NEW YORK – Bikini season may be over, but this is no time to tone down the workout. Many of the styles on the runway at New York Fashion Week flash a bit of skin here or there: bare midriffs, cutout backs, keyhole necklines.
The silhouettes in spring previews that entered a fourth day Sunday aren't necessarily skin tight, but it's not a season of full-on floaty frocks, either.
"We've gone so far away from overt sexiness, but the reality is, sex sells. At some point the shopper wants to be sexy," said Hal Rubenstein, fashion director of InStyle magazine. "Illusion fabric on a shoulder or a little skin showing on a midriff gives you a hint without giving it all away."
Victoria Beckham and DKNY continued the trend with bra-style tops, while many of Alexander Wang's looks were seemingly held together by fishing wire. Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week continues through Thursday before the fashion crowd heads to London, Milan and Paris.
The audience had started griping about Zac Posen's delayed start, but as soon as Naomi Campbell took that first step on the runway, there was a collective "aha."
And then there was an "ooh."
The spring collection was being modeled on the terrace of Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall by many of the models who helped put Posen on the map a decade ago. Campbell, Erin O'Connor, Karolina Kurkova and Alek Wek were among the catwalkers who'd strut for the newbie because they were such fans of his masterfully made clothes.
Fast-forward to the new season, and Posen put them in romantic, glamorous gowns with the intricate, detailed, show-stopping sort of details that first won them over. Campbell wore a corseted daytime dress with a swingy dance hemline, setting the tone. The best of the gowns had either tons of tiny tulle pintucks, mermaid silhouettes or candy-ribbon peplums.
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG
Diane von Furstenberg called her spring collection "Palazzo." ''La Dolce Vita" also would have worked.
The muse has "the polish of a princess and the heart of a gypsy," von Furstenberg said, and she travels from Rome to Marrakesh and then off to Jaipur, India.
She takes with her on this journey tunics and skinny-leg pants — practically silk leggings — to wear during the day, and a blood-orange scarf gown attached to a silver choker and cuff bracelets for the night. She brings her kiwi-green gown with a cutout neckline just in case she'll need it for a last-minute, black-tie invitation.
The trip is definitely more play than work, a bit of a departure for von Furstenberg whose label often is the workhorse of a career woman. But these clothes fuel the fantasy she might be having at her desk.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin was on hand and Von Furstenberg and some of the models wore Google Glasses that were collecting video for a project to be released on Google-Plus and YouTube on Thursday.
Victoria Beckham's show not only looks like her signature pulled-together, well-edited style, but it feels like her, too.
She's the thoughtful hostess with waiters offering morning juice to the crowd at the New York Public Library, but she keeps the guest list very tight. She's one of the biggest draws of the week, but there's no frenzy of paparazzi photographers. (Husband David Beckham, however, did take some photos from his seat.)
Beckham said she checks — or doublechecks — every look to make sure "it looks good from every angle."
The clothes for spring had a delicacy that she said was new for her this season, although the clothes remained substantial and structured. It was the touch of illusion lace, the lingerie bra top or hemline of pleated chiffon that took the edge off banded short skirts, zip-back sheaths and shirtdresses.
"I want to design what I want to wear," she said.
What can stop traffic in always-bustling New York? Donna Karan in a taxicab-yellow raincoat.
Karan took her bow in the eye-catcher at Sunday's DKNY New York Fashion Week preview to the delight of the fashion insiders and to the passers-by on the street who could peek in the open doors to the Chelsea studio space.
She turned out a collection of mostly sporty looks featuring white perforated leather (think golf-glove material), camouflage prints, bathing suits-turned-bodysuits, bra tops and long neoprene dresses with mesh backs and sexy inserts. One of those dresses was in the same super-bright yellow that Karan wore.
DKNY is supposed to dress its customers every day and for every occasion, Karan said in a post-show interview: "When I can wear the same thing as the girls on the runway, I've done my job."
CHADO RALPH RUCCI
Color and contemporary details took the show for the luxury line Chado by Ralph Rucci.
Rucci and his team mixed old world glamour with new world touches like a swirl pattern of braiding on the sheer top of a chiffon-skirted dress. The same braiding in a riot of neon colors was used on one long sleeve of a basic black pantsuit.
Crystals sparkled on a coral blouse worn with a white wrap skirt that carried the pink along the hem, separated by a single black line. The minimalist line was also used in a wearable white tunic with bright pink at the waist and hem, paired with white cigarette pants.
A subtle quilting technique called trapunto lent elegance to silk faille suits and dresses made of the wetsuit material neoprene in white and bright pink.
You've got to have a sense of humor — and some guts — to send a birdcage-print dress down the runway as the opening look for a New York Fashion Week preview.
Thakoon Panichgul proved he has both.
The clothes mostly were more serious than silly (Panichgul dresses the first lady sometimes, after all), but, come on, a little gold chain dangling between the beaks of two embroidered birds is certainly a conversation starter.
"You have to have joy in fashion," Panichgul said in a pre-show interview. "I wanted to show classic cool with whimsy."
He got that with a few pieces covered in clear plastic paillettes that mirrored the flashes from photographers' cameras. Panichgul featured many layers of sometimes weighty fabrics, which gave the clothes their shape and structure while still allowing for a looser silhouette.
Tracy Reese rode her Michelle Obama bump from the Democratic National Convention to the runway, putting on a show of juxtapositions in color, textiles and embellishments.
"It's still such a big high," Reese smiled backstage after the show. "It reminded us how grateful we have to be to live in this country."
In a range of foliage greens, cool blues, warm ochre, tangerine and crimson, Reese put wide bands of flat industrial shingle sequins on airy loose trousers in yellows and reds.
She mixed a dainty, beaded floral pattern on top of one sleeveless shift dress with zigzags outlined in black sequins against bold blue on the bottom. Reese worked in phosphorescents to embroider bright pink flowers on the top of a tunic, using the same technique in yellow in a tribal pattern at the bottom.
Burgundy foil paillettes for cocktails or skinny madras plaid trousers with matching jacket in a military green for the office? You can take your pick from Derek Lam's spring collection.
Lam's edgy but wearable runway at a downtown venue included black lambskin halter tops and a fitted black leather dress with a pleated hem. Solid-color leather pieces, including a foldover bodice vest and matching skirt in bright blue, stood in contrast to lasercut foil accents on dresses and skirts and macrame and lace work in tweeds and basketweave patterns.
Lam went metallic gold for a skirt with macrame that stopped at the knee. Most hems landed just above or below the knee.
The audience at Alexander Wang is trained to know the best is coming last.
The mostly inventive black-and-white, pieced-leather looks that filled the first part of Saturday's show would have held Wang's place as one of the princes of cool. There were sporty parkas, tops inspired by hockey jerseys and even some more refined halter dresses.
Wang could have called it a collection and be done with it.
However, the final parade of nine models — all wearing a cream color — had their embroidered tank tops, pencil skirts, crewneck dresses and Bermuda shorts turn into glow-in-the-dark lightsticks when they assumed a final pose on the runway and the lights went out.
Wang also created a stir by having model Liberty Ross — the wife of the director Kristen Stewart had an affair with — walk the runway, along with the likes of Erin Wasson. Jennifer Aniston's fiance actor Justin Theroux sat in the front row along with rapper A$AP Rocky.
The red carpet during the upcoming Hollywood awards season could be a sea of ocean-inspired gowns if Monique Lhuillier has anything to do with it.
Lhuillier, a favorite source for celebrity gowns, presented a bright aqua lace gown draped with a tulle overlay that gave the illusion of rippling waves — and so did a one-shoulder tiered gown in crepe. A sea-glass green gown was embroidered with sparkly beads and had a low, sheer illusion back, and a textured jacquard strapless gown with a trumpet hemline was an underwater kaleidoscope of colors, including blues, greens and purple.
"The Emmys are coming up and some of the looks have been selected so they're on hold," said Lhuillier. Bet the gold, coral-embellished sculpted gown that served as the finale is one them.
On a rainy Saturday night in Manhattan, fashionistas lined up patiently under umbrellas, undeterred, to catch one of the most buzz-worthy spring previews of Fashion Week: that of rising star Joseph Altuzarra.
Actress Kate Bosworth, a big Altuzarra fan, kissed acquaintances and greeted Mamie Gummer, the actress daughter of Meryl Streep. The NBA's Tyson Chandler posed for photos not far from actress Jessica Chastain.
The looks that greeted them on the runway were a combination of the very casual — navy-and-white striped cotton jackets and overcoats, for example, evoking kids' overalls — and the glamorous, in the form of gold fringes on everything from skirts to tanks, and crystal-encrusted garments like dramatic scarves draped high around the neck. Workday looks of simple cotton graduated to looks that suddenly shimmered and glistened under the lights, occasionally perhaps a bit blindingly.
"He's going sky-high," said Nina Garcia, the "Project Runway" judge. "A real original."
Designer Max Azria's bandage dresses for Herve Leger are seriously flattering — you can see that best not on the models, who frankly would look good in anything, but on the fashionistas in the audience at his shows.
But each show needs to have a new theme, and for Azria's Spring 2013 preview on Saturday, it was something unusual: Quilt-making. From Alabama.
One wouldn't ordinarily think of quilt-making from the American South as having much to do with the tight, figure-enhancing dresses that Azria does so well, but the patchwork designs made many of the dresses on display very pretty and colorful, if on a few occasions a bit busy.
Particularly appealing was a blue sapphire high-neck bandage dress with "passementerie" embroidery and applique. Another feature of Azria's on full display here were his leather harnesses, in black or tan, around the neck or in the form of a corset.
-- AP writers Leanne Italie and Jocelyn Noveck contributed to this report.