- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) - The glamorous set had a message for economic worrywarts as New York Fashion Week kicked off Friday: Chill out.

A loose, beachy vibe infused the first collections for spring 2009, drawing inspiration from fantasies of far-off places. Tropical prints combined with an easy slouch to evoke less stressful times.

“When the economy is so bad and with the horrible things happening all around the world, one gets inspired to create a certain kind of beauty,” designer Narciso Rodriguez told The Associated Press before the shows began. He promised an “anti-stress” collection later in the week.

On Friday, BCBG’s fresh-faced models had the air of waking up late at a small beach resort, tossing on whatever was nearby. Perry Ellis had two words for its beach-bound customer _ “leisure suits.” And Elie Tahari dressed the glamorous couple on a seaside vacation, sipping frosty cocktails with warm sand between their toes.

When the economy slumps, some designers turn to bright colors and go beyond basics to lure customers into stores. But this Fashion Week, labels were also counting on currency-rich foreign buyers to take advantage of the weak dollar.

If this early glimpse is any indication, the retailers, editors and stylists who will see more than 100 fashion shows over the next eight days will escape the doldrums of the down economy and seriousness of the upcoming presidential election. Mercedes Benz Fashion Week runs through Sept. 12.

BCBG

Imagine a fashion designer in his studio, draping fabric on a model and delicately pinning it up here and there as a work in progress. That’s where Max Azria stopped with his spring BCBG collection.

The result was casual elegance. Slim pants and short-shorts rompers were mixed loose chemise dresses _ many of them one-shouldered to make the models look like Amazonian goddesses.

Several jumpsuits were included, some better than others. An extreme wide-leg jumpsuit in a wine color with an elaborate crisscross halter top looked more like a sexy maxi dress in the spirit of the 1970s with a modern edge, while the skinny-leg disco version seemed more dated.

A handful of looks had more of a hard-rock edge, including a black glossy vest over a high-sheen jersey dress and ankle boots. Otherwise the palette was more tonal, with Azria’s favorite shades of stone prominently featured, along with flashes of bright orange and blue.

PERRY ELLIS

Perry Ellis designer John Crocco has two words that carry all sorts of baggage _ “leisure suits.” Yet on the runway the loose, jacket-and-pant combinations stood out as a style worth wearing next spring.

Crocco envisions his beach-bound customer adopting a relaxed attitude, mixing hoodie sweaters with those leisure suits, with their drawstring pants and unstructured jackets. He also offered tailored shorts in a longer board-short length and lace-up, hippie-style tops that worked well in knits and crinkled hemp but not in seersucker plaid.

Seersucker played an important role in this collection and other than that shirt, it worked well, seeming modern on a hip guy with a 5 o’clock shadow in a flared chino pant or unstructured sportcoat.

The palette was rooted in light neutrals with blue and green as accents as well as purple and pink.

ELIE TAHARI

Elie Tahari was ready to start the New York Fashion Week party: His new collection, shown Thursday on the eve of the official kickoff of spring previews, is for the glamorous couple on vacation.

The clothes on a makeshift runway over the pool at the venerable Four Seasons restaurant were relaxed but not rumpled. For women, there were loose silhouettes balanced with bareness, while men wore unfussy styles.

Long, sheer cocktail dresses in tropical floral prints doubled as cover-ups over bikinis, and slouchy pants tied at the ankle _ bordering on harem pants _ were paired with tube tops and tailored jackets.

The men wore polished white suits that were more European mogul than John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever,” and trousers and ties were skinny all around.

ANGEL SANCHEZ

The bright sun and muted sand of the Tropics came together in an ultramodern showroom as Venezuelan fashion designer Angel Sanchez previewed his spring collection.

A group of Sanchez’s dresses were done in the washed pinks and browns _ with pops of ocean blue _ that one would see looking down at the beach. The best look was a sheath covered in the sheen of pailettes.

The contrast came from the eye-catching yellow used on several of the evening gowns. A dress with alternating white and yellow pieces of netting, fashioned into tubes that looked like blades of seagrass, was something entirely new _ even to this sometimes-jaded audience of stylists, editors, retailers and big-spending customers.

RUBY SLIPPERS

Fashion Week’s opening celebration must have been imagined by a fashionista: Dorothy’s 70-ear-old ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” were redone by contemporary designers and landed in Saks Fifth Avenue’s shoe department _ which is big enough to have its own zip code.

A party Thursday showing off styles by the likes of Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik and Roger Vivier had as its centerpiece one of five pairs of slippers designed for the 1939 film by MGM costume designer Adrian Greenberg.

Stuart Weitzman thinks the Judy Garland film is a favorite of most shoe designers, including himself. “`The Wizard of Oz’ along with `Cinderella’ _ and those two great pairs of shoes _ hooks girls on them for life,” he said with a laugh.

Weitzman has sold several pairs of his ruby slippers, slingback sandals with a red crystal-covered bow and more crystals under the toe. Vivier, meanwhile, imagined his shoes as a platform pump covered with Swarovski crystals and a pilgrim buckle, and Louboutin’s shoes had satin scrolls on the toes and fabric flower petals at the ankle.

Blahnik’s shoes were in wearable red satin with a jeweled flower as decoration. Sergio Rossi’s snakelike gladiator sandals were on trend and especially noteworthy, and the Jimmy Choo shoes were in a snakeskin material with a zipper detail on the back of the ankle.

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