NEW YORK — Classic and covetable clothes are what American designers are hoping will battle the economic downturn next season and put women back in a buying mood. And that's exactly what Seventh Avenue stalwart Michael Kors delivered in his strong yet safe collection for fall. That meant basics like a charcoal pinstripe pantsuit, cut out around the shoulders to reveal the collarbone (the fall season's new erogenous zone); a black satin evening sheath with molded and folded origami sleeves creating a new power shoulder; and easy, "I will own it forever" draped black-sequin dresses.
Recession? That's not in Kors' jet-setting vocabulary, judging from the outrageously luxe shredded fox-fur coats, which came in the more sober shades of black and "blond," as well as safety-cone orange and neon pink for those who don't mind throwing caution to the wind and advertising that they still have money to spend. Combined with camel, charcoal and black, the "Project Runway" judge's dashes of the fluorescent followed fall's '80s sportswear revival.
Narciso Rodriguez went there too. It's been quite an eventful few months for the designer, splitting with his corporate partner Liz Claiborne in October and dressing Michelle Obama in the black-and-red dress she wore on election night in November.
Now, judging from his spectacular fall show, he's one of the most talented designers in New York in need of a backer. His collection, one of the week's best, was sexier than ever. An acid-yellow bandage dress clung to the body, exposing flashes of flesh, while a draped and slashed black-lace cocktail dress revealed a neon camo print underneath.
There was a powerful, urban warrior vibe that ran throughout -- on camo print leggings and a matching coat, worn with a bell-shaped hat pulled down over the face with eye slits. But it's the silver armor-inspired details on tailored coats and sheaths that will appeal to Rodriguez's die-hard fans.
Speaking of fans, Rachel Zoe was googly-eyed at all the luscious furs at Derek Lam, whose collection was all about relaxed, cool-girl chic. There were lots of cashmere coats to love, with double-layer collars and contrast seams, and bushy coyote-fur vests to wear with leather leggings a la the Olsen twins. Draped jersey dresses in earthy gold and oxblood shades, one coated in burnished sequins, rounded out the show.
From luxe to ultra luxe. They may not be couturiers in name, but sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy from Pasadena might as well be, considering the extraordinary handiwork that goes into each and every piece in their Rodarte collections, always a highlight of New York Fashion Week. And their fall show was even more complex and textural than what they have done before.
The Mulleavys are the fashion dreamers, and sometimes you just have to sit back and enjoy it. Their lovely monsters were lifted from a Gothic fairy tale, living in a state of beautiful decay. These clothes reminded me of the Bay Area Art to Wear movement -- collage mini-dresses and reworked biker jackets in a patchwork of marbled leather, metallic linen, cotton tulle, marled wool and crystal netting, each one a technical marvel that left me longing for a closer look. They were worn with over-the-knee boots with straps that snaked up the legs.
The melancholy color palette was dominated by gray -- and gray never looked so good -- with touches of green, silver, brown and black. The designers continued to work with their experimental knits, creating shaggy-looped and fringed cardigans and sweater dresses that you wanted to snuggle up with. The cocktail dresses, wrapped in hand-marbled ribbons of silk chiffon, are likely to be on every Hollywood cool girl's red carpet wish list.
These are special clothes, produced in extremely limited quantities with astronomical prices. But, oh, to be one of the lucky ones able to have them. With this collection, I wouldn't know whether to wear the dress or hang it on the wall.
Hot on their heels is L.A.'s J.C. Obando, whose second showing in New York was outstanding. The collection showcased his delicate hand-pleating technique on lovely cocktail dresses with panels of folded silk chiffon encasing the body like plates of soft armor.
He used the pleating technique again on obi belts fastened around beautifully draped white-silk georgette gowns, and on ingenious hourglass-shaped evening tops that were somewhere between a jacket and a bustier. The soft, romantic feel continued with a black evening coat covered in ribbons of frayed organza and cocktail suits in jewel-colored silk with ruffles curling around the collar. Bravo.