New York-- --Outside the tents at Bryant Park, the trees are bare; the wind whips through. It is winter, and it is cold.

While most of us may be dreaming about the arrival of spring, it is Fashion Week, and fall has arrived.

For eight days and nights, big names including Oscar de la Renta, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs and Vera Wang are unveiling their fall collections.

The mood this fall is a continuation of many of the elements prevalent in recent seasons.

Femininity is a major theme. Ruffles, bows and lace are prominent accents. Women are encouraged to play up their femaleness.

"There's a big '40s influence, which really bodes well for women," says Constance White, style director at eBay. "The '40s were all about feminine dressing. But it was very powerful."

At the Carolina Herrera show, for example, there were beautiful curvy coats and jackets in wool, tweed and cashmere. Herrera also showed lovely skirts and dressy blouses.

De la Renta's collection was all about luxurious sweaters and coats and striking evening gowns. His blouses were billowy. Everything was soft.

But even the menswear accents, which are big again for fall, still manage to complement female sensibility. Glen plaids and trousers, even men's knee socks, are popular. But they're done in a pretty, sexy way.

"It's not hard, masculine menswear," says White, who recently launched an online fashion magazine for eBay called Personal Style. "It's a more feminine interpretation."

Playing into the female adoration of all things plush and pretty, designers have stayed with the embellished looks that have been all the rage for several seasons.

"There's been a lot of decorative fabrics so far," says Michael Fink, fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue. "Brocades, jacquards. A lot of metallics; a lot of precious metal dressing."

But the golds and silvers and the beads and baubles aren't as piled on as in seasons past. It seems as if the nation's designers decided to tone it down a bit.

"There's been a lot of gimmicky hard-work for quite a while," says designer Richard Tyler, who just created sleek new fashion-forward uniforms for Delta Air Lines' employees. "This season, the hard-work is more haberdashery, much more subtle, much cleaner."

Even the colors for fall are quieter than in previous seasons. The traditional colors of Indian summer are still well represented: rusts, wines, golds and chocolate browns. But four days into Fashion Week, the most prevalent colors seem inspired by fall's rainier days. Many designers flooded the runways with grays, whites and blacks.

From the palest pearl gray to the deepest charcoal to the most luxurious shimmery silver, gray will be popular for fall.

Designer Cynthia Steffe said her models were dressed in a "rainbow of grays" - as were many of the models at other shows. Reem Acra, for example, said her collection was a "palette of classic tones, blacks, whites and grays."

"Some of it seems very Goth," says celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch. "Very inspired by Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs, a little spooky, sort of darkish. It's still romantic, but it's a haunting romanticism instead of an airy romanticism."

However, there is one antidote for all that gray and black. Bold red is popping up everywhere for fall.

"There's signature red dresses on everyone's runway this season," says fashion expert Robert Verdi, host of E!'s Fashion Police.

Yesterday, Herrera showed one or two bold red dresses, as did de la Renta. Whimsical designer Betsey Johnson showed several playful, flirty red numbers.

For fall, designers seem to be focusing on the neck, the arms, the legs.

Fall's necklines are the most exciting they've been in years, with just about every designer doing something to call attention to that most quietly sensual of body parts. There were boat necks, cowl necks, high necks, turtlenecks, portrait collars, ruffled collars and, just for fun, thick scarves tossed lazily around bare necks.

Meanwhile, sleeves also got a lot more interesting.

"There's a lot of sleeve interest going on in jackets and dresses and blouses," says Fink, of Saks Fifth Avenue. "It's a full-volume sleeve. Very pretty. Romantic." And very few sleeves are left unadorned, whether with fur or buttons, delicate drawstrings or ribbons.

Legs also will be covered up for fall, whether with knee-socks or tights. Herrera even showed tights with ball gowns.

One of the sexier areas to command attention for fall: the back. Many designers showed lacy backs, peekaboo backs, cut-out backs or deep cowls that elongated the neck and exposed the back and a bit of shoulder.

"The back is the new erogenous zone," says Bloch. "It's not just about the entrance anymore. You want people to remember you when you leave."


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