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Fashion Week opens with substance

John Bartlett, Perry Ellis and BCBG Max Azria kick off this year's event.
/ Source: The Associated Press

New York Fashion Week opened with more substance than style Friday.

Instead of Kenneth Cole leading the seasonal previews as he usually does with his celebrity-packed show, menswear brands John Bartlett and Perry Ellis were the first to present their spring 2007 clothes in quiet, almost subdued runway shows, followed by BCBG Max Azria, which dotted its front row with starlets, including Carmen Electra and Kelly Rowland.

Marc Bouwer then infused some glitz and more formfitting styles, but still there was nothing too fussy. And at Gottex, stylish cover-ups made plausible beach outfits even when they were paired with teeny bikinis.

The clothes seen in the shows Friday were mostly wearable — no wild shapes, no big gimmicks, not much embellishment. However, it remains to be seen if these are the trends that will be carried through the full eight days of the designer previews, which run through Sept. 15.

BCBG Max Azria: BCBG has become the secondary line to the Max Azria signature collection, but you wouldn’t know it from the loose eyelet dresses that were topped with light cardigans and vests that breezed down the runway. One of the best looks was a vanilla-colored silk crepe de chine covered with fabric rosettes and a rope belt knotted at the hip.

Azria, who co-designs with his wife, Lubov, did layers with a light touch, mixing short with long and not getting bogged down with weighty fabrics. He also played with volume by adding fabric panels that floated alongside garments instead of overdoing the top or bottom.

The brightest color was a lemon yellow. Pistachio green and dark teal provided an occasional pop, but the palette was mostly different versions of sand.

Although this is a collection that always skews young, some looks would be hard for anyone of voting age to pull off, particularly the bubble baby-doll dresses and supershort rompers.

John Bartlett: The guy next door would look great in Bartlett’s crisp and casual clothes, especially if he lives near the marina or yacht club.

The collection of tapered, flat-front trousers paired with loose linen shirts or short-sleeve sweaters with rugby stripes on the back had a whiff of sea air to it. Models wore rope sandals or boat shoes, although those in dressier suits — including Bartlett when he took his bow at the end — donned saddle shoes.

The dominant colors were beige, yellow, white and silver with touches of navy.

The shorts for daytime hit mid-thigh and the anorak for chilly evenings was in a durable — as in easy-to-care-for and hard-to-mess-up — canvas. They are smart additions to men’s wardrobes, as are Bartlett’s breezy suits that have the same slim-leg pants and two-button jackets with side vents.

Instead of relying on the increasingly stale cargo pockets, Bartlett put a smaller, slimmer pocket on the rear thigh, giving men a place for their keys without ruining the sleek line of the garment.

However, the men who would wear these practical-yet-fashionable clothes probably would pass on the tight knit shorts, which were definitely a mistake.

Perry Ellis: John Crocco, the new creative director at Perry Ellis, is targeting a cool customer with his almost entirely white and silver clothes.

His designs for spring, including the colors and slim proportions, are an homage to the late Ellis, Crocco said in his notes. The last model to come down the runway wore a V-neck T-shirt with a screen print of Ellis’ face.

Before that, though, the models wore lightweight pants that were cut close to the body and had tapered bottoms. The pants were also a little short, indicating that men are expected to wear espadrilles instead of flip-flops next spring.

On these men, the trousers looked great, but not even the models could pull off the too-tiny bathing suits.

The sweaters, including a cotton-cashmere double-breasted cardigan and a cotton-cashmere henley, were the high points of the collection, as was a leather peacoat that already had an appealing worn-in look.

Marc Bouwer: Before the show started, Ivana Trump said she’s been a fan of Bouwer’s for 20 years, and although “you can’t have big hips or a lumpy tummy to wear his clothes,” the garments are sexy and travel well.

After the show, Trump said she’d like to own a bright canary yellow satin dress with a plunging V-neck and a jewel at the waist. She also liked the jersey gowns with strategically placed cutouts.

The collection essentially broke down into four parts: graphic black-and-white stripes and squiggles, animal prints, tropical colors and lingerie looks.

A kimono-style top with batwing sleeves was a standout from the graphic group. The animal-print section featured one of the best dresses — an Asian-style gown with jeweled closures. From the tropics, a bright aqua-blue gown with an open-halter front and flowing bottom was fresh, clean and modern.

The lingerie-inspired dresses were the weak link. Most looked more appropriate for the bedroom than the red carpet.

Gottex: The swimwear-maker celebrated its 50th anniversary with swimsuits “inspired by the two sides of a woman, her independent and assertive side, and her romantic, feminine side,” according to designer Gideon Oberson.

The assertive side probably would like the “Odyssey” series of suits that featured a sheer, chiffonlike white fabric on the bodice with gold bands around the neck and metallic bottoms. For the romantic side, there was a series of lovely and delicate suits with glittering gold leaves over sheer fabric.

Almost all of the swimsuits, though, seemed more for lounging around the pool than going in the water or joining a beach volleyball game.