NEW YORK —One of the first things to know about Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week is that the looks on display, for the most part, aren't the type of clothes most women — or men — wear. They're expensive brands carried by high-end retailers, and in many cases, at the designer's own stand-alone stores.
Customers for the looks don't balk at spending $1,000 for a dress or handbag and that's often on the low end. And yes, there is a market for this type of clothing or these folks wouldn't stay in business. Even if you'll never desire — or be able to afford — the labels, there's often a kernel of the idea in what they're showing that will filter down to the mass market. In recent season, that has been peplums, lace, quilted effects and loads of leather.
One of the main things separating the luxury brands from the rest of the fashion world are the fabrics — which is why there is such a profusion of rich silk, satin, suede, leather and fur on view. Carolina Herrera piled on pelts in her show on Monday, outlining the back of an emerald green gown with fox, and put a mink hem on the bottom of a full-length dress. "These are clothes you get out of a limo wearing," observed one fashion editor. Heaven forbid your mink hem would touch a city street.
Donna Karan likes her skins, but took them in a novel direction, using curly and long-haired shearling as well as a lot of leather, often paired with stretch viscose jersey. Her first solo collection 30 years ago was built on the idea of "seven easy pieces" of body-conscious clothing that could be combined in many ways to create outfits and she said she was continuing to build on that idea in her fall-winter line.
Layered over a black bodysuit and pants, for example, were a viscose and neoprene jersey cape, or a tweed skirt. Her sculptural, pieced dresses in rust colored silk and jersey often had the graceful and dramatic flourish of a silky cape that wafted behind as the model walked up and down the aisles at Cedar Lake Studios. The long, lean models wore high leather-wrapped ponytails and leather jewelry that highlighted the collection.
"These are clothes for women like me — who live and work 24/7 with passion and dress with emotion," Karan said in her program notes. That category must include women like Uma Thurman, Gretchen Mol and Bernadette Peters, who were in the front row.
The design team of Ken Kaufman and Isaac Franco showed a collection full of edgy, sexy looks. The notes accompanying their show was a series of adjectives rather than a statement. They are emphasizing "raw, refined; good girl, bad girl; simple, complex."
Yes, opposites attract. Their KaufmanFranco biker and moto-inspired pieces included fitted jackets, skinny pants with knee pads and bombers. Zippers were on everything — up the back of skirts, down the sides of jackets, and even outlining the deep V-plunge at the back of an evening gown.
The theme carried over to their beaded pieces, which took on a tough-girl edge with fishscale embroidery on a shift and a coat that had "sequin shatters" that looked like metallic ribbons hanging from it. The color palette was muted: lots of black, gray, and "martini olive" green. Like many of the designers showing here, the pair used a lot of fur — mink sleeves on a glazed wool bomber, silver fox and mink on a biker jacket, a zip front vest in mink and fox.
Adding to the hard-edge mood were over-the-knee stretch leather boots by Manolo Blahnik. The models had dark, smudged eye makeup designed by by Gucci Westman for Revlon and their hair had a full, untamed look.
A recent trip to Japan fired up Reem Acra's creative cylinders for a slick, mostly black collection punctuated by red embroidery, fishnet overlays and black fur trim. Models with scarlet lips and slicked-back chignons amped up the collection's Eastern mood.
Acra's show may not spark any new trends but some of the individual designs were stunning, such as a black and white color-blocked column gown with jet-beaded vines snaking down the sides. It would be perfect for Oscar night.
Suzanne S. Brown: 303-954-1697, email@example.com or twitter.com/suzannebro