New York's Fashion Week Heads to the Finish Line

American designers are having their moment in the spotlight at New York Fashion Week and, in the process, they're building a bigger base of fans.

Steven Kolb, executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, said Thursday that he's heard from buyers at the chicest European stores that they're increasingly looking to the U.S. for new talent. Derek Lam, for example, is one of the best-selling lines at London's Harvey Nichols, according to Kolb.

"Today's designers are talented and they're marketers. That's part of the excitement about American fashion — it's part of the enthusiasm. And the established designers really want to nurture the young designer. That's very American," he said.

"American fashion is alive and well," agreed's Executive Fashion Director Candy Pratts Price, noting that so far this month her Web site has had some 9 million visitors. "New York is looking strong this season. There's long, there's short, there's clothes to grab and go. They reflect the modern way of dressing."

Fashion Week was set to wrap up Friday with shows by Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan, among other designers.

Zac Posen: This is a guy who knows how to pack the house. His fashion show, held Thursday night in the biggest venue at the Bryant Park tents, is always one of the most chaotic, partially because of the frenzy over the celebrities who sit in the front row. This year's roster included Eve, Kanye West, Kate Bosworth and Sandra Bernhard.

Posen presented a mostly mainstream collection of ladylike blouses, skirts and dresses that he said were inspired by "the refined aesthetic and vibrant eccentricity of Japenese design," along with the allure of Esther Williams' underwater world. An ivory silk scallop dress with an open back featured in the early part of the show was elegant, and an organza blouse with layered sleeves, worn with a gray wool trouser, was a different take on the layering trend that the fashion crowd has seen so much of over the past seven days.

An aqua-colored fringe dress was an obvious interpretation of the Williams theme but it was also playful, youthful and cute. A more sophisticated version of the look was a navy halter gown with black fringe on the back and bottom.

Posen, though, also is drawn to drama, however impractical — or unwearable — it might be. His finale dress was a gold and silver strapless showpiece that was so heavy and wide, the model had trouble navigating the runway. That made it hard to appreciate the hard work that surely went into it.

Vera Wang: Poise. Grace. Elegance. Those are the words for Wang's spring collection and the designer herself, who went on with her show despite the death of her father earlier in the day.

She placed a piece of paper on each seat with a simple note that her presentation was dedicated to the memory of C.C. Wang. When she took her bow at the end of the show, it was clear she had been crying.

Immersing herself in fashion is probably a comfort for Wang. It's where she practices — and excels — at her craft.

Wang said she was "exploring the emotionally charged space of the geisha's wardrobe and the ballerina's rehearsal layers" in her light, delicate collection.

A lame negligee gown with oversized embellished pockets, worn over a nude tulle T-shirt, was like liquid gold, while a whisper-light blush crinkled chiffon dress with an open back was — in a word — stunning.

Outfits that looked like the simple, inviting styles a ballerina might wear after a rehearsal actually had many intricate details woven into each one. One of the best examples: a black kimono blouse with a sheer organza back, a navy wrap tutu skirt with black floral embroidery and sheer black drawstring warm-up pants.

Calvin Klein: Designer Francisco Costa had a trick up his sleeve to make this season's loose and breezy dresses just a bit sexier. He put skintight sheaths under voluminous sheer overlays so you could just see enough of the models' trim figures.

Costa also took spring's buzzword — "airy" — quite seriously, creating several dresses out of mesh and some of perforated leather.

As always with a Calvin Klein collection, the lines of the clothes were clean and the colors were cool.

A light sage green dress with horizontal accordion pleats on the bodice was as wild as it got. Otherwise, the palette was almost entirely white, except for a few outfits in black and yellow. Instead, the focus was on texture, including several looks in a stiff crocodile-pattern fabric.

Badgley Mischka: Even when they use a restrained hand, Mark Badgley and James Mischka turn out glamorous gowns.

For spring, they didn't use as many of the beads, crystals and other embellishments that have become their signature, but the dresses were unmistakably theirs, much to the delight of the jet-setters in the front row who gave the designers a standing ovation.

Sharon Stone, their new spokeswoman, would look sleek and sexy in the gold-and-ivory drop-waist gown with silver trim.

Recently, though, the designers have tried to court younger customers, too, and for them, they offered a short ivory organza dress with subtle horizontal rows of beads and a cocktail dress made of black-and-white chiffon and taffeta cut into vertical zigzag lines.

J. Mendel: For all those women — OK, for the handful of superstylish, ultrawealthy women — who were wondering how to incorporate fur in their wardrobes, Gilles Mendel offered several luxurious and lovely answers.

A sand-colored goat jacket — worn with a suede belt, white-cotton button-front shirt and cotton-canvas pencil skirt — was the picture of polish, as were a group of white daytime outfits made from broadtail and patent leather.

Another outstanding fur piece was a light purple goat coat. It was the soft, beautiful color that made it so special.

The gowns glided down the runway in front of Kyra Sedgwick, who has worn Mendel on the red carpet. The best was a silvery gray one with vertical swaths of organza. Many of the other gowns featured geometric origami details.

Cynthia Rowley: "Candy is dandy but wicker is slicker," Rowley said in her notes. How does that translate to the runway? Pretty literally.

Rowley's opening dresses all had wicker embellishments, then moved to a series of dresses made of a print that looked like a caned kitchen chair. Surprisingly, it made for a charming sundress.

Next out were the candy-coated looks, including colorful embroidery on a floral-pattern tunic worn with equally colorful leggings.

Wacky humor is part of Rowley's persona, and she emphasized it with a dress covered with fingerprints the designer called the "he-couldn't-keep-his-hands-off-her-all-night" dress.