Suck It In: Corsets Are Back In Style

The spring 2009 collection of Monique Lhuillier is modeled during Fashion Week in New York, Tuesday Sept. 9, 2008. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) AP Photo/Richard Drew

If you think the easy, loose styles that have dominated New York Fashion Week mean a return to comfort, don't hold your breath: The corset is back.

The cinched-waist style proved a staple from designers on Tuesday, offsetting the draped, beachy look so popular on the runways this week.

Monique Lhuillier paired the structured corset with sheer tulle overlays, while other designers went for more Pussycat Doll-like black leather or something more sophisticated under a suit jacket.

At Luca Luca, new creative director Raul Melgoza created satin corset shorts that go halfway up the midriff. Corsets were also shown by Betsey Johnson and Peter Som - who combined it with the romper short look also popular here - along with Proenza Schouler, Isaac Mizrahi and the ever-constricting Herve Leger.

New York Fashion Week runs through Friday, with more than 100 runway shows over eight days.

BETSEY JOHNSON

Betsey Johnson is a never-say-never sort of fashion designer. Don't tell her she can't put giant hoop skirts on the catwalk and don't tell her she can't wear a Peter Pan get-up on the runway. And certainly don't tell her she can't have fun or let the models crack a smile.

Johnson is the rare designer who puts the emphasis on the show, not the fashion, yet the Neverland-themed spring collection presented Tuesday had some adorable styles once you peeled away the theatrics.

She wouldn't want you to do that, though. Then you'd miss the jokester pirate who mingled with models, her signature finale cartwheel or, worse, you'd miss seeing her granddaughters open the show holding enormous helium balloons.

On the runway, it was hard to distinguish what were costumes and what outfits would pop up in stores next season, but some of the Little Bo Peep dresses would make great sundresses if you took the hoops out. Johnson did hit on some of the trends to emerge from the Bryant Park tents - corsets and harem pants, among them.

HALSTON

Halston's 1970s-inspired dresses certainly fit in with the unfussy glamour popular at New York Fashion Week. The models lounging on couches at the Museum of Modern Art looked as if they could hit Studio 54 and be the most chic there.

There was a sexy one-shoulder orange gown with a bare back and attached scarf and another one-shoulder gown that looked as if the azure-blue fabric was draped so perfectly it seemed seamless.

The problem is, Studio 54 is a retro icon - that's now out of business. The legendary label must determine what's next.

DEREK LAM

There's a reason Derek Lam gets the fashion crowd to trek across Manhattan in the rain: His clothes are worth it.

Few have done casual elegance with such a chic and refined touch as Lam. The first looks on the catwalk, including an easy nude-colored jersey tunic with a self-tie belt over cropped jersey pants and a georgette jumpsuit in the same sexy color, set the tone.

Lam wasn't completely without misses, though, including his version of the must-have genie pant.

MARC BY MARC JACOBS

Leggings, high waists and other remnants left of the 1980s: you've had your heyday. Now it's time for the 1990s.

Marc Jacobs kicked off the spring 2009 show for his younger, less expensive line with a selection of muted florals and stripes in rumpled fabrics, not unlike something you might have seen on the cool kids almost 20 years ago.

The best looks were the fun day dresses for which the Marc by Marc Jacobs line is known. A blue and white striped organza dress was screaming Miley Cyrus' name. Appropriately enough, she was born of the same decade.

MAX AZRIA

Max Azria brought a beautiful, casual elegance to the runway again on Tuesday with soft colors and draping fabric, a look similar to the one he presented at for BCBG.

The spring/summer collection included several flirty - but sophisticated - dresses in an array of styles: halter, shift, one shoulder, mini, sweater dress. Almost all of them had a drapey, soft feeling of freedom to them.

He used soft blues, grays and light browns for a feeling of romance, and the clothes were free from a lot of texture and embellishments for a simple look.

VIVIENNE TAM

Vivienne Tam is throwing a garden party. And she's only inviting the young pretty things who love pink and peonies. Lots of peonies.

The Hong Kong-raised designer was inspired by the heavily petaled flower that she said in show notes "are beautiful and symbolize prosperity, good fortune and happiness."

Peonies showed up in nearly every look, some embroidered in heavy bead or transformed into graphic prints that seemed at times Asian, tropical or camouflage-like. The collection's palette were brilliant shades of pink, purple or white.

She also debuted a "digital clutch" created with Hewlett Packard - a purse-sized special edition notebook with a peony design, expected to be available in early 2009.

LUCA LUCA

A new creative director for Luca Luca doesn't necessarily mean a drastic new direction. In his runway debut on Monday, Raul Melgoza presented a spring collection that captured the shapely spirit of Luca Orlandi's woman, but with even more emphasis on cut, fit and luxe fabrics.

The designer turned to the bustier for a sexy, lean silhouette, and most of clothes were in cool tones of white and gray, including one-shoulder, bias-cut gowns in satin that looked liked liquid silver.

Melgoza said it's he prefers to focus on long-lasting designs instead of trends, and that's why he puts so much effort into creating the perfect silhouette instead of adding bells and whistles.

Also, in these tough economic times, it doesn't hurt to use beads, sequins and other embellishment sparingly, he added.

"There's a fine line of economics. ... I'm using luxurious fabrics but a lot less embellishment, which is very expensive to do. I'm not doing it only as a cost-cutting measure, but it doesn't hurt."

RODARTE

Rodarte captured an earth-like, space-agey feel on the runway Tuesday - and no, that's not an oxymoron.

The looks included leather fishnet-like leggings and tops with flesh revealing holes. There were beiges and tans to represent earth elements, like sand and erosion, and colors like metallic blue and black for an outer space.

Kate Mulleavy, part of the sister duo behind Rodarte, said they were inspired by space-age movies and environmental art like the Spiral Jetty, along with fossils: "So we tried to do things that were skeletal, leather rib cages. The knits were meant to be like broken bones. We just kind of flowed with that idea through the entire show."

The show included outfits like a blue and black knit skirt matched with a short-sleeved holey sweater over a black bandeau. A tan linen skirt with sequins underneath for a slight shimmering effect was paired with a thready shell.

MATTHEW WILLIAMSON

Retailers often say they want to see bright color in fashion - it makes the shoppers happy. There should have been some smiles on the faces of the buyers at Matthew Williamson's show.

Shades of pink, blue, purple and green exploded on his runway, including a spin-art print on a sexy jumpsuit and a long dress with a beaded neckline. There also was a beaded jacket with an Art Deco feel but the embellishment was in Day-Glo colors.

Some designers have said they'd shy away from a lot of beads, sequins and other sources of shine because they're expensive and maybe not ideal for a down economy, but Williamson apparently sees no better time to jazz up his collection.

CYNTHIA STEFFE

"Wearable" isn't a buzzword you hear after every fashion show, but the models on the Cynthia Steffe catwalk could have just kept going through the Bryant Park tents and onto the street.

"I don't believe in designing things that aren't wearable," designer Shaun Kearney said backstage at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

The dresses were probably the highlights: A green smocked-waist, boatneck dress would be perfect for cocktails or a daytime wedding, and a khaki "utility" dress with a ruched waist and zip front could go just about anywhere. There also was a group of three tiered white dresses with ruffled necklines - each a different length - that looked lovely.

PATRICIA FIELD

Stop searching for the knockoff dress that Carrie wore at Charlotte's baby shower. And if you've been shopping for the white dress with the big flower, look no further.

Patricia Field, who brought us the chic, sexy, fun looks on "Sex and the City" has designed a 50-piece limited edition collection inspired by the show for the HSN Inc. home shopping network.

The line includes several iconic "Sex and the City" pieces: a turquoise scarf dress with draped split-sleeves that fall below the hemline and a taffeta off-the-shoulder pouf top paired with a high-waist pencil skirt and belt.

GOTTEX

Gottex's 69 looks, separated into different sunbathing themes, differed in color, style and material, but all said the same: Broadway at the beach.

The extravagant display of St. Tropez theatrics, already apparent in the opening nautical theme that featured gold anchors, sailor collars or gold ribbon trim, showed women that the beach was a place to be a character - in particular one who doesn't get wet, and doesn't tan either. Many styles were cutouts or incorporated tops made with spiderwebs of ribbon or braiding, all of which are sure to leave behind strange tan lines.

The standouts were the simplest and most modest of suits: a group of black bikinis, one-piece bandeaus, and halter tops trimmed with 18-karat gold ribbon.
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