published Monday, February 14th, 2011

Feminine twist on classic menswear at Fashion Week

By SAMANTHA CRITCHELL

AP Fashion Writer

NEW YORK — In every fairytale there’s a princess and a hero. Unless she comes to her own rescue.

Luxe textures, sheer fabrics and fitted shapes offering feminine twists on traditional men’s suiting are all over the runways at New York Fashion Week. It’s strength combined with confidence, boy style, by Day 5 of fall previews.

Prabal Gurung has his share of frilly princesses. But, as in the case of his muse for the season, Miss Havisham of Dickens fame, the knights don’t always show up.

“Her story is a lot about men,” said Gurung from the front row of his mentor Carolina Herrera’s show Monday.

Other designers mixed princess beauty and the strength of menswear.

Tommy Hilfiger sent classic tailoring and pinstripes down the catwalk. Donna Karan’s DKNY turned traditional men’s jackets into capes. Brian Wolk and Claude Morais looked to the history of menswear to please a Ruffian woman’s search for “unkempt elegance” via a white silk blouse with black bow tie and tailed jacket.

Paula Gerbase, the creative director for the Black label collection of Woolrich John Rich & Bros., trained on London’s Savile Row. No surprise she drew on 1940s hunting clothes to deconstruct the women’s line.

Take away the piping and the lining, she said, and “you’re actually left with a really soft, draped garment.”

MARC JACOBS

We’ve seen the fashion future and it includes sequins that look like fur, rubber that looks like sequins and cellophane that looks like, well, cellophane.

Put those in alternating retro ladylike silhouettes and modern utility shapes, and you’ve got Jacobs’ mashup fall collection.

Jacobs’ show maintained its tradition of a midweek shake-up of trends. He is considered one of the most influential designers — if not the most — to show on this side of the Atlantic.

“I thought it was great,” said Virginia Smith, the Vogue fashion market director. “It was a mad mix of futuristic ’40s.”

The grand show with a fully mirrored runway lined with padded columns was rapid fire: pencil skirts, high-neck blouses, sheer tops, duffel jackets and more textures than most people could digest.

It’s not every designer who can pull off a terrycloth Dalmatian-spotted dress.

Smith particularly liked the lacy cocktail dresses, some of which had jabots and mock croc details.

THE ROW

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen don’t want The Row, their designer fashion brand, to be about them. They want it to be about the clothes — so much so that they’ve stopped doing runway presentations at New York Fashion Week.

Luckily, their collection can speak for itself.

With sharp menswear tailoring and luxe fabrics seemingly consistent influences, the designers offered a gray flannel pantsuit, made more feminine with its cropped length; a butter-yellow pajama-style top and matching pants in the softest wool; and a unique fur-tuft, long-sleeve T-shirt made of cashmere and fox woven together.

Quilted leather sleeves were added to a long black blazer, which had a companion zip-up quilted leather dress.

THOM BROWNE

Thom Browne started womenswear this season with things he already knows: men’s suiting, country-club motifs, varsity stripes and, most of all, theatrics.

He took over a room at the New York Public Library and turned it into a makeshift church alter, with models dressed like nuns shedding their habits to reveal pantsuits, narrow skirts and even an egg-shaped cape.

Browne is a leader in American menswear, pushing the shrunken silhouette that has caught on with the hipster set. Seeing it on women, though, it really makes more sense.

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TOMMY HILFIGER

He of global brand launched his collection with menswear more than 25 years ago. He returns to those roots next season, reinterpreting them for women.

A gray herringbone double-breasted jacket with matching wide-leg trousers set the borrowed-from-the-boys mood, emphasized by New York Knicks star Amare Stoudemire in the front row.

There were glen plaids, peacoats and jackets with leather patches on the elbows.

Handkerchiefs peeked out of pockets.

MONIQUE LHUILLIER

She took the flowing, feminine silhouette she’s known for and translated it into sparkling black, gold and scarlet.

She used chantilly lace, and cheeta and leopard prints as well as taffeta, tweed and chiffon for a collection of largely evening and special occasion wear. Sequins and ostrich feathers finished some of her looks for the dark, sultry and seductive fall line.

A crepe tuxedo jacket had an ostrich-feather hem, a sheer lace back and a deep V-neck in front.

JENNY PACKHAM

The British designer paid homage to a Marlene Dietrich quote about men — like moths — being attracted to light.

“Men cluster to me, like moths to a flame, and if their wings burn, I know I’m not to blame,” Packham quoted in her notes.

The airy peach-colored chiffon gown with a halter neckline that filled in its deep V-neck with lace and sparkle should be a contender for the Oscars red carpet.

TORY BURCH

For the runway, she smartly mixed office-friendly dresses with velvet trim, and a buttery leather pullover in a neutral stone with a chunky-knit sweater with extra long sleeves.

The collection seemed to build on the updated 1970s’ vibe that is a bona fide spring trend, so there can be a seamless transition of seasons.

As for the accessories that really made Burch famous in the fashion world: The season is about satchels in her hand and stack-heel, color-blocked boots on her feet.

DONNA KARAN

Her “Pearls of Wisdom” collection includes several skirt suits with strong shoulders of a man’s tailored jacket, but the silhouette slimmed down quickly to show a woman’s shape.

The clothes helped create a lean appearance, thanks to longer lengths and limited adornment.

Shearling stoles were draped around the next to add a little bit of glamour. A mix of sheer chiffon, sleek jersey and soft mohair made the outfits an alluring, tactile experience.

Karan used not a single stitch of black — a departure — but silver, pearl, cream and powdery shades are almost as easy to wear.

CAROLINA HERRERA

The old-school illustration of a woman that was beamed up to a high-tech screen behind Herrera’s runway delivered her message: Modernity and refinement are not mutually exclusive.

The image seemed to be of Look No. 2, a dark gray wool flannel wing skirt, black cashmere turtleneck, a slim gray velvet belt and black suede gloves that went high and wide up the arm.

Wear it in the fall, the next year — and the year after that — without ever worrying about a trend.

Double-face wool dresses with fur trim, portrait-style collars, as well as the capelet coats and turquoise-and-black abstract feather print silks are destined to be timeless classics, too.

CARMEN MARC VALVO

Ballerinas — delicate, feminine and graceful — were inspirations.

The runway was full of eveningwear, including a black strapless lace gown with tiers of strategically placed chiffon covered in beads, and a one-shoulder copper metallic gown with a draped bodice, both of which Valvo said he thought were red-carpet worthy.

The same could be said for the black-and-pewter embroidered V-neck that evoked the nighttime sky, or the beaded black coat worn over an embroidered tulle gown that picked up the lights of the Times Square venue as the model walked near the windows.

Katie Couric, a friend of Valvo’s, sat along the front row snapping photos.

BETSEY JOHNSON

The over-the-top designer debuted a funky collection with the theme “He Loves Me/He Loves Me Not.”

The first pieces down the runway under the “He Loves Me Not” motto were worn by models with dark, bluntly cut hair. The clothes are part of Johnson’s “Black Tag” line and included leopard print, plaid and fabric flowers worn around the neck.

The “He Loves Me” pieces are part of Johnson’s “Pink Patch” line of clothing under $100. Those models wore blond wigs and brighter, lighter prints and sequined baby doll dresses.

Johnson danced down the catwalk in a dark coat and wig. She threw both off to reveal her blond hair and a bright yellow T-shirt before doing her signature cartwheel.

ZERO + MARIA CORNEJO

Runway fashions don’t always make one think about curling up on a sofa in front of a fire. But some of the lusciously soft creations at Zero + Maria Cornejo could inspire just such a yearning.

Feathered alpaca was a prominent look for Cornejo, who has dressed Michelle Obama.

When the material itself wasn’t fluffy, there were prints to echo the effect — whimsical fur and hair prints on dresses.

Another fun print that found its way to a dress: A wall of books, inspired by a real such wall “at a brainy friend’s house.”

In this collection, it seemed that a coat was never just a coat. Tailored in front, it might suddenly billow out in back.

LIBERTINE

Bright yellows, hot pinks and shimmery golds ruled this runway, with a brush of plaid in jackets, sweatpants and hats for fall.

Johnson Hartig’s women flaunted knee-length skirts and pants, and floor-length dresses in the rainbow of popping ’70s colors. The men stayed conservative in black, white and gray.

The women’s jackets were a highlight. Hartig kept his plaid pattern as the focus of each piece, but sometimes just in sections.

Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte graced the front row, as well as designer Thom Browne in his signature short pants.

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Associated Press writers Caryn Rousseau and Summer Moore contributed to this report.

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