(Part one of a four-part series)

Janet Jackson was hard to miss at the media showing of Ralph Lauren’s three spring-summer 2010 collection previews, perched on a front row and elegant in a gray sweater cinched with a wide brown belt over a white blouse and dark pencil skirt.


Many among the fashion press were pleasantly surprised to see her. But even more eyebrow-raising than her rare New York Fashion Week appearance was what Lauren sent out that rainy Thursday morning—a collection inspired by the stark, simple garb of the pioneer, the farmer, the cowboy and the American laborer yet injected with a modern glamour that made them unmistakably feminine.

Many of the looks were perfect for Jackson, who over the years has made some of her most memorable style statements in ladies’ clothes influenced by menswear.

The distance from New York catwalks to Pittsburgh sidewalks isn’t as far as one might think, especially given the collections presented by American designers at the recent Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Manhattan. There was more fashion than fantasy, with the wearable taking center stage and hokey, self-indulgent experiments largely relegated to the wings.

And while some clear themes emerged, one might be cautious about labeling them “trends.”


“The most important trend is that there is no longer a consensus of opinion among designers that can be identified as a ‘trend’ the way it was in the past,” said David Wolfe, a creative director with The Doneger Group, one of the world’s premiere trend forecasting and analysis businesses. “Now the true trends are subtle shifts in line, fabric and color, with each designer working in his or her own design vocabulary. In general, the look is more colorful, fabrics are lighter and the attitude not as ‘sexy’ as before.”

Menswear for spring is all about athletic and military influences in sportswear, polished but unstuffy elements pulled together to exemplify accessible, uncomplicated luxury. However, it was, as ever, the womenswear that best hinted at where American fashion is heading.

Womenswear designers generally took a no-nonsense, simplified, back-to-basics approach. The continued sluggishness of the economy has engendered a yearning for simpler days and simpler clothes, things classic and uncomplicated, tried and true. So instead of crystals and beads galore, designers opted for pretty embroidery, touches of lace and the homespun look of macramé pieces. showed up in a significant number of lines. World-renowned couturier Ralph Rucci and many designers eschewed abundant surface embellishment, choosing instead to manipulate the fabrics themselves into design elements by draping, gathering, tucking, pleating, folding, braiding. The approach ultimately requires more imagination and less money.


Through it all, the optimism and aspiration that ultimately characterize modern fashion shone through. Americans are nothing if not resourceful and resilient, and this is what inspired Lauren to adapt overalls, faded work shirts, jean jackets and the like into women’s daywear and eveningwear.

But he, and others who took the same tack, were careful not to be too literal. Clothes are ultimately designed to make money, sales are affected by hanger appeal, and garments without some razzle-dazzle won’t compel wary consumers to part with their dollars.

And now, unlike any other time in recent memory, the consumer is driving the direction of American fashion.

“Shopping is no longer the ‘sport’ it was for many years, and consumers are being more selective and careful in their purchases,” said Wolfe. “Value is key and shoppers are still skittish about paying full price. Fashion must always, always be a reflection of the society that wears it, and currently our consumer-driven society is experiencing seismic shifts. There is emerging a new shopping paradigm, and the fashion industry is slowly but surely seeking ways to work within this new consumer mindset.”

So it didn’t just happen that designers for spring sent out clothes that look like something everyday people from Pittsburgh to Peoria might wear. Global trend analyst and Pittsburgh native Tom Julian of New York-based Tom Julian Group predicted that the collegiate, athletic, tailored and architectural trends seen for men will easily translate to the Pittsburgh market, as will the abundance of asymmetric silhouettes, sensual one-shoulder looks, urban-meets-suburban ensembles and art-influenced prints that characterized many womenswear collections.

“Comfortable, wearable, multitasking clothes” are replacing throwaway fashion, according to Julian. “Value, but still good quality, is important in these economic times. Classic items are returning.”

Metallics will remain strong through spring and into summer for women, with the silver glimmer of Lurex threading through day and evening pieces while timelessly classic yellow gold jewelry stages a major comeback.

While white is a hallmark of warmer weather, numerous designers this time around chose to deviate from the predictable crisp snow whites and veer toward the more nuanced ecrus, ivories, creams and antiqued whites.

White isn’t the main color story, however, as designers rendered their visions in nature-inspired neutrals and brilliant bursts of solid and print colors.

Blue reigns supreme, with a Pantone Color Institute survey revealing turquoise and purple-tinged amparo blue as two of the top seven most commonly used colors in menswear and womenswear lines ranging from Adrienne Vittadini to Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica.

Pastels and brights such as violet, aurora yellow, fusion coral and tomato puree dominated womenswear while directional colors for men were generally more subdued or saturated: coffee liqueur, flint gray, steel gray, sheepskin, chalk violet, spicy orange and a medium brown named “Sudan.”

Such a vibrant and organic palette suggests that designers chose to convey “optimism” for the season, said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. “It’s a cautious optimism, however, because no one can ignore the elephant still in the room—the recession.”

(LaMont Jones, an award-winning veteran journalist, can be reached at editor@TheStyleArbiter.com.)

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