NEW YORK — Since the economic downturn began, fashion designers have brought us plenty of hard-edged looks: rock-star leather, gladiator shoes, '80s-style shoulder pads.
The message was clear enough – fashion was preparing us for battle.
But for spring 2010, designers seem to be asking instead: Who wants a hug?
A softer, easier look dominated as New York Fashion Week entered its third day on Saturday. The look was, if not comfortable, at least less armor-like. At Adam, the soothing cream-and-beige palette was jazzed up just a bit with copper discs and seashells, and the heart of the Lacoste collection were easy, breezy apres-beach styles.
There were also several vibrant and optimistic looks: Lacoste sent models out for a finale in bright, sunshine yellow, from sunglasses to slip-on flats. Georges Chakra presented a series of candy-colored dresses.
But such a sunny disposition seemed a little out of place at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week tents, where the audience was still in almost all black, shod in gladiator sandals or studded boots.
Lay down your armor? The crowd says, not yet.
OK, so it's not a conventional a love story, but the Alexander Wang tough-chick muse has found herself a jock. On the runway, that plot thickened into sweatshirt-leather combos that surely will be considered among the most trendsetting looks at New York Fashion Week.
Wang is considered a bellwether for style. His message for spring was softer than last season, but his girl clearly still has an edge.
On her time, she wears a lace-up, cognac-colored corset attached to a gray, rainy-Sunday sweatshirt and oversized army-green capes with a bra top underneath. That athletic influence creeps into her look with a varsity sweater, quilted leather baseball shorts and a skintight black referee dress with white trim.
The bare-belly tops that have emerged as a popular look on the runways were well represented here – some skirts had the midriff cut out – and plenty of skin, with super-short shorts and see-through tinsel dresses that served as his finale.
Fashion Week is all about what's new, what's next, but that doesn't mean the basics should get bashed. Lacoste creative director Christophe Lemaire sent out a spring collection that was cheerful, youthful and wearable – nothing wrong with that.
Starting off with tennis whites (with the distinctive sound of balls being hit on a court as the soundtrack), most styles were cut long and lean, including the polo shirts, but there was an adorable bouncy white skirt that easily could go from the court to cocktails.
The heart of the collection was the easy, beachy clothes that were inspired by 1920s photos of Jacques-Henri Lartigue, who "captured a generation of leisure for whom life was simple, sporty and chic."
The "show" began at Cynthia Rowley's spring collection preview before the first model was seen.
Just seconds before the "abandoned ballroom"-themed outfits began their parade on Friday, a giant drop-cloth was released from above and floated down to cover the runway. That set the stage for an ivory tank dress with a shredded canvas belt and a neckline dotted with "bleeding" black paint, a slashed-ribbon dress made of a similar ivory canvas, and a nubby double-breasted linen jacket with matte-sequin evening tap pants.
Two duos of peplum tops that protrude from the hip, paired with too-pouffy evening shorts and silk trousers, were just too much fabric. That attention to the hip seems to be an emerging trend at New York Fashion Week, as is unconventional, tweaked floral prints, which Rowley also offered.
Instead of cutesy, precious flowers, the prints here were blurred like they were caught in the rain.
Adam Lippes' spring collection continued the season's move toward an easier, more elegant silhouette. The clothes also had a feeling of luxury – even if it was understated – something that had largely been missing from fashion the last season or two.
The cream ostrich feather skirt with wood and shell embroidery certainly made a statement, but paired with a simple linen tank, struck the right balance. A gray silk trench oozed sophistication.
An interpretation of a floral print had sharper lines than one typically expects from girlie flowers, but that gave it a modern feel and kept with the idea of a season of transition.
Lippes adopted the draped pants and shorts that are emerging as a trend, but their ability to appeal to women who don't want to draw attention to their hips is still up for debate. With a slouchy blazer, it might work; with a crinkly tunic, it's just too much fabric bunched around the middle.
Designers from "Project Runway" have come and gone – sadly, mostly gone. But Christian Siriano has shown he plans to stay.
Siriano's spring 2010 collection was his third following his stint on the reality show, and in that time he's made his way to the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue and to the shoe aisles of Payless.
The collection was a lush take on Mediterranean travel, concluding with three intricate ball gowns that elicited spontaneous applause from a crowd that included actresses Mena Suvari and Tori Spelling and model Alessandra Ambrosio.
"I feel like a proud dad," said Tim Gunn, the "Project Runway" mentor. He said he knew Siriano would be a standout from the competition, and thinks he's evolved into something more: "I believe he's this generation's Marc Jacobs. I do."
Some of Siriano's most striking pieces were made from a fabric print created using an aerial photograph of the Italian coast line – "flipped, modified, repeated and saturated with Volcanic and Oceanic colors," as Siriano described in his notes. The result was a richly intricate pattern that looked almost animalistic rendered in reds and orange and like a deep ocean cartography in blues.
Georges Chakra's starlet fans don't want downer dresses, so he doesn't put them on the runway. The spring collection of his ready-to-wear Edition label has splash, flash and color.
Gown after gown was embellished with jeweled necklines, elaborate pleating details and skinny silver belts. The silhouettes alternated between flowing, draped frocks that would glide down a red carpet, or fitted dresses that would show off a tiny waist.
Chakra occasionally showed restraint, and that paid off with a sophisticated, body-hugging black dress with insets of satin and tulle, and a white chiffon dress with vertical waves of fabric creating an even longer, leaner shape.
The candy-colored dresses, especially the pink ones, seemed a little out of place. So far the season has resisted anything too showy or flamboyant – until now.
They say you should do what you know, and model-turned-fashion designer Erin Wasson knows what tall, slim young women wear.
The catwalkers that dart in and out of the Bryant Park tents are often in jeans, micro shorts, tissuelike T-shirts and leather jackets, and that's just what Wasson, for the line Wasson X RVCA, put on the runway Friday night.
Wasson, best known as a face of Maybelline, sent out a parade of shirts that alternately bared the midriff or the back, jeans with cutout sides, T-shirt dresses and studded minis. Almost everything seemed to hug the body and bare quite a bit of leg.
Some of the pieces seemed inspired by Native Americans, complete with fringe, and others had a harder-edged vibe – think a loose sweater with strategic holes or a mesh top-and-bottom ensemble with slashes in the fabric.
Associated Press writer Lisa Tolin contributed to this report.