With one move, Marc Jacobs changed the look and tone of New York Fashion Week. The designer, touted as the most influential in the U.S., ripped brown-paper wrapping off the box-within-a-box construction of his runway Monday night to reveal dozens of models in the most elegant and ladylike clothes.
There was both sophistication and sweetness in the outfits that borrowed from a more refined time.
On other runways Monday, designers seemed to be going for the gold. And the silver. And bronze. Metallic fabrics shone on the runways of Zac Posen, Carolina Herrera, Rachel Roy, Luca Luca and Diane von Furstenberg, among others.
"Like my mother always said, all girls like a little dazzle," said designer Tracy Reese.
Jacobs clearly has turned a new leaf from his more recent party-girl '80s-influenced collections. Monday's dresses were mostly an A-line, adding a little volume, although one stunner was a body-hugging sweater covered on the front with shiny beading.
Jacobs also confirmed a longer-length hemline that had been seen as one of the season's likely trends.
"These were gorgeous, real clothes that were beautifully done," said Joe Zee, creative director for Elle magazine. "Don't you walk away feeling elated? Isn't that the whole point of fashion?"
These lovely ladies wore tweed, suede or boucle coats on a proper date — or perhaps a transparent trench with a hint of sparkle for a special occasion. For day, there were several suits, including a three-piece menswear plaid one and a gray-flannel culotte version — yes, culottes.
When you've got the chic eye of Donna Karan, you don't need a lot of glitz to celebrate fashion. In fact, the collection to mark the 25th anniversary of her label was almost entirely black, spare and highly sculptured.
And it looked great.
There was no better model for the modern, almost stiff, coats that really were the star of this runway than Karan herself, who is probably far more relatable to consumers than the tall, slender catwalkers. She wore it as she took her bow in front of a crowd that included Demi Moore and Brooke Shields.
The coats, which had a hint of origami influence to them, paired as well with a plunging-cowl evening gown as slim trousers. To feel really special, sometimes a separate ruffled collar was added on top — but it would be the wearer's choice.
It's the real world and now Zac Posen is living in it. The first model on his runway Monday morning wore a fully wearable, thoroughly sophisticated, portrait-neck cape in camel-colored felt, smart trousers and a creamy silk blouse.
In fact, the former flashy showman, who has recently chronicled in the press his struggles to lead a viable business, turned out a mostly understated, chic collection. It might not be full of head-turners, but the clothes aren't as polarizing as, say, his tornado-inspired gowns a few seasons ago.
As wild as it got here were some copper metallics, pink-dot prints and magenta-colored fur — a refreshing break from the largely neutral palette that has been dominating this round of previews for stylists, editors and retailers.
Posen partnered with violinist Miri Ben-Ari to provide a live, serene soundtrack. He also seemed to stick to a recent commitment to seek out older models — by industry standards that means 18, maybe 16 — to avoid those who are too thin. And he seemed to stick by it, hiring veterans Alek Wek, Hana Soukupova, Sessilee Lopez and Coco Rocha.
For a while, it seemed Carolina Herrera was trying to court a hipster customer, but she showed Monday that she is firmly committed to the rarified world in which she lives.
There was luxury like a Prussian-blue, mosaic-print jacket with fur lining and a mink collar, worn with camel-colored suede pants, and a sky-and-steel blue gown with beaded leaves and a swath of tulle around the neck.
There was a hint of a Russian influence to the overall look of the show, in her color choices, fur and style of embroidery. The daywear models also wore full-brim hats.
The Herrera lady — "woman" doesn't sound quite right — is a day-and-night dresser, not a day-to-night one. Look for her in a deep red wool sheath with asymmetrical vertical pleats for day, and a distinctly different black-and-metallic embossed organza gown with a hint of red framing the face in the evening.
Rachel Roy's outfits that demanded the most attention featured slightly tarnished metallics, including a gold, crochet-style dress and jacket, a black sheath decorated with gold, almost-serpentine beads, and a high-shine patchwork gold skirt worn with a gold-lace tank.
But daywear is the base of her collection that has steadily gained a following in recent seasons, spawning a secondary, more affordable line with Macy's.
Stylish professional clothes included an open, pleated cashmere cardigan and cropped trousers (and a sheer jersey bodysuit for extra attention), a slouchy brick-red, wrap coat, and a delicate black lace blouse with high-waisted navy wool trousers. You'd need a blazer — of which there were several — on top of that last outfit for the office.
Tracy Reese is showing an edge she hasn't shown before, with a taste for black lacquered fabrics and studding down the sides of pants. Even the pretty dresses and ladylike coats she's known for have gotten the distressed treatment for next season.
Fashion went through a "cleaning house" period during the worst point of the economic downturn and turned out some toned-down styles, but it's starting to get its groove back with more inventive and interesting looks, Reese said in an interview Monday just before models stepped onto the runway at New York Fashion Week.
Still, there is a lingering lesson from the recession, she said: Create more "items" than outfits. "I have a lot of layered sportswear in this collection, which is versatile. It's how people shop. They are looking for wardrobe-updating pieces."
Her go-to items would be the cozy sweaters paired with contrasting stretch-suede skinny pants.
Monique Lhuillier found herself seduced by China as she was developing the fall collection she debuted on the runway Monday, interpreting warrior and military suits, traditional dragon motifs and, of course, Shanghai red.
The opening look at her New York Fashion Week show was a striking gown with gold-encrusted cuffs that incorporated all the above.
Other noteworthy looks included a navy chiffon halter gown with a braided belt in black-lacquered leather wrapped multiple times around the bodice and one-shouldered tulle gown covered in not-so-perfect roses. The finale red-satin gown draped tightly from the neckline to hips and exploding into big fabric flowers on the skirt also was a headline-grabber.