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Styles are short, swingy at Fashion Week

Michael Vollbracht makes an impression with his collection for Bill Blass
/ Source: The Associated Press

For those who still measure fashion seasons in hemlines, the news from New York Fashion Week for spring 2007 is short and swingy.

Designers are hiking up hems for otherwise office-friendly suits, while also showing beachy shifts and swing dresses that seem rooted in early ’60s style.

Fashion Week hit its midway point Tuesday, with shows by Michael Kors, Vera Wang and Ralph Lauren, among others, still to come.

Bill Blass: Designer Michael Vollbracht struggled to attract a full house as stylists, editors and buyers kept their distance after the company took a few missteps during the transition after Blass’ death in 2002.

What a difference a year makes: Vollbracht presented an innovative and modern fall collection, and the company put Janet Jackson in many of the pieces over the past few months.

The relationship with Jackson continued Tuesday as the pop singer sat in the front row for Vollbracht’s spring show, along with Sigourney Weaver and most of the industry’s big-name insiders.

Vollbracht presented another strong line, falling somewhere between ladylike and sophisticated — perfect for the socialites who have filled their closets with Bill Blass designs over the years — and also modern and sexy.

The show opened with a beige jersey skirt suit that had movement but also the trappings of tradition. Generally, Vollbracht’s skirts were short and the jackets were long.

Jersey dresses and gowns also were strong, especially a brown Grecian-style dress with a shirred waist. It was worn with silver flat sandals, part of Blass’ new shoe collection. The shoe that people will remember, though, was a patent leather sandal with a metallic heel.

Two woven metallic dresses, both short, were outstanding — one had a blue top, open back and swing-style skirt in gold, silver and blue; the other was all gold and fitted much closer to the body. There weren’t many pants in the collection, but that seems to be a trend for spring.

Derek Lam: This was the little collection that could. The clothes weren’t overdone or overstyled, or thrust down the runway with glitz and glamour. There wasn’t even a single look that stood out as the best. Instead, Lam presented a lovely line full of subtle, well-executed details.

His trench coat was collarless and done in a quilt-patchwork fabric, complete with ticking stripes. A khaki suede empire-waist A-line coat had an asymmetrical line, and a terra cotta-colored blouse with a V-neck didn’t plunge too low to make an elegant outfit with a leather-and-suede patchwork pencil skirt.

The last two dresses were almost identical — both were navy one-shoulder gowns with a nautical rope braid — but one was in jersey, which gave it a more casual feel and a lot of movement, while the other was a floaty, more romantic chiffon.

Behnaz Sarafpour: So what if the first model on the runway — wearing a black-and-white spotted sheath dress — looked a little like a Dalmatian puppy? Dalmatians are cute, right? That’s sort of how the rest of the show went.

The clothes, which were almost all black or white except for a few metallics, were cute and perky and channeled a bit of the ’60s vibe that has been felt at Fashion Week.

Some of the best looks were a black off-the-shoulder capelet dress, a cream-colored chemise with a polo collar and a geometric cutout in the back, and a skintight platinum lurex tank top with matching pencil skirt.

She also showed some skinny jeans — a partnership with hip denim company Earnest Sewn.

Betsey Johnson: Betsey Johnson sent a parade of ruffled, tiered and baby-doll dresses down the runway, hitting notes sounded by other designers — to a rock ’n’ roll beat.

Yes, a black Chantilly lace jumper and a peach crepe halter playsuit were sexy, but she flexed her designer muscles with a baby blue organdy pintucked blouse and a pencil skirt, a raspberry tweed suit and a blush satin draped gown. She also paired a black gingham baby-doll dress with a tuxedo jacket and a green tweed coat with a striped linen pinafore.

At the end of her show, a beaming Johnson introduced her new granddaughter, Layla, to the packed-to-the-rafters crowd at the Bryant Park main tent, followed by her customary cartwheel down the runway. “The Devil Wears Prada” costume designer Patricia Field then joined Johnson in an impromptu dance to the song “Milkshake.”

Monique Lhuillier: Los Angeles-based Monique Lhuillier had the gold, linen, sand colors and bubble hems that have emerged as trends for spring, but she made everything a little trimmer and a little more tailored. The result: wearable, sophisticated clothes.

“This season’s woman is strong and confident,” Lhuillier said in her notes for Tuesday’s show. For daytime, that means a modified military jacket with an embellished waist and slim trousers or a cropped, double-breasted swing coat with a pencil skirt. For evening, the designer created airy chiffon gowns with “illusion necklines” — crystals and other beads on sheer fabrics that create the look of a necklace.

Lhuillier first made a name for herself in bridal gowns, so the dressiest items were her best, including a violet-and-white floral chiffon V-neck gown that breezed down the runway despite multiple layers of fabric. A beige linen gown with a pouffy tufted bottom still had shape, thanks to a pleated bodice and an embellished waist, proving that clothes don’t have to be too tight or too loose to make a lasting impression.

Marchesa: Marchesa is a relatively new player on the runways after cutting its fashion teeth on Hollywood’s red carpets. (Felicity Huffman won her Golden Globe Award earlier this year in a gown by duo Georgina Chapman and Kerin Craig.)

The designers still have a bit to learn about staging fashion shows: Their front-row celebrities Sarah Michelle Gellar and Mischa Barton, who arrived fashionable late, didn’t have anywhere to sit on the bleachers. Barton squished in, but Gellar headed toward the door as the lights dimmed.

Once the show got started, things fell into place with a delicate, feminine and sexy blush-colored strapless minidress made of layers of organza that had a row of rosettes at the bust. The next look also was a winner — a white organza minidress with full, sculpted sleeves.

The cream-colored strapless top with three tiers of organza paired with cream-colored superskinny pants would be a good outfit for any starlet ready to show off her legs — and wear a huge trend for spring.

But there were misses, too, usually when the designers used too much fabric that overwhelmed what essentially were skimpy dresses.