Fashion's top brass seems to like the military look for next fall. Three days into the seasonal previews at New York Fashion Week Saturday, sharp-shouldered styles for the urban brigade have emerged as a trend.
Prabal Gurung, one of Michelle Obama's favorite designers, opened his show with a sharp black cape — with a black patent-leather tank peeking out — and black neoprene molded trousers. The outfit oozed strength but it wasn't overly tough, either. Alexander Wang had top model Gisele Bundchen in a military-inspired trenchcoat.
It was a similar story at the Rag & Bone and Jason Wu shows a day earlier, which both took traditional military touches, including strong shoulders, epaulets, grommets and big buttons, and put them through a feminine filter. Meanwhile, Tommy Hilfiger described his new men's collection as "an academy look that is sophisticated, modern, a touch rebellious but buttoned up." In the notes from Friday's show he called the line "a personalized take on military precision."
"Maybe there's some subconscious thing with the troops coming out of Iraq," said Joanna Coles, editor-in-chief of Marie Claire. "There is a more positive spin on military, much more so than when we saw military after 9/11."
The look is a good one for consumers, she said. "Military is easy to wear. It smartens your outfit, chic-ifies outerwear and it's a good color range of neutrals that are flattering."
Coles added, "The military is a well-oiled machine and military clothes reflect that. There's organization and no room for doubt."
But there's a broad range of styles that tap into the trend, from crisp dress clothes inspired by officers to the more hipster interpretation of the urban warrior.
Gurung said his strong runway designs were more to make a statement and tell a story than some of his other looks for fall, which he described as "more wearable and sportswear-driven." He said he didn't have the first lady in mind when he conceived of the collection, adding, "I do hope she's going to like something. But it's more her effect has tremendous positive impact on my business."
Other Saturday shows included Christian Siriano, who's zoomed to success since his 2008 win on the "Project Runway" TV show at age 22, showing winged dresses with a bat vampire theme; stylist-turned-designer Rachel Zoe with her trademark rock-star jetsetter look of thigh-high boots and faux fur coats; and Jill Stuart with sharp shoulders and dark floral motifs.
Prabal Gurung offered sharp, edgy black outfits with strong silhouettes, slashed sleeves and high-gloss patent leather and ended with Oscars-worthy white gown gowns with feathers and gold lame. Somewhere in between, he fit in blouses and dresses in a recurring print of a steer's skull that sounds scary but was subtle and truly lovely.
Gurung created hourglass shapes with sheer panels on models who sometimes looked like beanpoles. Some garments were molded to define silhouettes without making them clingy.
Trousers were narrow but with boot-leg bottoms. Chic coats were also long and lean.
He experimented with mixed textures, offering a patent leather coat embroidered with sheared mink loops, fox fur and tiers of goat hair, and on the other end of the spectrum, a white cocktail dress with a panel of gold tinsel and another of lame.
A red carpet-ready black gown featured sheer tulle covered in beads and crystals.
Gisele Bundchen wore a military-inspired trenchcoat as part of an impressive group of top models on Alexander Wang's runway, along with Shalom Harlow and Karolina Kurkova.
The clothes including wool sweaters and tweed jackets were more straightforward than Wang's recent cool-girl downtown vibe. The slick, glossy fall collection also featured looks in leather and chiffon, with colors like black, oxblood red and an optic white he called "peroxide."
Rachel Zoe has that old-school, rock-star girlfriend thing down. Zoe, best known as a celebrity stylist, flaunted the signature look that made her famous with a parade of faux fur coats, skinny-style tuxedos, maxi dresses and thigh-high boots that you imagine the young jet-set wearing as they shuttle from London to Los Angeles — perhaps with a stop in New York. They're for the type of woman who can pull off gaucho pants, which were indeed part of the lineup.
She said in her notes she drew inspiration "from the rock and roll glamour of London in the late '60s and such fashion icons as Marianne Faithfull and Mick Jagger."
The second outfit to come down Jill Stuart's runway, a gold leaf-embroidered T-shirt paired with black sailor pants, is headed straight to the designer's closet.
She had it earmarked for her wardrobe even before she debuted her fall collection.
Some dresses had flippy, flouncy hemlines and others had a schoolgirl jumper silhouette, adding moments of levity to the catwalk, but the emphasis seemed to be on the sharply defined shoulders, high necklines and the occasion panel of suggestive sheer fabric.
Many of the prints and embroideries featured a floral motif, but there was nothing flowery about black roses on stark winter white backgrounds or prints that seemed to paint a picture of a garden in the dark. This collection showed a more serious side to Stuart.
With winged dresses and swirls of piping to evoke veins, Christian Siriano paid homage to Fay Wray and vampire bats in a stark, cavernous runway space worthy of the creatures of the night.
The fourth-season winner of "Project Runway" said he was inspired by old horror films, particularly "The Vampire Bat," a black-and-white from 1933 starring Wray.
He used a near blood red, silvery gray, midnight black and shimmery gold brocade to set the scene, along with a bright white as a nod to Fay's skin tone and wardrobe in the movie.
The theme, including blood red lips on models, is darker than Siriano's previous looks. He was helped along by shiny black leather jackets and skirts, some in snake and crocodile patterns.
He went for a little romance in loose shapes and long trumpet skirts, which fit tightly and flare at the bottom, in loose palazzo trousers and in his signature gowns in crepe and tulle. He added wearable gold beading on a red cocktail dress, a faux fox infinity scarf in near silver against a black skinny pant and top, and used a leather bodice with a flowing, pleated skirt.
AP radio correspondent Julie Walker contributed to this report.
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