NEW YORK -- The designers previewing spring collections at New York Fashion Week may not have had a single voice, but they all spoke loudly.
"Bold" was the word that buzzed around the tents at Lincoln Center after eight days of previews came to an end. Between saturated color, sexy cutouts, statement-making stripes and mixed-up prints, the clothes had something to say.
"It feels like a statement season," said Brandon Holley, editor-in-chief of Lucky magazine. "It feels like everyone is tired of shopping their closet, and they're ready to make a new statement."
Retailers are happy to see newness and bright colors, said Ken Downing, fashion director for Neiman Marcus.
"There were some have-to-have things," said Downing, who ticked off a sleeveless jacket, a full skirt that's either swingy and short, or cut on the bias and falling below the knee, and colored leather -- maybe laser cut? -- as items that will be on the top of the list for shoppers.
Nearly 200 designers preview their spring collections in New York before the fashion crowd heads to London, Milan and Paris. In seasons past, it was as if they all agreed on a message ahead of time. After the recession started, a hard-edged chick was the obvious muse. A few seasons later, everything was bohemian.
This time, there were certainly clear trends -- among them skirt suits, big colors, below-the-knee coats, leather, cutouts, corsets and banding, stripes and black-and-white. But there were many muses instead of one It Girl.
There were hints of India and other exotic locales. And the prints were edgier than what are usually offered in spring -- instead of "pretty" florals, there were digital renderings, X-ray patterns, skulls. "If it is a floral, then it's photo realism floral, and that seems very different," Holley said.
Even uptown staples Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta had an edge, with the latter adding leather and latex to his society girl.
It's as through designers stopped dictating style and are instead providing options. There's your breath of spring air.
Statement made, Ralph Lauren: Be strong. Be bold. Go on that adventure.
The first look on Ralph Lauren's runway featured a turquoise suede poet top, with cascading ruffles down the front, and the model wore a beret and carried a studded motorcycle bag. From there, it was a bright red hand-crocheted tank dress and a few looks later was a tomato red suede jacket with rustic brown leather details.
A colorful blanket-style serape was getting buzz from editors and stylists before they even left the downtown show space where Olivia Wilde and Jessica Alba sat in the front row. Lauren offered the same idea -- in the same green, brown and yellow colors -- in an off-the-shoulder serape wrap top that probably more easily fits into the closets of most customers.
There were beaded bolero jackets and embellished jodhpur pants that evoked a matador to the Spanish-style music, with flat-top hats and colorful scarves around some models' necks. But taking each piece on its own, it wasn't a costume.
Francisco Costa, women's creative director at Calvin Klein, got to have final say Thursday at New York Fashion Week as one of the last major designers to preview a spring collection, but he left a purposeful impression of things left undone.
It's what left the crowd wanting more. Edges were left frayed, contrasting linings were revealed, and necklines were bare and exposed, all giving the impression that one was seeing more than they should. A gold hardware frame peeked atop the black sheer-panel dress that closed the show.
Costa has a knack for the "seductive lines," he mentioned in his notes. He certainly drew eyes to the bust and bodice, offering a series of conical bustiers, which were exactly what they sound like. On their own, they were futuristic but also a little harsh; under a sheer silk corset or a mesh silk crepe coat, they were sexy and edgy.
Calvin Klein continued the many layers of fabrics and textures that have dominated the runways: an abstract lace dress goes over a lacquered satin bustier and a bonded mesh skirt, for example. But the fact that almost every outfit featured black here can't be called part of that trend -- it's a way of life for this design house.
It wasn't just like Grand Central at Marchesa's New York Fashion Week show on Wednesday -- which drew Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Tyra Banks and all the photographers who trail them. It was in Grand Central.
The preview of the spring collection was staged at the historic train terminal, but it was hardly rush hour on the runway. The looks turned out by designers Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig were typically embellished and intricate, and required time to study the details. Models also can't walk all that quickly in the gowns that are jingling with beads or have slim hemlines.
Thanks to the Indian inspiration -- via the Beatles' 1960s experience with the Maharishi -- there were more colorful hues and easier-to-wear silhouettes than in recent Marchesa collections.
"Last season was Baroque and darker, and the season before that was very ornate," Chapman said in a preshow interview. "It's a different mood this season."
What fashion insiders are really looking for from Marchesa is a clue of what will soon come on Hollywood red carpets. After this, it's safe to say the stars may be wearing some high-neck gowns, either covered in tassel fringe or metallic beads -- or both -- and maybe a peacock-blue, one-shouldered tulle gown worn over a fully embroidered gold-leaf illusion bodysuit that gave the appearance of glittering body art.
The real-people-in-the-pool print on Proenza Schouler's catwalk Wednesday night probably took some fashion insiders -- who don't expect that much newness during these previews -- by surprise.
The collection by Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough started off by advancing some trends seen for spring, including leather, patchwork, some perforated and mesh textures. The leather was a little shinier, the patchwork a little more random and the textures a little more exaggerated, but, still, they fell in line.
The duo also offered skirt suits galore, but they weren't trim and tailored; jackets were collarless and covered in snakeskin, and the skirts were slung low on the hips.
But the digital-print satin dresses decorated with neon nailheads on the tops and grommets on the bottom that served as the finale were only as Proenza Schouler can do, and showed why they are considered one of New York's bellwethers for fashion's future. The styles were a little out there, but it's where so many others will be.
Reed Krakoff's designs have always been luxurious and sporty. For spring, he decided to go for sexy, too.
Krakoff was heavy on sheer layers, over everything from tanks to leather bra tops to dresses. Even the feet received the sheer treatment: Krakoff's booties, worn by many models and also by actress Julianne Moore, were made of mesh (models wore "peep-toed" versions, while Mooore's were closed-toed and black.)
There were "stocking jersey" coats, polo shirts, boxer shorts, track jackets and sweatshirts (none of it was suitable for the gym, mind you -- this was very high-end active wear.)
And leather, for which Krakoff is famous, provided a textural counterpoint to all the filminess: A sheer stocking-lace tank was paired with a bonded leather skirt; a stocking jersey track jacket with a sleek rubberized alligator skirt. A stocking jersey slip dress was accompanied by a black python tote.
You don't need frills when you have fur, and J. Mendel always has fur. This preview was for spring, so no need for big, cozy coats, but mink hot pants? That'll work.
Designer Gilles Mendel, celebrating 10 years of his signature house, paired those cypress-green, close-crop shorts -- made to have a velvet texture -- with a mink jacket that had leather panels and a chiffon skirt.
Mendel stuck to his fine details and super-luxe materials, including buttery leather and guipere lace, but the overall look wasn't quite as frothy as he's done in seasons past.
He cited photographs of the Kawachi garden in Japan and the wisteria that grows there as a starting point. A series of pintucked chiffon gowns, some with goddess touches and others with accordion pleats, evoked garden fairies.
New York Fashion Week has seen a lot of mixing and matching of fabrics, colors and textures, making for all sorts of chic and sometimes kooky combinations for the upcoming spring season. Anna Sui's spin was to clash centuries.
She was fascinated by the period following the fall of Napoleon III in the late 19th century after reading a historical book this summer, and she studied up on 1950s'-era French interior decorator Madeleine Castaing. She also found herself inspired by neo-classical painters and how they evolved into the Impressionists.
At least they're all French.
As typical with Sui, there also was a little punk edge. "Somehow it all comes together, even when you don't think it will," said Sui with a laugh in a preshow interview.
She was right: A leopard-print babydoll, a knit-ribbon lattice cardigan, a neoprene motorcycle jacket and a delicate toile voile top can indeed share the runway. "It's opposite ends attracting," she said.
If you think your wardrobe for next spring is complete, think again. Who couldn't use a slew of bright metallic machine guns hanging from a nice black tank top?
Yep, machine guns. Jeremy Scott, the happily outrageous bad boy of fashion, did not disappoint his fans on Wednesday. And they were a lively bunch: The packed show included Paris Hilton, Tyra Banks, Adam Lambert and the Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte.
To explain the gun imagery, one should know that the show was loosely based on the Arab Spring. But as always with Scott, it was quite a mix.
"I kept hearing about the Arab Spring in the news," he said backstage. "I wanted to use it -- the desert, the colors. But also I wanted to mix some elements of Harlem in there too. And there was an element of Rihanna, whom I've dressed."
There was a lot of black and a lot of gold, though a sky blue also appeared in the form of snakeskin leather. Prints included what looked like a burning-flame motif. Other striking moments: A swimsuit/bodysuit with a huge face decorating the entire surface, and a long black crochet dress, leaving nothing to the imagination.
But it was Scott's hyperactive imagination, of course, that drove the show. He's not for everyone, but his fans seemed very satisfied.