(NEW YORK CITY)—At last!

When the new millennium began with a global bang, there was the unspoken expectation that a new era would usher in fresh and futuristic concepts in every creative field.

That didn’t happen in American fashion.


For much of the last 13 years, America’s most prominent and influential designers generally have failed to push the creative envelope. They have played it safe, from riding the same trend bandwagons as their peers to hovering just above minimalism in terms of color and cut. Add in a recession and changes in consumer spending habits, and American fashion has been anything but adventurous and exciting.

Until now.

At the recent Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week here Sept. 6-13, designers shook off the shackles of trepidation and sent out upbeat collections for spring and summer 2013 that stood out for their individuality and universal embrace of color.

Sure, there were clear influences from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Fashion always reinvents the past as it moves forward. But many designers—not just the emerging ones—took creative risks that generally worked beautifully. Many veterans made noticeable shifts to lure a younger clientele, while offering new interpretations of the hip styles that helped to build a loyal following.

Color was the biggest story in both menswear and womenswear. Designers poured it on, from saturated brights to dusty pastels. And it wasn’t just apparel. Handbags in mod shapes and bold colors topped the list of accessories must-haves. Footwear got the color treatment, too, from velvety pumps to leather boating shoes.

In menswear, Seventies-style tennis sweaters and Eighties-inspired jackets and tops made big inroads. Suits and pants are still cut close, but shorts are longer than in recent seasons, often paired with a matching jacket for a more polished yet still relaxed look.

In womenswear the trend was toward an exuberant elegance. Here are more trends seen at the Lincoln Center tents and elsewhere across Manhattan at scores of spring presentations:

Motorcycle. Biker chic returned with a tame feel. A distinct motocross influence, tough but still soft, was evident in pants, jackets, even gloves in various collections.

Lace. In black, white and a spectrum of colors, it showed up as delicate trim for a vintage feel, as tastefully provocative overlays, and as entire pieces such as dresses and tops.

Peekaboo. Many designers played with sheer fabrics and panels or cutouts for a glimpse of skin beneath a design. By and large, the effect was subtle sensuality rather than sleaze.

Spectator. Black-and-white combinations continue strong from the last couple of years. It’s a classic, always-in-vogue pairing that works well for almost anyone. Benefit to designers: Even cheap textiles look better in black and white.

Beige. Just like black or white, nude is a clean palette upon which a designer can build. It is the ultimate un-color hue, giving bright colors and even black and white an edgy feel when combined.

Wide-leg slacks. Volume returns with a vengeance, but the new trousers still have structure and proportion. Designers sent out solids and eye-catching prints and paired them with tank tops, blouses, cropped jackets.

Metallics. The shimmer and shine of gold, silver, copper, and bronze added instant luxe to ensembles. Designers sprinkled or splashed metallic fabrics and surface embellishments on everything from sportswear to special-occasion looks for eye-catching hanger-appeal that’s sure to please the woman who wants to make an entrance.

Ethereal. Gowns, blouses, and other pieces cut to flutter and float in the breeze were standard fare in many collections. Breezy and ethereal, they were ultra-feminine and the epitome of spring. Whether solid or print, they were cut to flatter the figure of every woman.

Pattern Mix. Throw caution to the wind and throw on contrasting prints next spring. If a floral jacket, striped shirt, spotted pants, and color-blocked pumps can look good on the catwalk, then why not rock it on the sidewalk?

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