Mixed messages Designers declined to stick with a script for spring, sending a giddy grab bag of styles down the runway in New York.

Posted: September 16, 2008

NEW YORK — These are anxious times for our country, to say the least, but fashion shows no signs of trending to the subdued as contemporary style remains flirty and unpredictable and designers continue to refuse to tell us what we should wear.

Last week, during Spring 2009 Fashion Week in New York, they presented a plethora of suggestions, from ultra-streamlined and tailored to shapelessly Bohemian.

One reason for the variety, said eBay fashion expert Constance White, is that designers are trying to find favor with department stores, specialty boutiques and women unhappy with their fashion choices as of late. Another is that designers are liberally mixing styles of past decades to create a wholly modern look.

"It is a varied spring with just so many different points of view," White said. "So much of it has to do with uncertainty that has impacted design. People are not sure what they want and people are uncertain about what they want to, or what they can, buy."

The good news is that as a result of designers' inability to commit, many of the spring looks - especially the defined waistline - will carry over from fall. Skirts, except for the occasional dirndl mini, will remain high-waisted, straight, and hit just below the knee. Starting now and definitely throughout spring, one should continue to err on the side of the sexy secretary look: Leave the denim at home, especially for a night on the town.

It is worth noting here that designers looking ahead to spring took extra care in focusing on summertime accessories. Designers such as Carolina Herrera collaborated with eyewear companies to showcase smart sunglasses on the runway. And both Behnaz Sarafpour and Oscar de la Renta blended swimwear into their core ready-to-wear collections.

Here is a look at some of next spring's trends. If we figure out the best way to blend these looks into our fall wardrobe, we'll be ahead of the fashion curve.

Pale pastels. Barely-there blues and blush pinks are the shades to be reckoned with this spring. Designers, many of whom are searching for the right balance between their older, established customer and her daughter, turned to the least colorful of colors to give classic looks a young chicness.

The most surprising use of the almost-clear hues was Zac Posen's collection of ankle-length skirts and corseted tops that made the nude shades grungy. We think Alessandro Dell'Acqua's inaugural collection for Malo was the most architectural, with the peep-toed chunky boots the best part. And although Derek Lam's nude tones made us sleepy, his one-piece trouser gowns in neutral terra-cotta and camel tones were noteworthy.

Shapeless Bohemian. Dresses will remain strong next spring - no surprise there. But instead of fitted shifts and sheaths, designers are taking inspiration from tropical and Middle Eastern locales where the colors are bright and the motif is floral. Anna Sui was inspired by Italian interior designer Alexander Girard, whose folkloric designs influenced a bright collection of mini-shifts and beaded bags and moccasins.

Diane von Furstenberg gave us a collection of floral dresses with sacklike qualities, and Nanette Lepore focused on flowers and turquoise for her collection of poppin' tea-length dresses.

University of Pennsylvania graduate Stacy Bendet Eisner (recently married) focused on multicolored maxi dresses for her alice + olivia line, while another local boutique favorite, Michelle Smith, based her Milly line on an embroidery-heavy collection influenced by a trip to Tuscany.

"I love how all the designers used inspirations from different companies," said Jimmy Contreras, whose Center City boutique, Kimberly, carries the alice + olivia line. "It's a trendy melting pot of fun."

Bold prints in classic Americana silhouettes. Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs, two of New York Fashion Week's biggest designers, took classic shapes: the pencil skirt, the full trouser, the shift dress, the track suit, and made them bigger, bolder and brighter.

Kors, who accessorized most of his looks with visors, used oversize stripes and quarter-size polka dots to enhance everything from strapless dresses to computer-screen-size clutches. His entire collection was done in primary colors: red, yellow and blue.

Marc Jacobs was inspired by '20s Americana - think brimmed hats, mid-calf skirts and a lot of belt action. But he added metallics and bold shades to update them. Yes, these looks are hard to pull off, but we recommend you pair, say, a bold printed skirt with a plain white blouse. And be careful - you may be all dressed up for spring but the darker colors will give you a fall look.

Metallics on a sunny summer day. Speaking of fall in the springtime, top Fashion Week trendsetters like Herrera, de la Renta, Peter Som and the Main Line's own Sarafpour mixed metallics into their classic silhouettes. De la Renta remained true to his classic look, amping up belted dirndl skirts with a hint of sparkle. But the usually monochromatic Sarafpour and Som expertly weaved glitter into their knit suits and pencil-pants ensembles. There is something about shine that lures designers even when we feel overinfused with bling.

The one-piece. The most surprising, and shall we say, most likely to be abused trend to come out of Fashion Week is the jumpsuit. Lam referred to his one-piece look as the trouser gown, which swallowed up his models, but they would be appropriate for the older woman who may need to hide flaws in flowing fabric. Kors did a few sporty one-pieces, as did Twinkle and Phillip Lim, for his collection named 3.1 Phillip Lim.

Most of the rompers were strapless with wide-legged men's-style trousers. But others featured baggy pants reminiscent of rapper MC Hammer. Even scarier were the really slim cigarette-cut styles that left no room for breathing. Purchase at your own risk.

Stacked bangles. Of course, the most figure-friendly trend to pull off is stacked bangles. Twinkle, Anna Sui, alice + olivia, the Main Line's own Tory Burch jazzed up their outfits with as few as two but as many as five pieces of the arm jewelry. We like this trend because we can do it on the cheap and look up-to-date. We'll start with bangles now.

Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com.

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Read about up-and-coming model Sessilee Lopez, who was born in Philadelphia, at www.philly.com/inquirer/ columnists/elizabeth_wellington.

Read Elizabeth Wellington's fashion blog at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/ mirrorimage.

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