Luxury fashion still caters to movie stars, high-powered businesswomen and ladies who lunch, but designers are starting to show interest in that generation's daughters.
Halfway through New York Fashion Week, familiar runway themes like military tailoring, old-school rock 'n' roll, and Hollywood Golden Age glam are showing tweaks designed to appeal to younger eyes: the double-breasted coat in shiny patent leather, tweed suits infused with metallics and leather substituted in silhouettes that used to be silk.
"New customers are getting into luxury fashion in a way they weren't before the recession," said Ed Jay, senior vice president of American Express Business Insights.
Longtime clients who bought full-ticket designer clothes before the economy soured have proven loyal, but they aren't buying as much as they used to, Jay said. But the luxury market is seeing new interest among Gen Y fashionistas, who didn't used to buy much high-end but are now starting to, spurred in part by the ease of online purchases. "Newcomers don't spend as much per ticket, but there are more of them," he said.
The Row, the collection designed by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, which previewed Monday, seemed to speak directly to women (especially the younger set) who live the sort of uptown life that requires clothes for special occasions, but who aren't interested in traditional suits or eveningwear. Think cozy chenille jackets or cashmere tops with an underlayer of sheer chiffon, or paired with a full-length skirt.
Ken Downing, fashion director of Neiman Marcus, said that even the fur turning up on a lot of runways could motivate younger shoppers. "We are seeing a lot of mink, a lot of textural mink. You thought of mink before as your grandmother's but this is through a new lens. ... Mink is something a lot of women don't have."
Some of the fur being shown is faux, but whether younger shoppers — especially given the mainstreaming of veganism and animal rights — will buy real fur-accented pieces as a new trend remains to be seen.
But Downing said the way fur is being shown now is often as part of a coat, sweater, or skirt, rather than an entire fur coat. Downing said it was a youthful way of wearing it, flattering and interesting. "Fur continues to modernize into a sportswear item," he said.
And while designers hope their new collections will inspire spending by shoppers young and old, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Fashion Week is an increasingly profitable enterprise for the city. At an appearance with Diane von Furstenberg Monday, Bloomberg announced that the twice-yearly shows are expected to generate an economic impact of $865 million for the city in 2012.
The number, calculated by the city's Economic Development Corporation, is up from an estimated $773 million in 2007.
"We are the fashion capital of the world. The buzz it creates helps underscore our city's reputation as a cutting-edge capital of fashion, home to more than double the number of fashion companies in Paris," Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg and von Furstenberg, who is president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, used their appearance at a fashion incubator for fledgling designers to highlight a number of ongoing city efforts to support an industry that employs 5.7 percent of the city's workforce and provides nearly $2 billion in yearly city tax revenue.
Bulk manufacturing has shifted out of the city's garment district to low-cost overseas venues, but Bloomberg said programs do exist to train and support fashion entrepreneurs. "If you're going to make a million white T-shirts, it's hard to see how that is going to stay here," he said. But "when it gets to hands-on customer service, real quality, that's where New York can star, because intellectual capital is our raison d'etre."
And Von Furstenberg said the city's manufacturing industry is not entirely a lost cause. "Some of the manufacturing is actually coming back as the cost of goods over there is getting higher," she said. "I've expanded my sample room here. We are manufacturing here. Things change."
Marc Jacobs, always the showman, turned his New York Fashion Week show into a mystical forest Monday night, presenting his fall collection amid an old-school fairy tale, complete with characters wearing oversized fur hats and embellished big-buckle shoes. There were hints of Victoriana, with bustles tacked on to some of the dresses, and a sequined faux-fur coat that appeared to be covered in snowflakes.
Nearly hidden amid the onstage drama unfolding at the Lexington Avenue Armory were beautiful pieces of outerwear and chic cocktail clothes. The palette had rich tones of purple and bottle green, with a good dose of celebratory silver sparkle. His Shetland wool stoles turned into a trend for fall before the audience walked out the door.
Jacobs is known for incredibly original and dramatic Fashion Week presentations. Actress Rose Byrne ("Bridesmaids") who described the show as "a kind of Grimm's fairy tale" and "Tim Burton-y," "unique and beautiful."
Donna Karan's runway show Monday was all woman — even in tophats and tails. The opening look for her signature label was a gray-and-black pinstripe jacket with a crisp white taffeta bodysuit — Karan's signature piece — that was fashioned to look like a button-down shirt.
She also offered long coats with strong shoulders and lapel collars, and a riding jacket paired with pinstripe mohair pants.
Skirts and dresses were mostly long with sharp-cut knife pleats for movement. Tops were mostly slim and tailored with nothing frilly, not even when she added sparkle.
When she got to the finale, however, Karan was fully in touch with her feminine side, sending down a red-hot scarlet-colored, stretch-satin evening gown.
Carolina Herrera's fall collection highlighted what's likely to be a trend for next season: styles that put the focus on a woman's face thanks to high, interesting necklines.
No decollete and not a lot of leg, either. Attention was drawn upward as one model wore a hand-painted organza scarf with her navy wool suit with black grosgrain detail, and another wore a tweed suit with a fox-fur collar. There was a lovely lilac cashmere kaleidoscope-print scarf that complemented a cropped purple-wool jacket and slim silk mikado pant.
Herrera went with a more architectural silhouette than a frilly one, but as a seasoned supplier of chic clothes, she moves easily between the two looks. The finale ballgown in bright pink was worn off the shoulder with a folded fabric bodice. A key daytime outfit — something her luxury-seeking customers count on her for — was a navy knit turtleneck with a broadtail-fur (flat lambswool) front and an indigo-colored pencil skirt.
She featured a series of abstract prints on her eveningwear, which made a statement on the catwalk that might be hard to appreciate in tighter quarters. But, alas, the Herrera woman lives in a world of grand entrances. Herrera loyalist Renee Zellweger once again filled her spot in the front row.
You can convey a refined-yet-sporty elegance with double-breasted coats, suede field jackets and scarf-print silk dresses. Or you could just create an elaborate set for a fashion show with a brick-path runway, park benches and ivy-covered walls. Tommy Hilfiger did both.
Not leaving anything to chance Sunday night, Hilfiger brought the hunt club to Park Avenue, creating a set inside an old armory building that complemented every look worn by the models. There was a lot of oohing and aahing as the often-jaded crowd of stylists, retailers, editors and celebrities — including Uma Thurman — walked in the door.
"The whole message is town and country," Hilfiger said in a pre-show interview. "There are country tweeds and a mix of suedes, leather and quilting. It sort of looks like hunting, but it's not hunting foxes, it's hunting for fun."
An uptown element was added through cashmere, fine details such as braiding and a sophisticated color palette rooted in plum, Dijon yellow, navy, dark green and burgundy.
Other than the obvious military references, Hilfiger also hit on a few of the other trends catching on during New York Fashion Week, including high necklines that draw the eye upward, long gloves and tactile fabrics. Of course, he said, it's all been skewed a little to fit his usual preppy aesthetic.
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Associated Press Writesr Caryn Rousseau and Samantha Gross contributed to this report.