Killer Coats Unleashed On The Catwalk

A model wears fashion from the Tommy Hilfiger fall 2009 collection shown in New York's Bryant Park during Fashion Week, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009. AP Photo/Stuart Ramson

The tough girl who has been the muse for designers at New York Fashion Week has one rival who can't be tamed with mere leather, metallic hardware and shoulder pads: Mother Nature. For that, she needs a killer coat, which designers are happy to provide.

Tommy Hilfiger sent out one refined-yet-practical camel cashmere coat after another at his runway show Thursday.

Proenza Schouler's modern take on the topper: add black ribbed insets, which made the coats both futuristic and flattering.

On other catwalks, the coats have had fur trim, elaborate embroidery or cozy quilting. Oscar de la Renta accessorized one of his designs with gloves and a scarf made of skunk fur yes, skunk fur.

A coat is a worthwhile investment piece, says InStyle fashion director Cindy Weber Cleary, because you can wear it more often than a dress or sweater. "Some special coats have a craftsmanship that can last forever," she said. "I bought a beautiful brocade coat a few years ago that I will wear forever."

The New York previews of fall fashion finish up Friday, with editors, retailers and stylists moving on to London, then Milan, Italy, and Paris.

ISAAC MIZRAHI

For a good time, call Isaac Mizrahi. The fall collection he presented was dubbed "Smile," and the audience couldn't do anything but that.

Whether a surely pricey Christmas-tinsel coat would count as an investment piece, it was a gift to a crowd of retailers, editors and stylists who have seen their fare share of tough, no-nonsense styles.

Photos: Isaac Mizrahi
A dress made of a patchwork of beaded plaids is probably more for the runway than the real world, but it'll make for an eye-catching photo in a magazine. There were, however, several wearable looks, especially colorful blanket coats, kilts in watch plaids and a knockout daytime wrap-style coatdress with pleats down the back that he called "butterscotch lozenge." Soothing indeed.

It's surprising that Mizrahi, who splits his time between this high-end signature collection and the mainstream Liz Claiborne label, isn't more of a red-carpet player considering some of the gowns on the runway were knockouts especially a one-shoulder gold satin number with a croc-style texture.

VERA WANG

Vera Wang is likely to make a big splash with her water-influenced fall collection.

The obvious reference was the scuba-suit fabric that literally molded futuristic pieces, including a (too-wide) hip-barrel skirt and corsets that slimmed down and jazzed up more traditional dresses. The best use was on a short-sleeve coat that mixed the fabric with black broadtail fur.

Photos: Vera Wang
More subtle and more beautiful though, was the moire organza that Wang used for her signature artful dresses. As the light hit the models wearing a series of graceful dresses, ranging from shirtdresses to off-the-shoulder gowns, the image was of gentle water ripples dappled with sunlight.

In her notes, Wang said the use of varying textures and materials "provides the tension and sophistication of the collection."

Wang concentrated on small details, such as the just right loosely tied bow on the front of a coat or the rumpled-tissue effect on a voluminous skirt. But the result was a look that oozed easy elegance.

CALVIN KLEIN

Calvin Klein designer Francisco Costa can always find something new to do with black. Darkness once again ruled his runway, this time with a focus on intentionally pieced-together pieces that mimicked puzzles.

Sometimes the sections were big and loosely shaped, other times it they were small and laser cut. Both ways they fit the smart, understated look that is the Calvin Klein signature.

Photos: Calvin Klein
Dresses with wraparound swaths of plisse (think of several layers of frayed-edge fabric all together) created the right amount of drama without being overwhelming.

The sharp nature of the almost all-black collection was a natural follow-up to the very geometric spring collection which was almost all white.

Still, it was the handful of colored pieces that were the eye-catchers, particularly a laser-cut dress in a yellow velvet that had a green sheen to it.

TOMMY HILFIGER

Tommy Hilfiger mixed the high especially soft cashmere coats with the low light-denim vintage jeans for his fall collection, which he says "offers a reprieve from the times by balancing optimism with reality."

He punctuated a chic classic collection with a sand-colored suede-zip coatdress and a taupe crepe-jersey halter dress with a very bare back. There was a similar gown in a slightly lighter stone color and even more open back that was sexy in its simplicity.

Photos: Tommy Hilfiger
The sheath dress, a shape almost single-handedly reinvigorated by first lady Michelle Obama, has been a strong silhouette on the runways, and Hilfiger did a great version in navy wool silk that was draped around the middle, making it a little more figure friendly.

PROENZA SCHOULER

Most of the fall styles on the runways this week have embraced the concept of seasonless dressing, and that could mean strapless tops or bare legs. Thankfully, the Proenza Schouler collection, which debuted Wednesday night, focused on fantastic outerwear.
The first dozen or so looks sent out by designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez were strong, but not overly aggressive coats. The silhouettes ranged from bombers to blazers, with a common ground in ribbed black insets. The exposed zippers and double collars fit in with the futuristic dresses, leather walking shorts and low-waisted, scallop-hem skirts underneath the coats.

Colors were simple and wearable, mostly camel, navy and black, and the textures were creative and modern.

The black inset-technique was also used for a series of tight corset dresses. The black offset the slimness of the shape, likely making the dresses flattering even on women who aren't stick-thin models.

ANNA SUI

Anna Sui took a risk that her fall collection could be dowdier than her young, fun fans want to wear, considering the floral-stripe, rosebud and medallion-border prints.

No need to worry, though. Sui always delivers bouncy, vibrant styles, even if they're borderline kooky.

Photos: Anna Sui
A chocolate windowpane taffeta jacket, boucle tweed shorts that puff out at the hips and leggings could seem like too much, until you see them pulled together on a tall, slim model.

Was the inspiration Victoriana? The Wild West? A speakeasy? Alpine yodelers? It doesn't really matter. Sui can skillfully combine a short black jacket with blue-and-purple embroidery, a cutout lace-print chiffon tunic and denim zipper pants.

A black velvet coat with patent-leather appliques was her nod to the aggressive trend at her show Wednesday. But taken out of context perhaps paired with jeans or even the metallic jacquard dress that it covered on the catwalk it could be one of those pieces that can be worn year after year.

By Samantha Critchell
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