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Newer generation of designers energizes the runways

With Michelle Obama in mind, pacesetters' fashions emphasize toned arms and shoulders.

February 22, 2009|Booth Moore

A CALL TO ARMS

The upcoming fashion exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute is about the model as muse, but what was on the minds of much of the fashion industry this week was Michelle Obama as muse. Of course there was speculation about whether she would attend any runway shows (we got White House press secretary Desiree Rogers instead).

But Obama's presence was felt in other ways. First in the subtle shift in the designer hierarchy. Where Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera used to be fashion pacesetters and favorites of Laura Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton, this season their clothes felt ancient. There was as much or more interest in collections by a new generation of designer talents Jason Wu, Thakoon Panichgul and Narciso Rodriguez, all of whom have dressed the new first lady. This alone has energized the fashion business, which has been clobbered by the economic downturn.

The biggest celebrity at the shows wasn't a fashion editor or even Kanye West. It was Ikram Goldman, an ordinary-looking boutique buyer from Chicago who sat in the front row with her husband (he took photos) and occasionally their twin babies, acting as the first lady's unofficial stylist. Many of the clothes designers showed on the runway also seemed to have Michelle Obama in mind. How inspiring it is to have a 45-year-old career woman and mother as the fashion focus for once, instead of a barely pubescent, 6-foot-tall, 100-pound model named Kate or Jessica. There even seemed to be more racial diversity on the runways this season, something that's been long overdue at New York Fashion Week. (Now if only they would use some older, life-size women.)

The fall season's new erogenous zone isn't a heaving, surgically enhanced bosom or milelong legs. It's toned arms and shoulders, which fitness buff Obama has advertised as her best feature by wearing sleeveless-sheath and shift dresses, most recently on the March cover of Vogue magazine.

Never before have I seen so many arm- and shoulder-baring styles for the fall season -- jackets cut out around the collarbone at Michael Kors and the shoulders at Alexander Wang, one-shouldered and one-sleeved dresses at Kors, Derek Lam, Rodarte, Calvin Klein, Herrera and De La Renta. There were shoulder pads too, a blast from the 1980s past, at Marc Jacobs and Donna Karan.

This call to arms is power dressing for the aughts. And I, for one, am looking forward to seeing women flex some muscle.

COLOR POP

The fancy crystals and embroideries of seasons past may have been stripped away, but luxury lives on for fall in vivid fluorescent color. A trend that started on the street, it's now filtered up to the runway with Michael Kors' sporty, traffic-cone-orange sweater and fox fur coat, Narciso Rodriguez's acid-yellow bandage dress and Marc Jacobs' electric-blue scuba-inspired poncho. A pop of color is all you need to liven up the neutrals in your wardrobe. No cash for flash? Hit the drugstore and pick up some neon lipstick or nail polish instead. Viva the 1980s.

SURFACE EFFECTS

Origami folds, precision cuts, collage, sculptural and wrap effects -- texture is where designers' true artistry came into view for fall. Rodarte's collage creations, Marchesa's ball gown with stiff, paper-airplane-like folds, J.C. Obando's micro-pleat dresses and Proenza Schouler's shredded-burnout velvet sheaths were clothing as art. The trend also appeared on more everyday garb, including gray sweat shirts with sculpted power sleeves at Marc Jacobs, not-so-basic workaday skirts with origami folds at Nicole Miller and Michael Kors, and coats and dresses with sparkling net overlays like spun sugar at Carmen Marc Valvo.

URBAN WARRIORS

Gauntlet gloves and shoulder-hugging dresses at Donna Karan, bomber jackets at Phillip Lim and Richard Chai, lug-soled boots at Tory Burch and Proenza Schouler, artful camouflage and armor-like tailoring at Narciso Rodriguez, heavy-duty studding and fur-tail fringe at Alexander Wang, and chain-mail prints at Rag & Bone underscored a fierce, warrior theme. Protection from the economic storm, perhaps?

LEAN LINES

Our bank accounts aren't the only things getting squeezed. For fall, volume is out and thin is in with a new, body-conscious silhouette. That meant prim sheath and shift dresses at Jason Wu and Victoria Beckham, pencil skirts at DKNY, '80s throwback bandage and wrap dresses at Donna Karan and Narciso Rodriguez, and rocker-chic leather leggings at Derek Lam and Tory Burch. There was also a lean 1920s vibe to the long, sparkly tank dresses at Jason Wu and Vera Wang.

PEGGED PANTS

Why is it that every season designers must unload a crazy new pants shape on us? We've been through high-waisted, stovepipe and harem styles, and now, for fall, it's all about the pegged leg. Slightly easier to wear than the others, the pegged pants at Marc Jacobs and Donna Karan were full at the top and tapered to the ankle. One advantage? Pegged pants are the perfect thing to show off a fabulous new pair of shoes.

--

booth.moore@latimes.com

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