NEW YORK -- When women walk into their nearest department store or boutique, credit card in hand, generally they're not looking for the most artistic or fanciful or award-winning thing on the rack.
They're looking for something they can wear.
Many fashion seasons have gone by with high-end designers seeming to forget that detail. But this week, under the tents at Bryant Park, the country's most well-known designers have begun showing fall collections that get back to that basic idea - without sacrificing that certain something that we come to expect from Seventh Avenue talents.
At Marc Jacobs' show earlier in the week, fashion editors and industry insiders were amazed to see the designer's very pared-down, almost simplistic collection of slender coats, tailored skirts and ladylike hats. Jacobs - who is probably the industry's biggest trendsetter - has tended toward the more is more version of design: more drama, more fabric, more shapes and more oddities.
But Jacobs' fall showing exemplified what Kate Betts, editor of Time magazine's Style and Design issues, calls "the clean sweep" of fashion.
"It's a cleaning up of all the layers and embroideries and flounces," says Betts. "And I think MarcJacobs made the biggest statement of that at his show. There's been so much attention on accessories and layering. Now designers are coming back to cut and fabric, and that's refreshing."
Many seasons, Jacobs' collection is a sharp departure from what others are doing on their runways. But this season, designers showed scaled-back clothing that women will want to wear in the fall.
Gorgeous sweater dresses at Peter Som. Pleated jersey wrap tops at Doo.Ri. Simple, but luxurious, cashmere looks at Michael Kors.
"One of the biggest things I've noticed is a move away from madcap and frenzy, excess and frivolity," says Bridget Foley, executive editor of Women's Wear Daily, who noticed the trend at shows such as Tuleh, Diane von Furstenberg and Oscar de la Renta, as well.
Treena Lombardo, market director for W magazine, said the relative simpleness she's seen - such as at Bill Blass' show - is a good thing for women.
In past seasons, there has been "a lot of style detail and embellishment," she says. "And at the end of the day, these are things that are hard to wear and hard to buy."
Even the whimsical Betsey Johnson, who is usually all about the flouncy and fantastical, opted for more sophisticated looks this season. To wit, she called her fall collection "School of Charm."
"The good news [is] 90 percent of what we're seeing is absolutely translatable and wearable. And that's a phenomenon for this season alone," says James Aguiar, co-host of the TV show Full Frontal Fashion. "In past seasons, you have to sort of dig through to get to what you can really wear. Even Betsey Johnson, she showed absolute proper school charm. They were very sophisticated looks for her. For a woman to look at the runway and find things that are wearable, that's always good."
That's not to say that there haven't been embellished, exotic or exciting clothes this week. Quite the contrary.
Metallic clothing has shown up on nearly every designer's catwalk, as has the sexy shine of Lurex, a metallic yarn that glams up the most boring tweed.
Designer Jason Wu's first dress down the runway was a black brocade with a metallic sheen. Carlos Miele showed a beautiful kimono jacket with Lurex shot through. Betsey Johnson offered pants in a lush velveteen. And even Michael Kors - known for his beautiful basics - showed a coffee-colored fox fur coat covered in shiny paillettes.
Along with Jacobs, Kors showed one of the week's strongest fall collections so far, particularly because he seemed to remember that the season isn't just a more somber extension of spring.
Many designers offer fall collections that look, curiously, very much like the much warmer season before - with short sets and flimsy dresses, spaghetti-strapped tops and lightweight fabrics.
But Kors' strength is in his definite point of view. To him, the collection seems to say, fall and winter are a time for frolicking outdoors, preparing for a ski trip or going to some chilly, faraway place for a holiday.
This week, he showed gorgeous cashmere trousers, tweed topcoats, lambskin tunics and "scarf sweaters" with huge, comfy, defy-the-windchill necklines.
"His clothes are for jet-setters or for people who like to think they're jet-setters," says fashion guru Robert Verdi. "If you had to buy an entire collection, you'd want to buy Michael Kors."
Kors is "right on target," says Burt Tansky, president and CEO of the Neiman Marcus Group.
And Kors' accent colors - bright orange, bold yellow - also are right on this season. Many designers brightened up the traditional fall palette with primary colors usually reserved for spring: purple, bright blue, yellow and orange.
"What all these designers have done is presented a sporty glamour look, but with all this color," says Constance White, style director for eBay. "A colorful fall is so unusual. But we've seen cerise pink, citron green. Peter Som had orange shoes, and we've seen lots of orange in clothing. At Diane von Furstenberg, we saw prints with a lot of color. And Betsey [Johnson], too; she had all this color." No one item, so far this season, seems to have taken center stage. There have been fabulous coats and skinny trousers, dark tights and evening gowns on just about every runway.
But the everyday dress, which you tend to see fewer of in fall, seems to be holding on to a pivotal role this season.
"The dress is still really strong," says Betts, of Time. "Usually, it's a spring staple, but it's still really strong."
The designers who do the dress best - such as Kors, Jacobs, Doo.Ri - do it with heavier, more substantial fabrics that make sense for fall temperatures.
But designers who like to see women dressed in fluttery organzas and chiffons, even in November, can be credited for frequently pairing the look with a peacoat, shrug, cardigan or bolero jacket.
"There's that balance," says White, "of practicality and fashion whimsy."
Which is what a good Fashion Week should be all about.
The Look this season
The everyday dress seems to be holding on to a pivotal roll for fall
The fall palette has been brightened up with purples, blues, yellows, and oranges
Coats varied: they are long and slender. Pea and military. Fur tweed and cashmere