Fashion's Aggressive Tone Tries to Fight Downturn

A look back at Fashion Week

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Fernanda Calfat/Getty Images
    High hair and bright colors at Oscar de la Renta's Fall 2009 runway presentation.

    Whether it was the urban warrior, a Stormtrooper, a rebel rock 'n' roller or the woman with the corner office as the muse, designers took an aggressive stance with the fall styles previewed at New York Fashion Week.

    It's what they can do to battle the recession.
        
    The entire industry, including editors, stylists and retailers, all seem to realize just how important next season's styles are to their livelihoods. And even though they took different approaches, there was one bottom line: They have to give shoppers something they don't already have.
        
    It could be an outfit with novelty, a special detail or an unusual fabric, or it could be a classic investment piece, but whatever makes it to the stores in the fall must give consumers a sense of value, even if they're shopping at the highest price points, said Cindy Weber Cleary, fashion director at InStyle.
        
    “Disposable fashion doesn't seem attractive right now. You want something you'll either wear the hell out of it every day, or get something you can have for many years,'' she said.
        
    The best of both worlds could be a coat -- Weber Cleary particularly liked those at Derek Lam and Donna Karan -- or a dress that makes you feel good each time you put it on.
        
    The many slim sheath dresses on the runways could be a nod to first lady Michelle Obama, who wears them more often than not, observed Bloomingdale's fashion director Stephanie Solomon. Moving forward, she suggested, add a belt to keep the silhouette fresh.
        
    Candy Pratts Price, executive fashion director at Style.com, is one of those already in the market for a black dress, probably one from Calvin Klein, or a new suit with a long pencil skirt.
        
    Neither she nor Weber Cleary are into fads like the futuristic football-player size shoulder pads on dresses or too much neon. A strong shoulder in a jacket, though, or a Day-Glo accessory would be a good compromise.
        
    A leather-and-knit piece, maybe an outerwear sweater with leather trim or a coat with ribbed insets, is probably missing from your wardrobe, added Solomon, and it looks great with leather leggings -- something else not yet in most closets. You could also wear those leggings with a crisp white shirt and a boyfriend cardigan -- another must-have.
        
    Suze Yalof Schwartz, executive fashion editor at large for Glamour magazine, thinks women will be able to blend the seemingly two separate directions of “tough luxe'' and “power broker.''
        
    “You can take a little bit of that punk, groovy cool girl and add that to the chic woman who wants the corner office. If you mix them together, you've got fashion gold,'' Yalof Schwartz said.
        
    Actual metallics also had a strong showing on the catwalk even if the overall palette was unusual for fall. Other than a whole lot of black, there were the bright pinks, acid greens and safety orange, as well as the easy-to-wear teal blue, violet purple and bottle green, but there was hardly a rust tone in sight.
        
    Designers had to walk a fine line between being too somber and too unrealistically optimistic.
        
    “With all the neon, I understand the impulse for happy clothes but people probably don't want to stand out that much,'' Weber Cleary said. “But fashion also has to be fun and make you want to shop. I think there's too much black, but I like it on leather and fur.''
        
    There's also the issue of cost. Allure editor in chief Linda Wells thought the designers turned in strong styles, but she said, she's waiting to see what will happen with price tags.
        
    “There needs to be a price adjustment. There's no reason clothes should be so expensive,'' she said
        
    Limiting the embellishment on garments while emphasizing interesting shapes and flattering fits -- which designers did -- is a step in the right direction, Wells said.
        
    Some of the key looks:
        
    -- The urban warrior: Corset-style bodices; camouflage prints; hard accessories; towering shoes and boots.
        
    -- Stormtrooper: Stiff, techno fabrics; metallics; shoulder flange and peplums standing away from the body.
        
    -- Rock 'n' roller: Leather _ mixed with a little lace; black mixed with highlighter colors; miniskirts; tough metal hardware.
        
    -- Power player: Skirt suits with a long, lean silhouette; shoulder pads; fur-trimmed coat.