Change is in the air as New York prepares to kick off the next fashion season Friday with eight days of more than 100 runway shows previewing fall styles.
The editors, stylists and retail buyers who attend the shows will be looking to see if models appear a little healthier and even a little heavier amid an international debate over too-thin catwalkers.
Fingers likely are crossed, too, as the stylewatchers hope to see more universally appealing clothes than what was initially offered for spring. For example, loose minidresses offered during the last round of shows targeted a very young customer with great legs.
Also, this will mark the last time that 7th on Sixth, a division of IMG Fashion and the official organizing body of Fashion Week, is setting up giant tents in Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan to house the majority of the shows, including those staged by Oscar de la Renta, Vera Wang and Diane von Furstenberg.
This past fall, Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared that the fashion shows had outgrown the facility. The fashion industry's use of Bryant Park also forces the city to close an ice rink that's open to the public right at the height of skating season.
Many designers may end up moving to individual venues; a new central location has not been identified for the September shows, when the spring 2008 collections will be unveiled.
Furrier Dennis Basso is making his first -- and apparently only -- appearance at the tents on Feb. 9. It's a way for him launch his ready-to-wear line in front of a "prestigious audience," he said.
Some designers, however, already stay away from the tents, including Francisco Costa for Calvin Klein, which turned the ground floor of its corporate offices into a show space, and Donna Karan, who uses her late husband's art studio.
After a yearlong hiatus, Tommy Hilfiger returns to the runway at a concert venue. Up-and-coming designer Phillip Lim is using an industrial-looking former nightclub lined by art galleries.
Lim said it suits the underlying theme of his collection: "Breathing modernity into a classic form."
Lim was inspired by "Grey Gardens," a 1975 film about eccentric socialite Edith Bouvier Beale. "The look is about beautiful creatures from upper society who left to create a fantasy world. It's pedigree minus prudence," Lim said. "They have a look of `now' but they're not being `fashionable."'
The color palette is classic Americana, featuring navy, gray, red, ivory and black, and the shapes are long and lean funnels, a contrast to the wider and shorter silhouettes for spring.
The casting process for Lim's show on Sunday began last week and he said he is seeking out "pretty, healthy girls."
"I'm doing what I think looks right in my clothes. We look for healthy-looking girls with a natural glow. You can see the difference when someone is not healthy," Lim told The Associated Press.
The Council of Fashion of Designers of America recently issued voluntary guidelines to curb the showcasing of too-thin models. The recommendations include banning models younger than 16 and requiring those identified with eating disorders to get professional help.
Lucy Danziger, editor in chief of Self magazine, said the CFDA took a good first step in recognizing that clothes look best on healthy women. She added, though, that health, fitness and slimness often go together. The difference is when the models appear emaciated.
"The last two cycles of fashion shows were a step beyond slim. It's what I would call skeletal. That's where we draw the line," said Danziger. "A model by the definition of that word should be someone we look to as an example."
It will take more than serving healthy foods backstage to get the models to change their behavior, she said, but simply alerting models that there is such a thing as "too skinny" might start the process.
"Designers want the clothes to look good, so that means slender hips, broad shoulders. Great. But the clothes don't look good hanging off of a beanpole girl," Danziger added.
Designer Doo-ri Chung is most excited to see on the runway a short dress ensemble that she believes embodies her entire fall collection. The look is actually two abstract-shape dresses that connect at the bottom. The inspiration was a continuation of her exploration of fabric folding onto itself to create fluidity and movement.
The big changes in Chung's collection are the colors -- rich jewel tones of burgundy, teal, navy and yellow. "Spring was a lot of neutral, this time color is my neutral," she said.
On Marc Bouwer's runway, the headline is that the designer has stopped using any animal-based material, including leather and wool.
Ann Watson, vice president fashion director at upscale retailer Henri Bendel, expects the highlights on the schedule to be Lim, von Furstenberg, Alexander Wang, Michael Kors and Jovovich-Hawk, which has model-actress Milla Jovovich as its co-designer.
Watson hopes to see more classic tailoring in the fall clothes, particularly some wide leg trousers paired with blouses.
She does, however, like all the spring and summer dresses that are beginning to hit stores now and she's curious to see how they evolve. "Will it continue as a layering piece?" Watson wondered. "I'm also interested to see how the Marie Antoinette romanticism and femininity move into fall. I think it will be cleaned up and closer to the body."
She added: "Our customer is a feminine, sexy customer. When it's closer to the body, she responds well."