Making an understatement

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 October, 2008, 12:00am

For the spring-summer season, the New York shows, perhaps due to their proximity to Wall Street, featured pragmatic, polished collections. Apart from a few exceptions, the luxurious indulgence and fussy glamour of seasons past was gone. Instead, the focus was on prints, cuts and tailoring.

Suffragettes would have been proud of women such as Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin for their attempts to break through the proverbial glass ceiling in politics but America's designers would rather celebrate their fashion sense. Not since the 1980s has female power-dressing been so prevalent and designers such as Isaac Mizrahi and Ralph Rucci are once again at the drawing board, cutting precisely tailored summer suits and shift dresses without sacrificing sensuality or softness. Marc Jacobs, on the other hand, paid homage to the Suffragettes with colourful and embellished versions of their feminist uniforms, consisting of calf-length skirts, ruffled shirts and straw boaters.

A lack of frills and fuss may be disconcerting to those who equate fluff with femininity but designers such as Narciso Rodriguez, Francisco Costa for Calvin Klein, Vera Wang and Zac Posen have long proved that concise tailoring is far more modern. Costa, in particular, was inspired by architecture and cubism with a collection featuring geometric shapes made from swathes of silk and wool, in a palette of silver and white.

Peekaboo fashion was rampant this season with designers such as Proenza Schouler, Thakoon Panichgul, Preen, Derek Lam and Marc Jacobs. Breasts were bared unabashedly under sheer chiffon blouses and tops, sometimes with a 'blackout bar' and sometimes without.

When times are bad, who doesn't dream of running away on an adventure? With this in mind, designers such as Ralph Lauren and Phillip Lim looked outwards for inspiration from exotic lands. Lim referenced a Spanish flamenco and bull-fighting aesthetic that was tempered by his signature New York sophistication. Lauren, on the other hand, channelled an ultra-glam female version of Indiana Jones, complete with silk safari shirts tucked into beaded harem trousers.

Not everyone was able to easily let go of the decadence of days past. Designers such as Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta did not disappoint their fans and turned out lushly beautiful evening gowns and exquisitely crafted separates. Diane von Furstenberg heralded the 60s with models with flowers strewn in their hair and a dress-heavy collection of feminine and flirty pieces, such as butterfly-print tunics (left) and lace A-line dresses.

Surprisingly, this season saw the demise of the 'It' bag. Perhaps this itself is the biggest indicator that fashion houses are as conscious of the dire economy as the rest of us. Instead, we're being advised to invest in simple, sleek and nondescript totes and purses in exotic skins.

Any women hoping for a respite from the super-high heels that have been prevalent recently will have to think again. This spring, heels were higher than ever, with wedges and platforms of all kinds being the style of choice. Wooden and cork heels were the most popular, while, for the evening, strappy fetish footwear remained the top choice.