Comfort, warmth and splashes of color dominate Fashion Week

THE BALTIMORE SUN

New York -- Fashion Week came to a close last week just as a snowstorm approached to blanket the city. The chilly weather was a fitting end to the eight-day extravaganza of top designers' picks for fall and next winter, which showed us how to go out and brave the cold in style.

Here are some of the looks for next season:

Coats and wraps

From the beautifully embroidered coats at Bill Blass, to the fur-drenched wraps at Zang Toi, to the artfully loose and unstructured numbers at Marc Jacobs, women will have myriad choices as to how to cover up.

"You just felt this sense of warmth and coziness and luxury with all the coats," says Dannielle Romano, editor-at-large of DailyCandy.com, an online guide to fashion and trends. "Whether they were velvets or soft cashmere."

Various takes on trench coats and peacoats were all over the runways, as were looser, cape- and wrap-like styles that were big and luxurious enough to be comforters with sleeves.

Skinny legs

The silhouette of the season was evident last week: billowy, blousey, balloony tops and super-slender bottoms.

Many designers chose to illustrate this with colorful or patterned tights or squeezed-on stovepipe pants that completely take us away from the wide-leg, boot-cut styles we've lived with for countless seasons.

Even the Gap for this spring and summer is showing mainly tapered jeans. But the most interesting way to do the skinny leg might just be with the surprising comeback of 1980s-style leggings and leg warmers.

"It's such a youthful thing to do instead of tights," says Linnea Olson-Schwartz, fashion market director at ELLEgirl magazine.

Sweater style

In addition to being a season of continued luxury and adornment, fall will also usher in a new love for all things classy casual. Sections of many designers' runway shows were devoted to sweater materials, including the ever-popular sweater dress. Some, such as Marc Jacobs and the design team Iisli, showed almost entire collections based on muted, layered, comfortable clothing.

"Obviously, Marc Jacobs was a very much talked-about collection of the season," says Katie Meyer, fashion market director for Glamour magazine. "Everything was very relaxed to the max. Just a lot of layering and drapiness. The wools and the cashmeres, they just lay really nicely and they're cozy. You just want to pile them all on."

Pop of color

Gray, gray, gray. Black, black, black.

Everywhere you turned, those two colors were there. The grays were rich - charcoals and slates. The blacks were sophisticated, more little black dress than Gothic get-up. But the best thing about fall and next winter will be how we play with color. A hint here. A pop there. An outfit of black, white and gray covered up with a little-red-riding-in-the-car coat. Designers such as Vivienne Tam, Anna Sui, Betsey Johnson, Carmen Marc Valvo and Cynthia Rowley all played with colors, strategically placed along the waist or on sleeves or legs, livening up what could have been a serene showing.

Highs and lows

High: Volume is back in skirts, dresses and blouses, making it easier for those of us who aren't model-thin to wear the looks of the season. Blouson skirts were beautifully done. And even the balloon shape - cinched at the waist, belled out through the middle, and cinched again at the hem - is starting to look better and better, as nearly every designer showed the silhouette in a more wearable form.

"There were a lot of dirndl skirts," says Melissa Payner, chief executive of bluefly.com. "It does a similar thing [as bubble skirts], except it doesn't come in again so much at the bottom. It's actually easier to wear. On some body types, it can actually hide your hips a bit."

The best example: Zac Posen's expertly constructed collection was so artful, it was breathtaking.

Low: Too many designers showed looks accented with poofs of tulle - draped around the neck, fashioned into wraps, peeking from breastbones, overlaying ball gowns. Relative newbies such as Monique Lhuillier did it. Even perennial fashion royalty such as Oscar de la Renta and Vera Wang were guilty of it. Tulle is a beautiful decorative piece. It creates drama and romance and intriguing shapes. But it is impractical and overdone on clothes for everyday situations.

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