NEW YORK — Spring fashion showings kicked off here in a flurry of ruffles, flounces, bustles, crinolines, bare shoulders, bare midriffs and skirts so wide you could recycle them as curtains.
All the froufrou, while adorable, is for ingenues in their off-duty hours. And everybody knows it. But the basic shapes, minus gimmicky trimmings, reflect the American designers' deepening link with the reality of their customers' lives.
Designer Cathy Hardwick's collection, for example, was young, pretty and peppy, spiced with circle skirts buoyed by so many ruffled tulle petticoats that the skirts stood out at 90-degree angles to the body. These were great for publicity shots to send the newspapers back home, but they detracted from the heart of Hardwick's fashion message.
Range of Options
The designer's real clothes for real people are much more wearable and modern, offering a range of options in shape and style. She knows that not even the bounciest young executive will go to work in a cheerleader's mini or in miles of petticoats that belong at a ball.
Her business suits in hot pink, red or grass green cotton jersey have boxy little jackets, slim knee-length skirts and rickrack trimming that makes them look like spoofs of classic Chanel styles. Tank-top dresses hang slightly away from the body, with gathered skirts stopping either at the knee or low on the calf. And Hardwick's short, fly-away jackets, in wheat-color linen, flare out over matching circle skirts in long or short styles.
In essence, Hardwick has interpreted all the shapes and trends shown in European spring collections, but in a way that young Americans can comfortably wear. Retail prices range from $80 to $200.
More concern for the practical needs of women was evidenced at the Anne Klein II collection, which is the firm's less-expensive line. Designer Louis Dell'Olio narrated the informal show, acknowledging that most women nowadays need corporate, sporty and creative fashions in their wardrobes. Ideally, he explained, a single outfit should be able to fill more than one of those needs. For office-through-evening hours, he showed easy linen blazers in navy or pale colors over georgette pleated skirts and simple blouses.
"Length is simply not an issue anymore," he said, as knee- and ankle-length skirts appeared. "I believe in short and long, in all proportions at all times--as long as they look right on the women who wear them."
Dell'Olio also believes in a new softness and femininity for spring. Some long silk jackets have drawstring waists because drawstrings "let us know there's a body beneath the clothes." And shoulder pads, he said, while not necessarily smaller, are softer and rounder this season. Instead of belts, he offers pleated fabric cummerbunds in prints or solids. Prices range from $100 to $260.
Michael Kors, a 27-year-old designer who's been in business for five years, stayed away from frills, flounces and bright colors in his spring collection. The navy, gray and neutral cottons and wool jerseys he showed were shaped into slim or flaring skirts in long and short versions. These were teamed with strapless or tank-topped bodices and long, unfitted cardigan jackets. It's a dramatically stark and simple look that demands good posture and a slim figure. But Kors has developed a strong following because the clothes have a young sophistication and can be worn from office through evening. Retail prices range from $100 to $500.
Master of Sequins, Beads
Bob Mackie's customers probably don't worry much about practical concerns. And so Mackie doesn't either. The designer, once known as TV's costume king, has dressed Cher and Carol Burnett in some of their more outrageously glittering ensembles, and he continues to outdo himself as the master of sequins and beads.
His daytime offerings, all at knee-length or longer, feature slim knit dresses in peach and other pale colors, often with smock-back jackets or fluttery jackets that seem to be made of silk scarfs. A pale tan and white striped shirtdress is puffed with petticoats beneath the full skirt.
Mackie's evening wear is vibrant and bright, running the gamut from a sexy, slim black gown with brilliantly beaded stole to a white chiffon halter-neck dress with a full-length circle skirt that is sewn in ruffled tiers, prairie style. Those who have to ask the prices of Mackie's evening clothes probably can't afford them.
The major New York collection will be shown later this week.