NEW YORK - It must be red-carpet day at New York Fashion Week. The collections presented Thursday by J. Mendel and Badgley Mischka were among the most glamorous to grace the catwalks at the fall previews so far, while Vera Wang and Calvin Klein were chic.
And could Rihanna have been in the front row at Zac Posen because she's attending Grammy festivities this weekend? The bright purple gown with cascading ruffles, pintucks and an open back would be a show-stopper.
Don't be surprised if some of the gowns, especially Badgley Mischka's platinum lame and crystal gown or J. Mendel's stone-colored satin gown with a sexy cowl back and a mermaid hem, turn up on an A-list star sometime in the very near future. Wang's finale black sequin dress with a silver beaded medallion at the bust and a floating tulle train is for a very cool customer.
Fashion Week is entering its homestretch, ending Friday, but several top designers, including Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan, have yet to take their turn on the runway.
Zac Posen: The themes of the week were all covered - dark colors, pencil skirts, curved architectural lines, fur, purple - but Zac Posen always does things just a little bit bolder than most of his peers.
Sometimes the results can be outlandish, but not so this season. Upping the ante produced one of the best pencil skirts, one covered in silver and black beads that Posen called the "Galactica" skirt. The gowns at the end were true fashion statements. Neither the "orchid" gown, with its exaggerated open back in the shape of a blooming flower and a tiered mermaid hemline, nor the "iris" with its enormous ballskirt would be the sort of thing to wear to a country-club black-tie wedding, but they'd be just right on a stylish star at the Oscars.
Posen did, though, have clothes for real people, too. A sleek black skirt suit with a crisp pleated blouse would likely be worn again and again, and a burgundy wool cape coat was as fashionable as something so cozy could be.
Calvin Klein: Who knew there could be so many shades of gray? Francisco Costa's fall line was made up almost entirely of pieces with color names such as carbon, steel and anthracite. It created a very sophisticated yet somewhat somber look. These clothes were very elegant, clothes for a woman who is confident enough to not have to prove herself.
The treasures were in the details: draping fooled the eye into thinking there was a jumper and a separate top on the runway while it really was a single dress, and wool was so soft and plush, it looked like fur.
Overall, the clothes had a look of mixed tonal textures, and Costa played with proportion, often with a silhouette that started with an oversized boxy collar that narrowed as it went down. The work-friendly skirt suits and dresses were among the standouts here, especially a Chantilly lace, short-sleeve turtleneck with matching layered skirt that was delicate because of its fabric but serious because of its color.
Vera Wang: The Russian influence was again evident in Vera Wang's ultrachic show, but instead of focusing solely on the opulence of the czarinas, Wang also noted the military presence, the dignified peasants and avant-garde artists.
"Life during this time represented a turbulent mix of incredible extremes, not to mention the impossible extravagance of the Romanov court," Wang said in her notes.
Want to see all that in a single outfit? How about a gray velvet sleeveless fencing vest with a padded peplum lining and a black pleated chiffon overlay, worn with a gray chiffon straight skirt with chrome sequin details.
It was a look made for the runway, full of drama and great photo potential. A more wearable look, however, was an oversized gray wool turtleneck, a charcoal collarless mink coat and a wool gabardine high-waist skirt.
Among the best looks overall were a dark-green printed top with a pleated neck and a jeweled jacquard straight skirt with a padded hem, and an embroidered and padded shift dress in a black-brown taffeta with a military collar and heavy navy wool belt.
However, all the padding might be unflattering on women whose figures don't exactly line up with models.
Badgley Mischka: The Badgley Mischka dresses put into fabric a feeling that editors and retailers in the front row have been talking about all week - it's a season of change. The favored silhouette moves away from volume and becomes more fitted, but it's not a seismic shift to an ultra-slim body, either.
One beautiful smoky-gray gown had a jeweled halter neck and a formfitting bodice but then flowed gracefully from a yoke at the knee. And a sophisticated cocktail dress combined a tight claret-colored sheath with a billowy sheer black overlay.
In their daywear, Mark Badgley and James Mischka emphasized the trend of using menswear fabrics for feminine shapes. The show opened with a chocolate-colored glen-plaid dress, worn with a turtleneck underneath. This was soon followed by a toffee-colored tweed jacket with a round neck and tie at the waist, paired with slim dark denim jeans - one of the few appearances of denim on the runway this season.
J. Mendel: Designer Gilles Mendel was striving for a look of old-fashioned elegance and polish to then propel into the present, he explained in his notes.
He succeeded - and he made it look easy.
The wild-type mink kimono coat, kept close to the body with a satin trenchcoat belt tied in an obi, set the tone that this line would be luxurious but not the slightest bit fussy. A black satin blouse with chiffon panels, worn with a long black pencil skirt, and a black-and-white tweed minidress, also with the obi sash, were the confirmation.
For evening, there was a stunning black chiffon and silver lame gown with jet crystals on the bodice and fur cap sleeves. For those who are not fans of fur, a black satin gown with an asymmetrical neckline, oversized sequin pocket and gathered sleeves was equally noteworthy.
The front row did have some potential celebrity shoppers, including Celine Dion, who wears J. Mendel in her Las Vegas stage show, and actresses Natasha Richardson, Cynthia Nixon and Piper Perabo.
Linda Fargo, women's fashion director at luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman, raved over designer Gilles Mendel's "classic chic French sensibility."
"It was sensual, yet there was an aggressive spirit," Fargo said.