktail frock with a frilly skirt, a blue metallic skirt suit and some lingerie-inspired styles.
MARC BY MARC JACOBS
If Marc Jacobs wasn't exciting enough with his first Fashion Week presentation, he certainly woke the audience with his Marc by Marc Jacobs show.
The spring collection's bright, sometimes clashing colours and crazy patterns could be a little jarring. Like a blue vertical striped skirt worn with a pink and purple checkered shirt, a red blazer thrown over the outfit and a pink Minnie Mouse-like bow adorning the model's head.
Even the menswear was a little out there: A red plaid trench coat was paired with blue vertical striped pants that were rolled to the ankle.
There were a couple of pieces you could wear without blinding someone. A strapless blue dress with a bubble bottom made for a fun, party dress.
The models at Jill Stuart had to keep pulling down their very short skirts for fear they'd end up showing more than they wanted to an audience that included Rachel Bilson, Nicky Hilton and the "Real Housewives" of New York and New Jersey.
That tells you a lot about the spring collection previewed Monday at the New York Public Library.
But even if the styles weren't all to the taste of the finicky fashion crowd, that doesn't mean Stuart's increasingly rocker-girl clientele won't appreciate the black illusion bodysuit paired with an electric-blue leather mini, or the white leather jacket with pouffy sleeves.
And those pink and green foil dresses? Surely they'll be the hit of prom season.
Kai Milla presented her first collection since taking a break from designing full-time for mommyhood, deviating from her usual darker colours, mixing in orange and yellow.
"I wanted to celebrate," said Milla, who is married to Stevie Wonder and designed an emerald green silk chiffon dress worn by first lady Michelle Obama.
She used elements like beading and cutouts to bring a more modern look to old silhouettes. An orange silk jersey slim-fitting dress had side ruching and formed a diamond-shape in the back. A lightweight black silk jersey dress had cutouts on the side that were trimmed in beads.
Who needs glitzy embellishment when you can achieve true special-occasion dresses with fabric?
For the new spring J. Mendel collection, presented in an art gallery Monday as part of New York Fashion Week, Gilles Mendel manipulates fabric in seemingly a million different ways to get both "elegant technicality" and "fluid emotion," his two goals, according to his notes.
A rouge-colored mousselline dress with curved draping, sculptured tulle and an organza sunburst was something to marvel at.
Mendel first made his mark in fashion as a furrier and he couldn't resist a few summertime furs, including a grey cocoon coat worn with a charmeuse shawl-collared shirt unbuttoned to the navel and a stunning smoky-colored paillette-and-organze skirt.
Gottex presented a new interpretation of swimwear, with sequined one-pieces, plastic-looking bikinis and wide belts wrapped around the waist like the suits were superhero costumes.
There weren't too many "wearable" suits, unless you don't mind an off-the-shoulder bikini top with sleeves. A black asymmetric suit had crystal embroidery on the front and silk petal-like detail on the strap creating an evening look, if there's such a thing in swimwear.
But perhaps what was most stunning were the coverups that were like elegant caftans; a red abstract print with drapey sleeves touched the runway, flowing behind the model as she walked. And a blue and gold lame caftan added sophistication to a black corset-like suit.
Associated Press writer Megan Scott contributed to this report.
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