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A Woman for All Seasons


NEW YORK — Like climate chaos on a weather map--sizzling hot when it's supposed to feel like fall, unseasonably cold when it should be downright toasty--so it seems that fashion, like the forces of nature, is mixing things up.

No longer is tweed just for winter. Leather just for fall. Or shearling for those deep-freeze days. Next spring, women will be able to wear all three--and combine them with lightweight fabrics of spring. Clearly, designers who have shown so far during Fashion Week are forecasting that, weather or not, just about anything goes.

Thick cashmere sweaters, mink-lined jackets and boots for spring? "Why not?" Michael Kors asked backstage after his Wednesday show that included such looks. "Women have different moods. It's about mixing the seasons because ultimately they are buying clothes to wear year-round. Putting your wardrobe away in storage and buying a whole new one each season is a thing of the past." His collection, for example, mixes a linen tank top with leather hot pants, or a shearling jacket with a light, linen skirt.

The Big Mix was seen on other runways as well, and the response too has been mixed, with the fashion world buzzing in some circles with the question, "So it took a designer to do this?" Still, there were some smart looks in patent-leather motorcycle jackets teamed with clingy jersey dresses, safari coats with elegant beaded skirts, buttoned and belted trench coats with minis, even a suede bikini--and another in sequins. Tulle, organza, satin or silk blouses soften the edges of wool suits, some with skirts, others with pleated masculine pants.

The mixing extends to patterns and prints as well. Geometrics and other patterns resembling wallpaper from the Brady Bunch's den rule. Pinstripes and stripes as wide as those seen on restaurant awnings are everywhere and in every direction. No surprise, floral patterns are abundant.

There's a mix of reinterpreted looks as well--nautical, the wild wild West, military motifs--all inspired from the '60s, '70s and '80s, (yes, fall's infatuation with the '80s continues into spring). Culottes and culotte suits are primed for a comeback. The classic chemise, the shirtdress and blouson jackets--as well short jackets--and trench coats, many in shiny Shantung are favored spring silhouettes.

Beading, whether in Swarovski crystals or rhinestones, continues strong, but for the most part, it will be subtle and less weighty--call it sporadic sparkle. Gold shoes, chain belts and evening wear still reign, but silver and platinum still have a presence.

Colors range from soft hues of pink and moss to Carmen Miranda brights of fiery fuchsia and blazing blue. Leather has been recast for spring in fruity colors. And everything, from glamour-puss halter gowns to billowing, pleated palazzo pants seem to be tied up in the season's fave accessory: the belt, in various widths and buckles, from leather to striped terry cloth, and worn with jackets, trousers, jumpsuits and gowns. Yep, even with a bikini.

And if the Seventh Avenue posse has anything to do with it, the decree is for paper-thin, lightweight leather and supple, draping suede coats. To help cool fashion's warming trend, designers offer jumpsuits, girly rompers, one-shoulder or off-the-shoulder tops and one-sleeved dresses in light fabrics such as chiffon, cotton, silk, satin, jersey and tulle for daytime and evening. Hemp, burlap and denim, the latter mixed with linen, add to the variety of materials.

In mixing up his beautifully crafted and mostly casual collection, Kors' suede pajama pants, leather shorts and off-the-shoulder shifts looked comfortable and chic, especially when accessorized with low-rise wide leather and denim belts and turquoise Lucite jewelry or shoulder bags with the jewelry worked into the straps. He described his line, with its colors and Pueblo-striped patterns of the Southwest, as being devoted to "desert divas, healthy, sunbaked women," like Thelma and Louise headed west, convertible top down, on Route 66.

Ralph Lauren's line was devoted to the simplicity--and elegance--of perennial favorites: black and white, which he showed in stripes, chevrons, leather and lace at his Wednesday show that had actresses Kyra Sedgwick, Penelope Cruz and Kristin Davis in the audience. To break the monotony, he tossed in brown. He passed on the many bright prints and florals shown by other designers and stuck with striped evening gowns, windowpane-patterned jackets, and white and black contrast piping on white and black leather pants, jackets and dresses.

His tops were lean and bare. Jackets were cut close to the body and short. Dresses and skirts were mostly knee-length, form-fitting and glided effortlessly on the runway. Among his prettiest looks was a black, beaded Chantilly lace, knee-length skirt paired with a boyish black-sleeved white jersey T-shirt, and a white stretch short jacket with a black denim skirt.

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