Blacks shine at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week

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(Part one of a four-part series.)

“I always wanted to live a man’s life in a woman’s body.”

That’s how Diane von Furstenberg, one of America’s top fashion designers, described her fall 2010 womenswear collection at its recent debut during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City.

mercedesbenz
FARAH ANGSANA, GEORGES CHAKRA and DIANE VON FURSTENBERG

She translated her vision beautifully into reality, combining power, strength, and authority with grace, elegance and sensuality. The result was a wardrobe for the modern-day femme fatale, the chic sophisticate who is comfortable and in control at the head of the boardroom table yet owns enough of her softer side to let a fellow hold the door for her on her way out.

Von Furstenberg’s newest line highlighted one of the biggest fashion trends for fall. Whether one calls it masculine meets feminine or borrowed from the boys, the influence of menswear fabrics and silhouettes on clothes for ladies has helped to keep women’s clothes interesting since the iconoclastic trendsetter Coco Chanel dared to pioneer such looks in the ’20s.

The new look for women is many things at once, juxtaposing sharp and smooth, hard and soft, simple and elaborate, dainty and edgy, disparate yet harmonious. The fusing of seeming opposites wasn’t lost on New York fashion stylist and designer Rosemary Ponzo, who observed the “mixture of all-out over-the-top and the simplicity of a draped sheath dress” at fashion week presentations.

Part uniform and part armor, fall looks for women reflect the sort of versatile, tailored, polished looks that take a woman from work to evening to weekend lunch. Consider von Furstenberg’s grey felted wool blazer and matching pants with a gray petal jersey tee shirt under a grey chiffon rosette bolero. They exemplify luxurious separates with a purpose, styles that function effortlessly yet look pulled together with and have a certain joie de vie.

Menswear-inspired women’s apparel is a constant, but it looks to be more pronounced and distinctive next fall and winter. That became clear as many designers, like von Furstenberg, went beyond merely a pinstriped pant here and a strong-shouldered jacket there. One might call it a full-scale raid of menswear departments, ranging from looks such as Elie Tahari’s double-breasted camel suit and Carolina Herrera’s daring appropriation of windowpane and Prince of Wales patterns to Stephen Burrows’ motorcycle jacket and matching pants that were bold and in-your-face yet still feminine and even a little vulnerable.

Designers knew where to draw the line, exercising an appreciable level of restraint with just enough romantic touches to avoid the cliché of contrived androgyny. Smart, intentional elements of design and embellishment made it clear that these were clothes for girls: the crop of the jacket, the flare of the pant, the drape of the blouse, the glimmer of the fabric, sexy finishing touches such as avant-garde hats, colorful gloves and towering heels.

Dannis Basso, known for his gorgeous furs, channeled “the strong, statuesque, elegant woman” in looks inspired by the sculpture of the Venus de Milo and the strength of women around the world at the dawn of a new decade. Then there was Cynthia Steffe, taking her cue from dapper Sloane Street boys who effortlessly combined casual with polished.

Strong looks for strong women was the central theme, bespeaking a determination to forge ahead in a challenging, ever-changing world that demands multitasking. Along with a sense of energy, direction, optimism, and determination, there was a decided softness and feel of nostalgia.

Here are nine other trends that suggest an upcoming fall and winter full of lovely choices for women:

Military

With U.S. troops still engaged in protracted wars overseas, it was only a matter of time before military styles became more the rule than the exception in women’s fashion. Exaggerated shoulders and epaulets on jackets were commonplace, along with double-breasted jacket styles. But there was always a soupcon of romance, whether a ruffled accent or sparkling detail.

Gray

A major directional color, in shades ranging from the paleness of a dove to the saturated richness of smoke. Gray was shown in every type of garment for every possible setting, whether a cocktail dress for a gala or slacks for shopping. But the must-have for every woman is a gray suit, which can be personalized easily with shirts or sweaters in any color and can go from the office to evening functions.

Capes

From dramatic full-size capes to chic, accessory-size capelets, the silhouette adds luxury to a look. Capes are definitely for dressier looks, and designers showed them in fabrics ranging from wool to fur with pants, suits and gowns. Other designers were more inventive and economical, attaching capelets to jackets, coats and knit tops.

Black

The color black returns with a vengeance, not seen in such abundance in a decade. But there’s always a new twist, and a number of designers created black lace overlays for skirts, tops, dresses and pants. The theme is a twist on the peek-a-boo looks that began to emerge last year, turning up next fall as slashes on trousers and party frocks.

Artistic prints

Designers showed a strong affinity for prints, usually choosing those with a collage effect or those that conjured images of a painting. The colors were often muted, rarely abstract, and always interesting. They were the sorts of prints that would be dated worn head-to-toe, with even print dresses accessorized with non-competing shoes and bags. Restraint is the key to making this look work. Wearing one piece with solids is the best way to frame such a sartorial masterpiece.

Purple

The strongest signature color for the last two seasons grew longer legs, stepping boldly into next fall and winter. Designers can’t get enough of purple’s many shades and hues, which run the gamut from delicate and innocent lilacs and lavenders to regal and enigmatic eggplants and violets. Zang Toi was so sold on purple that it was the only color, aside from black, in his stunning fall collection.

Fur

Whether real or faux, accessory or trim, the look and feel of fur is directional for autumn. Designers showed a range of looks, from jackets and vests to cuffs and detachable collars to cuffs. Styles are in keeping with the new look of fur— more design-oriented and sophisticated as an element of an ensemble rather than as something that overpowers everything worn with it.

Gold

The metallic trend appears to be here to stay, at least for a while. Perhaps it’s because there’s something regal and rich about shine and shimmer that resembles gold, silver, platinum, bronze. Metallicized fabric is also a cheaper way than metallic embroidery and embellishment to create a luxe look. From shoes and jewelry to lamé dresses and gold-threaded suits, there’s something about this most popular of metals that complements fall shades and hues.

Dramatic hosiery

To add some “oomph” to a look, eschew the boring neutrals of drugstore hosiery and try something that makes a statement. Socks, stockings and tights will be available in too many colors, patterns, and textures to go with anything uninteresting. Designers showed them with thigh-high boots and gladiator pumps, with walking shorts and skirts, with dresses and pants. You can mix them with other prints or make them the focus of attention by wearing them with solid-colored wardrobe components.

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