The bellwether designers for uptown girls -- Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta -- took over the runways at New York Fashion Week Monday. Both embraced a warm, caramel-based color palette, laced with a lot of black.
Fashion Week still has to hear from several influential designers, including Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and Vera Wang, before the finale Friday night by Karl Lagerfeld.
Oscar de la Renta: De la Renta's fall collection confirms some of the emerging trends. His runway had metallic fabrics, three-quarter sleeve tops and jackets worn with long gloves, belted jackets, sweater coats, and both skinny cigarette pants and wide-leg cuffed ones. Somehow, though, everything looks a little different when done at de la Renta's direction. They're classier and more luxurious.
The metallic brocade jacket with a high open collar, which was worn with a taupe cashmere turtleneck and gray flannel pants, would be right for work, but put it with dark jeans and it's a chic weekend look. Skinny metallic brocade pants balanced the proportion of a thick cableknit sweater.
De la Renta traditionally does great coats and embroideries. This time he combined those skills into an outstanding brown embroidered cashmere coat with pony skin that was paired with a green leather embroidered skirt.
But de la Renta's other specialty is eveningwear, and while a black sheer tulle dress with embroidered polka dots was pretty, most of his gowns and cocktail dresses with defined waists and voluminous skirts looked stiff and of another time and place.
A better black-tie look was a black cashmere jacket with embroidered rosettes, a black sequined T-shirt and skinny black flannel pant.
Carolina Herrera: Herrera said she was inspired by the late '50s, but many of the outfits were reminiscent of the sportswear of the '70s, when American ready-to-wear first put its stamp on the world.
She sent several suits down the runway. The skirt suits, in a rust plaid, were fitted and to the knee; the pants had wide cuffed legs.
A new look for fall is fur sheared so close that it looks like soft velvet. Herrera used that technique for the sleeves on a black and brown wool dress that was otherwise simple -- and very sophisticated.
Herrera matched coats with cocktail dresses to create a complete outfit, and the chocolate broadtail coat with a turquoise swirl print lining with a pleated strapless dress in the same fabric was a standout.
Shirtdresses return to the wardrobe -- even as gowns. Herrera turned bright red silk into a basketweave shirtgown, jazzing it up to be black-tie worthy with a beaded belt.
Cynthia Steffe: Steffe featured the lightest colors seen so far, almost halfway through Fashion Week. But the delicate pink and cloud blue blouses and dresses with lace trim took a supporting role to what Steffe called "the offhand chic of the coolest girl in prep school."
The fitted black canvas and velvet cadet coat over a starched white shirt had the vintage look that Steffe's youthful customer wants, but the Bermuda shorts she paired with them -- and with several other cute tops -- seem unlikely to catch on.
A popcorn cableknit skirt suit in winter white had a black tie around the neck to add some schoolgirl charm, while a laser-cut, empire-waist dress was done in a sophisticated gray flannel so that an older woman could wear it, too.
Another outfit that was youthful but not girlie was an oatmeal-colored chunky knit cardigan with flecks of blue and sparkly buttons paired with pinstripe pants and an ivory chiffon top.
Some of the cocktail dresses, though, relied too heavily on lingerie touches and ended up looking like pretty nightgowns.