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Designers dig into grandma’s closet

There’s a bit of a vintage vibe at New York Fashion Week, with many designers mining bygone eras as inspiration for their new fall collections.
/ Source: The Associated Press

There’s a bit of a vintage vibe at New York Fashion Week, with many designers mining bygone eras as inspiration for their new fall collections. The outfits are distinctly feminine although there are many menswear touches. The brown, moss and gray backdrop is made richer with plum, berry and blue.

Previews for stylists, editors and retail buyers continue through Friday, with heavy hitters Michael Kors, Vera Wang, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren still to weigh in. Tommy Hilfiger also returns to the schedule on Friday after taking a several-seasons hiatus.

Marc JacobsThis is what the fashion crowd was waiting for: A definitive sign that the shape of fashion will be different next season.

More than any other American designer, Marc Jacobs is the bellwether, and he treated his beyond-capacity crowd Monday night to long, lean clothes that were devoid of gimmicks but still had sparkle, thanks to several sequined pieces. Models, including Shalom Harlow making a rare appearance on the runway, wore 1920s-inspired hats to complement pleated shirtdresses that went below the knee and menswear-style vests and narrow-leg — though not “skinny” — pants. There was more than one jumpsuit, too, and while jumpsuits normally either look dated or are incredibly difficult to pull off, Jacobs’ navy one covered with subtle embroidered bows actually worked.

(The jury is still out on the decision to put stirrups on the bottoms of most pants.)

Eveningwear was either tailored tuxedos, or dropped-waist or draped dresses; a teal strapless velvet gown with an oversized bow at the bustline was his finale piece.

Jacobs did tap into some already-emerging trends, including using teal and berry against an overall palette of gray, navy, beige and winter white, as well as mixing textures, almost ensuring that those looks will take off.

Among his fans cheering at the end were Rod Stewart, Joss Stone, Harry Connick Jr., Russell Simmons and Lenny Kravitz.

Narciso Rodriguez
Narciso Rodriguez finds himself once again at the forefront of fashion as the silhouette slims down, after a few seasons when “volume” was the biggest buzzword. Back then — really mere months ago — Rodriguez’s structured and fitted shape was largely out of step with the zeitgeist, but that’s not the case for fall.

The new collection featured a lot of refined wool pieces, including several in an ivory and gray print. The best of that set was a trim suit worn with extra-long gray gloves. Rodriguez’s coats also were noteworthy, especially a winter white wool coat with a wide waistband, and an emerald green and black coat with bracelet sleeves that mixed silk and nylon.

His front row was filled with celebrities who are tried-and-true fans and friends: Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld, Rachel Weisz, Claire Danes and Julianna Margulies. One of the ladies certainly would make a splash at a Hollywood function in the super-sexy gown that closed the show; it had skinny spaghetti straps in the front and a bathing-suit-style crisscross in the back, and was very open and bare on the rest of the bodice.

Derek LamThe microminis and the corset bodices in Derek Lam’s collection were balanced by hearty fabrics and many layers, producing an overall sophisticated look. He also further shrunk the silhouette that has been getting narrower as Fashion Week marches on.

And Lam’s runways also featured more chic weekend pieces than many of the other designers, who seem to be focusing on day-to-night clothes instead of casual wear. A noteworthy outfit was a dark camel double-breasted blazer, a plaid zippered tunic and riding pants.

Lam used a beautiful, rich French blue color for both a tank-strap, corset-style dress with oversized buttons on the front and an asymmetrical wrap tailored dress.

Betsey JohnsonBetsey Johnson turned the fashion world upside down — twice — at her charm school-theme runway show. First, she sent out some of the longest skirts, subtle colors and most wearable outfits seen at Fashion Week so far. This from a woman who in seasons past basically staged X-rated peep shows.

Then the 60-something Johnson did her signature cartwheel, in high heels, and landed as gracefully as a teenage gymnast.

The daytime outfits were the highlight of the collection, especially a navy crocheted sheath with a peplum at the waist, a black wool sheath with tight pleats at the hem, and a cozy hooded mohair anorak in a heathered gray with white stripes.

But what’s likely to be the most popular items were in the parade of prom-ready dresses. Relax mom, girls will look pretty and proper in the one-shoulder plum organza dress with tiered ruffles on the bottom or the ivory ribbon-embroidered chemise — it’s short but not too short.

Bill BlassDesigners “borrow” ideas from each other all the time, but few of them acknowledge it. Michael Vollbracht, though, is an honest guy and he credited creations by the late Bill Blass, Roy Halston and Norman Norell as the foundations of his new collection.

He explained why in a note provided to the audience: “Mr. Norell — because I fell in love with his sequined mermaids years and years ago when I was a very young designer. Halston ... because his simple philosophy looks so good in this era of over-designing. And of course Blass — because it is my job to knock him off.”

But after three years as the creative force at Blass, Vollbracht also showed he is confident enough to tweak the look of those he admired, keeping the overall look modern, something he’d been criticized for not doing a few seasons ago.

A short and sassy blue jersey swing dress and a cozy white cashmere one could be worn by a 20-year-old or a 50-year-old, especially with the dark opaque tights that have been all over runways. Coats also had a light touch, though surely a forest-green mink coat, with the texture of corduroy, would keep its wearer warm.

The Blass label increasingly is a red-carpet player, too, and there were several choices for Hollywood types. The more daring star might go for a gown with a black leather bodice and floating black chiffon bottom, while a black sequin halter gown with a mermaid hem, one of those Norell touches, would be a safer choice. A fluid champagne-colored silk jersey gown with a plunging V front and back, with pearls embroidered at the waistband, would be the best choice.

Monique Lhuillier
Monique Lhuillier continues to evolve her collection beyond her trademark pretty and ladylike clothes while still keeping everything pretty and ladylike — there’s just an edge to it all now.

“This season is all about industrial chic,” Lhuillier declared in a statement. Architect Frank Gehry’s work was an inspiration, she said, especially “his use of different kinds of metal and steel to create unusual and interesting forms.”

On a dress, this translated to high-neck dresses and gowns adorned with what looked like gold coins or hammered metal.

There also was a lot of structure to the clothes and a slim fit.

Schwartz said she was trying to envision the eveningwear on the red carpet. She’d like to see Cate Blanchett either in Lhuillier’s rose chiffon gown with a panel of pleats down the front or the emerald green corset gown.

“And I’d like to see the daytime looks on myself,” she added.

Max AzriaThis is the more upscale line from husband-wife team Max and Lubov Azria, who previewed their BCBG earlier in Fashion Week. Some of the themes were the same here — patchwork and pleats, and using green and mauve as accents with grays and browns — but just a little more polished.

A few dresses had intricately pleated sleeves, and the knit ones had interesting patterns and colorblocks woven in the wool. Other dresses — and there were a lot of not-quite-fancy dresses for Azria’s starlet following — had high necks and cowl backs, which seems to be a favored look of the season.

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Azria, who had John Legend and Kelly Rowland in his front row, made an interesting music choice: Models walked down the runway to lyrics that said, “Big girls are beautiful.”

Jovovich HawkDesigners Milla Jovovich and Carmen Hawk took over a section of the already vintage-inspired Gramercy Park Hotel and turned it into a treasure trove of grandma’s best clothes — from when she was still a single lass.

Until now, Jovovich-Hawk’s claim to fame has been Jovovich’s celebrity as a model. This collection, though, could elevate the brand thanks to a series of sweet-sexy outfits.

The best ones included a slim black skirt suit with patent leather accents, worn with hot-pink stilettos; a black viscose dress with rosettes and rose-color trim; and a navy halter dress with peach contrast that looked as if it should be worn by a woman selling cigarettes at a speak-easy.

ThakoonDo black and blue go together or do they clash? It’s an age-old fashion question, but Thakoon Panichgul thinks he has the answer: Put black embellishment on cobalt blue or vice versa. He did it on a satin “sweatshirt’ dress, assembling beads in a floral pattern; and he paired a black feather-seamed coat, decorated with a bit of lace, and a cobalt satin cocktail dress that had stripes of black paillettes.

He made a convincing case for the unconventional color combination.

Nanette LeporeIf you’re going to wear Keds with cocktail dresses, you’ve got to have the right attitude, and the models in Nanette Lepore’s show Monday certainly did. They bounced around in short dresses, purple tights and gold or velvet sneakers. (Lepore collaborates with Keds.)

Even the more grown-up clothes, which were then paired with peep-toe pumps from Lepore’s own, higher-end shoe collection, had a light and playful touch — a sweater dress was adorned with sequins and a tan-and-blue print chiffon dress was worn over soft velvet pants.