NEW YORK -- With bitterly cold winds whipping through Manhattan, bundled, booted and big-hat-wearing women could be forgiven last week if fashion took a back seat in favor of merely keeping warm.
But the country's top designers, who gathered for New York's famed Fashion Week, had been planning their fall collections for months -- and it showed. Fashion, in all its many variations, took center stage under the tents at Bryant Park.
There was high fashion, wearable fashion, fun fashion and inexplicable fashion. There was fashion as art, fashion as science. Celebrity fashion, working-girl fashion, men's fashion and even children's fashion.
Some designers' collections seemed pure artistry. Custo Barcelona's mix-and-match, rag-doll looks were hard to look at and even harder to understand. Heatherette's presentation was more fun than fashion. Cynthia Rowley's multicolored collection -- accentuated with various references to light-giving or light-reflecting sources -- left this viewer in the dark.
But many designers presented looks worth braving the cold for.
In his most pared-down collection in many seasons, Jacobs -- the industry's designer to watch -- showed simple, clean clothes that women all over will want to wear this fall. With his long, close-to-the-body coats, slim pants and sleek blouses, Jacobs seemed to be telling women to peel away some of their complex layers and reveal their femininity underneath. Experts couldn't stop gushing about it, saying Jacobs had raised the bar again for designers, retailers and fashionistas.
"The fact that he went for a clean, chic silhouette, I think that's going to make a difference in those companies that copy him and in how women dress in general," says Cindi Leive, editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine.
Jacobs "has been doing that layering thing for so long now," says Kate Betts, editor of Time magazine's Style & Design issues. "I think it was kind of time for him to make that change."
And we're glad he did. The looks -- the coats and pants; the slender turtleneck sweaters, worn with low-slung belts and pleated skirts; the long dresses, chic hats and clutch purses -- are destined to be classics.
What you'll be wearing: The entire collection, just about, was wearable, but look to see long, tailored coats with matte, gold-colored buttons in stores come fall.
Wrap yourself in a cashmere sweater. Throw on a scarf and a happy little vest. Go, dress and be merry. These are the messages from Kors' nearly perfect runway show, full of sable and cotton, fur and shine, trousers and hoodies, peacoats and sweater dresses.
"I think what Michael Kors knows is that in every season, we have favorite sportswear pieces," says fashion expert Robert Verdi. "He really understands this ideal that we have as consumers ... that we will find pieces that are both familiar and fantastic."
It's a perfect way to describe Kors' collection -- which the designer himself called "sportluxe." Familiar, and fantastic.
What you'll be wearing: Kors paired bright orange with classic camel and conservative gray, a combination so beautiful it's a wonder we haven't seen more of it in fall collections. Look for accents of orange in your wardrobe this fall.
Betsey Johnson has a penchant for combining girly and sexy. This time, she did it better than many past seasons. There was a little black dress with a pleated hem, a satin polka-dot blouse with a lolling bow, skinny pants in velveteen. The combinations were, for Johnson, surprisingly grown-up -- particularly when you consider Johnson, queen of the hot pants, also showed working-girl suits in herringbone prints, long dresses and wide-leg trousers.
"She offered some clothing that was a bit more mature," says eBay style director Constance White. "But it was still all fun."
What you'll be wearing: Blouses with bows and a satiny sheen look romantic, grown-up and librarian-with-a-secret sexy. Buy some in pink, cream and navy this fall.
Carmen Marc Valvo
Eveningwear is seldom done better than it is at Carmen Marc Valvo's serenely beautiful runway show. But you rarely see his lovely creations on the red carpet. That was until Vanessa Williams poured her gorgeous curves into a champagne-colored, lacy strapless dress of his at this year's Golden Globes. Now, it seems, people are taking notice: Fashion maven Sienna Miller, for example, was in Valvo's front row this season, taking in the luxurious materials of disparate textures, the crepes and organzas, the crocodile, cashmere, fur and chiffon.
What you'll be wearing: Any dress or skirt that is pleated. Most designers showed pleats this season. But Valvo's elegant, elongated, sweeping pleats were the most desirable.
"His clothes look great on real women," says Peggy Northrop, editor-in-chief of More magazine. "He listens to women."
Brown turtlenecks -- The staple showed up under sweaters, dresses, vests and even evening gowns on just about every other runway show.
Coats -- Whether bubbled and short, or long and lean, in military, peacoat or anorak style, coats will be a fall favorite.
Dresses -- Once the staple of spring fashion, dresses have made a decided comeback in the season of declining temperatures. Pair yours with a sweater, a form-fitting hoodie or a beautiful coat.