By SAMANTHA CRITCHELL, AP Fashion Writer
NEW YORK - The blockbuster colors and florals, geometrics and ethnic prints on the runways at New York Fashion Week may feel like game-changers in the moment. Then there's the rest of your life.
Once the looks move from the catwalk to the closet after this round of previews, women may need a little guidance on incorporating the prints, shots of neon and other new colors - purple, yellow, aqua and orange - into existing wardrobes, said Cindy Weber Cleary, fashion director of InStyle magazine.
If you can pull off scubalike body-conscious looks and short shorts, then go for it. Otherwise, look to the many shirtdresses and fuller skirts a variety of designers are going with for spring and summer, she said.
On Wednesday, the seventh day of shows, trends have become clearer: Prints, athletic inspirations, optimistic color, easy elegance, uneven hemlines and a little bit of the '60s over last spring's solid '70s disco vibe.
That said, there doesn't seem to be one specific muse.
Ken Downing, the senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus, said Michael Kors is among those designers to listen to his customers. As a retailer, that's his job, too.
"I love the dream of the runway, but I also love the reality of a women's wardrobe," Downing said.
Cleary's advice: caution.
"From a consumers' point of view, it's great to add an element of surprise to your wardrobe, but you can't do too much of a good thing," she said.
Perhaps this is the season for buying a few key updates, coupled with some staples, instead of a wardrobe-changing extravaganza. There are plenty of blacks and whites on the runways, too, to help out.
Fashion week moves to London on Friday, followed by Milan and Paris.
It was "so fabulous" and so "thrilling." In fact, it was "historic."
That's the week Gilles Mendel has had - and that was before his runway show that attracted the normally camera-shy Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen.
On Tuesday, he was in Washington to be honored by the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt with a National Design Award. First lady Michelle Obama sat next to him at the luncheon.
"It was beyond, beyond ... so inspirational," he gushed.
But then it was on to the next thing: the J. Mendel spring collection.
He turned out vertical colorblocked dresses with pleat details for daytime and pleated georgette and mousseline ones for night. Strategically placed draped fabric kept the look soft, but there was a lot of architecture to the pieces, too.
Of course, there was fur - that's where Mendel got his start - but it had a supporting role this time.
Pack your oversized, distressed leather bag: Kors plans to take his customer on safari.
The heavily textured, mostly muted-colored clothes Kors offered for women and men were inspired by the designer's three safari trips to Africa.
Kors told his models to step out on the runway like chic globe-trotters.
For their adventures, Kors suggests a womenswear wardrobe of hand-dyed caftans, ponchos and serape-style wrap skirts, worn with cashmere henleys and animal-print maillot swimsuits. For something a little dressier, Kors sent out dresses made of feathers hand-painted like leopard skin, and a tiger-print duchesse trench coat.
Calling the suede Bermuda-length jumpsuit with its slim, refined shape a "safari romper" didn't do it justice.
"I wanted dresses that feel as easy to throw on as a T-shirt," he said.
Growing up in suburban California, designer Phillip Lim would pass time as a kid making paper kites.
"We didn't have a lot of money, and we lived near this field," he says. "We would make paper kites and have kite wars."
Parents, take note: The kite-making went to good use. It has inspired Lim's spring collection, which he showed Wednesday in Soho. It was a succession of dresses, tops and other garments that fluttered and billowed across the runway.
A "kite back top," in magnolia and faded orange, seemed to flutter back onto the neck of the model wearing it as she walked, giving the garment a wind-swept effect. A "kite tail top" had sail-like sashes floating from the back.
In a season full of color, Nanette Lepore's runway was one of the brightest of them all: Neon yellow, tangerine and pink - and mixed all together in stripes.
Lepore wisely kept the rest of the silhouette crisp and clean, so there wasn't too much going on. She favored full skirts and shorts, although there was a series of scuba-inspired, slim-fit dresses, or for a twist, there was a scuba top paired with a very feminine, more forgiving lilac-net skirt that had an orange underlayer peeking through.
She also hit on the popular athletic theme with a tangerine, sequin-covered baseball jacket.
The splash floral print looked best on a tie-front swimsuit, but there was a lovely version on a tie-front dress, too, using a softer, more delicate fabric.
The 1940s' Hollywood look met the 1970s' American in Paris on Anna Sui's runway.
That meant printed turbans on almost every model's head, a la Greta Garbo, tons of novelty-print dresses and several lingerie-like looks.
Sui's catwalk always has top-tier models. Karen Elson opened the show in a chiffon dress, patchwork sweater dress and black-and-white marabou jacket, and she closed it in a sequin-top, paisley-leaf gown.
Jessica Stam, with legs decorated with butterflies (Sui's signature), wore a floral kaftan and a rose-print chiffon romper, and Caroline Trentini wore a butterfly-and-hydrangea-print jumpsuit.
Sui was into novelty prints this season, also offering several looks with stars and heart motifs.
There's always a vintage vibe on Sui's catwalk, yet the designer caters to a mostly younger crowd. They might not get the retro references with the lace that trims delicate blouses and the slinky embroidered tulle dress worn like a robe over tap pants, but they'll look good in them.
OSCAR DE LA RENTA
De la Renta doesn't hold back in an unsure economy. Maybe he doesn't have to.
Mixed among the typical fashion week crowd were private customers - paying customers - making notes about what they'd like to be wearing next spring.
For those women, de la Renta didn't disappoint, with shocking-colored Chinese lamb jackets paired with wide-leg trousers, silk bow-tie blouses and embroidered skirt suits, and the big ballgowns that they need for their jet-setter schedule.
But he also showed a desire to introduce himself to a new crowd, one that would appreciate the unfinished office space he used as a venue, one that would like the Led Zeppelin-infused soundtrack - one that might seriously consider wearing the flower headband in her hair like the model wearing a hippie-ish embroidered gown.
He has no lofty, complicated vision for his Theory collection. He just wanted to make "clothes for cool girls."
Coming from someone else, that might sound a little geeky. But this is Theyskens, the 34-year-old fashion-world darling with the long hair and the slouchy jean shorts and the scuffed-up work boots. Anything he says sounds, well, fairly cool.
His collection was full of things you might see in New York's Meatpacking district: Slouchy pants that started well below hip level. Loose sweaters, see-through tops peeking from jackets. Linen or wool blazers over baggy pants. A soft gingham-style minidress.
There was a sense of haphazardness in the way outfits were thrown together, and Theyskens says that's what he was going for.
Rodriguez is soft and sexy for spring.
The sexy part is almost a given for Rodriguez, whose architectural style usually makes for fashion-forward, formfitting styles. The latest collection, however, included a looser, more languid look.
Skirts sat at the hips and flowed below the knee from there. Dresses were easier and breezier than one expects from Rodriguez. A white shirtdress with touches of black, silver and aqua was particularly billowy in shape.
But his stamp was there, showing some skin, which the fashion week crowd hasn't seen all that much of for next spring. Bras in black as well as brights were meant to be seen under sheer and scarflike, backless tops.
AP National Writer Jocelyn Noveck in New York contributed to this report.