"Elegant American sportswear." Those are the words that best sum up the recent spring 2011 runway shows in New York. A new generation of designers has turned the page here, led by Alexander Wang, who has figured out what people want and how much they are willing to pay for it; first lady favorite Jason Wu; the ever-surprising Proenza Schouler; and the sisters behind the Rodarte label, which showed its most commercial collection yet. Here is a cheat sheet on the trends and styles that dominated the New York runways.
FOR THE RECORD:
Fashion report: In a Sept. 19 Image section article about the women's spring 2011 runway shows in New York, several names were jumbled during production. The designer collection that was like a wilderness escape to Yosemite was by Rodarte, not Repartee. Michael Kors called the back-to-nature trend "Naturaluxe," not "Naturalize." Rag & Bone designed utility pants with Broderie Anglaise insets, not Bordered Auglaize. And Alexander Wang showed a Tyvek windbreaker, not a Tiec windbreaker. —
The days of aggressively sexy, sky-high platform pumps are numbered. Spring's shoes are as simple as a child's building blocks, and not that dissimilar with their thick wood platform soles.
At Rodarte, designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy collaborated with Nicholas Kirkwood on craftsy-looking wood heels carved almost like totems, while Phillip Lim's were menswear-inspired lace-ups and Band of Outsiders' were a high-fashion take on the Teva.
Instead of wood, Michael Kors went with cork platform sandals with thick brown leather straps (some were even worn with ribbed ankle socks, for a kind of crunchy granola chic).
Derek Lam and Tory Burch both showed natural-leather closed-toe, ankle-strap shoes atop wood platforms. And if you aren't ready to step up to the platform trend, don't fear: There were plenty of flat sandals on the runways too.
Pants for every body
The skinny jean's reign of terror may be drawing to a close. The spring season's 1940s-meets-1970s vibe has opened up a whole new world of pants possibilities, beginning with the flared leg.
High-waist flared jeans, khaki and linen pants — seen on the runway at Derek Lam, Marc Jacobs, Jason Wu, JC Obando, Chris Benz and others — are the perfect foil to spring's must-have wood platform sandals.
At Ralph Lauren, there were white linen boy pants with suspenders, pants with drawstrings at the ankles, flared pants, fringed pants and leather cavalry pants.
Alexander Wang showed cropped carpenter pants, in white or a doodle-print, worn loose with white leggings peeking out. And Carolina Herrera brought back the oh-so-forgiving palazzo pants.
Back to nature
Dig out your Jesus sandals and hacky sacks — fashion is in the throes of a back-to-nature moment.
Maybe it's the grow-your-own food movement, the popularity of farmers markets, a yearning for a simpler, more technology-free life or simply that it's the spring season, but nature and botany were major themes on the runways.
Repartee's collection was like a wilderness escape to Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National parks, with wood-grain prints, carved wood barrettes, blanket checks and moss-colored lace.
Carolina Herrera took colors, prints and floral appliqués from 18th century botanical plates for her collection, which included a gown hand-painted with the image of a flower, complete with a French botany textbook label.
Monique L'huillier worked with cherry blossom print taffeta, draping it into a pleated A-line cocktail dress and a ball gown. (Also spotted: "sage green," "mint" and "poppy" hues.)
At Donna Karan, shoes were decorated with leather leaves, and gauzy long slip dresses were "saffron-stained" and "tamarind-distressed." A rough-textured, jute-colored unbuckle jacket was reminiscent of a seed sack.
Barbara Tfank said she was inspired by the goddess Persephone, who, according to myth, was gathering wildflowers when she was stolen away to the underworld. Tfank designs her own textiles, including the "morning garden" floral silk made into a swing jacket with gathered sleeves, paired with pale pink pants, and a topiary-print silk crepe draped into a gown that fell to the floor.
Michael Kors even gave the trend a name: "Naturalize." His smocked "shrub print" shredded taffeta skirt, and a daffodil yellow popover dress would put a smile on even the most stressed-out person's face. But Kors didn't just reference nature in color and print, he also took a step toward preserving it, by incorporating hemp, a sustainable fabric, into his line.
Lightness of being
The momentum for minimalism has been building for a few seasons now. But for spring, designers put a softer spin on the trend, working with a dozen shades of pale, breezy layers and sheer fabrics.
Rag & Bone designers Marcus Wainwright and David Neville added lingerie details to tailored pieces — a white blazer and utility pants with Bordered Auglaize insets, for example, and a black blazer with a sheer chiffon back.
Narciso Rodriguez's bias-cut silk dresses had lingerie-like insets of sheer floral fabric, or sequins trapped in netting.
Alexander Wang's collection was all white layers — a sheer scribble-print organza button-down shirt under a carpenter vest; a Tiec windbreaker over a mesh bra; and light-as-air white silk viscose trench coats.
Maybe it was Cynthia Rowley's recent experience designing a fashionable range of bandages for Band-Aid that made her want to work perforated designs and sheer stripes into her spring collection. The result was a delightful array of quirky sportswear, including a putty-colored skirt in spring's new below-the-knee length, with circles punched out of the front, paired with a light-blue sheer striped sweater, revealing a white sleeveless button-down shirt underneath.
Max Azria interpreted spring's new lightness with breezy maxi-dresses; fluid, wide-legged pants; and weightless tops in ice cream shades of vanilla, peach and mint.
Draping the models' tanned skin, anchored by the skinniest of straps, the clothes seemed as if they were pinned to a line, fluttering in the breeze.
Hemlines head south
For several seasons now, it seems like every skirt out there was designed with a "Gossip Girl" in mind. That is, most were so short and tight you'd have to be a teenager (or think you look like one) to make it work.
Well, help is on the way. For spring, American designers showed skirts in every length except mini — runway watchers saw below-the-knee, calf-length and ankle-grazing lengths. Even Proenza Schouler, whose pleated schoolgirl skirts were once the height of fashion, went with a more modest length.
If you believe the old adage that hemlines are indicators of the health of the economy, we may not see that recovery after all. But at least there's an excuse to skip those lunges at the gym.
For some designers, particularly the up-and-comers, minimalism took a more graphic form with color blocking and collage.
Prabal Gurung's group of graphic cashmere intarsia dresses in vivid sky blue, poppy yellow and saffron orange could have been modern art canvases. Joseph Altuzarra, another designer to watch, used snakeskin cutouts to create primitivist-looking designs on white silk jersey dresses.
Ohne Titel designers Alexa Adams and Flora Gill made sporty-looking black, white and cobalt blue silk color-blocked dresses and pants, with sloping neoprene pockets and techno zipper details.
And at Vena Cava, the 1980s Memphis design school inspired color-blocked halter dresses, kimono tops, skirts and camisoles.
So get ready to block and load.
Far East fascination
Now that Asia has become such a major player in the luxury market, designers are looking there for opportunities and inspiration.
Kimono-style wrap-front jackets and dresses worked their way into the minimalist collections of Narciso Rodriguez, Reed Krakoff and Francisco Costa at Calvin Klein. Vera Wang went in an edgier direction, using Quentin Tarantino's kung fu revenge flick "Kill Bill" as a creative springboard to come up with fierce-looking black twist-front pants tied with sumo rope belts, silk faille origami pleated coats and floral print "geisha dresses."
Carolina Herrera looked to Korea for her decadent collection of aikido pants, embroidered silk jackets and dresses with knotted cord belts, and silk faille gowns with Korean sashes. Proenza Schouler designers Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough turned their love of tie-dye into a love of Japanese shibori.
Oscar de la Renta dabbled in shibori too — shibori plaid.
But Ralph Rucci, long a student of Eastern philosophy and design, is the expert. You see Asian influences in all of his work, most notably this season in an ecru cotton jacquard coat with a pagoda design on the back.