NEW YORK During every season of designer previews at New York Fashion Week a few key, quirky items seem to pop up on different runways. They're not quite trends since one has to think they're partly for runway effect and not retail orders, but they're part of the style zeitgeist nonetheless.
This time there were fur mittens -- oversized like boxer mitts -- at Alexander Wang and Altuzarra. What were the odds? And how does the ball start rolling on items such as oversized fur mittens, harnesses or sleeveless coats?
It's safe to say designers don't take a meeting together to decide what direction to go in.
"The honest answer is some of it is plain and simple coincidence," said Cindi Leive, editor in chief of Glamour magazine. "These designers are creating hundreds of looks over the course of a season. It would be more unusual if there were no overlap."
Still, she said, there also are fashion cycles and sociological factors to consider as catwalk collections are prepared.
Take fur -- both real and fake. Leive said Sunday it has been on every runway so far on this fourth of eight days of fashion week.
After the recession, no one was touching fur, she said, but it has slowly made a comeback as people feel a little more comfortable about spending money. The interpretation this go-around has been impactful, with an emphasis on oversized unexpected fur touches such as hoods, handbags and boots, but they're not as expensive as a full-length coat.
It's important for fashion insiders to be aware of what's happening in other parts of culture, including politics and art, said Marie Claire executive editor Nina Garcia earlier in the week as she prepared to judge aspiring designers at "Project Runway."
"Successful designers soak it all in," she said.
Fashion week continues in New York through Thursday, when the influential Marc Jacobs closes out things. Runway previews then move on to London, Milan and Paris.
The opening look at Victoria Beckham's show was a windowpane plaid coat. She also incorporated more sweaters and knits into her collection, with a nod to mod with some geometric, colorblocked shift dresses.
The most unexpected looks were the flashes of bright yellow, including a sleeveless trench; the techno shine she added to pleated skirts that the audience could only see as the models walked; and the long cape-style tuxedo coat.
One of the important evolutions for fall is the softer shoulder, which she used to tweak one of her popular zip-back, slim-fit dress silhouettes.
For shoes, she put models in lower kitten heels, made in collaboration with Manolo Blahnik, which was a bit of a surprise for a woman known for skyscraper stilettos.
"I'm always designing what I want to wear," she said.
Donna Karan's DKNY label features a lot of lipstick red and hot pink looks for fall.
Yes, there were tough-girl looks, including a long quilted bomber jacket and a long silk-and-jersey dress with sheer panels in black. But it was the brights, and especially the animal-print brights, that lit up the runway
There was a "heartthrob red" quilted crop top worn over a flowing, long silk dress and a tailored, peak-lapel blazer in "pop pink" over a button-down shirtdress. The animal prints showed off a long tunic-length sweater silhouette.
Colorblocking was freshest when Karan used sophisticated camel, crisp white and downtown black on a paneled parka, and when she mixed gray herringbone, white and black on a flirty dress with a slim bodice, full skirt and soft shoulders.
Derek Lam says a navy-black mix is one of his favorite combinations.
"There's something very unpretentious about navy, and black is very crisp and stark. The navy breaks up the black. And black gives the navy an urban feel," the designer said backstage after his fall-winter preview.
Lam paired a navy-and-white satin top with a black wool trouser. A navy-and-gray wool jersey T-shirt came with a navy-and-black jacquard trouser, plus black shoes and bag. A felt coat came in navy, black and white wool, covering an ivory lace dress.
Another big color on Lam's runway this season: luxurious camel. A classic, loose coat in camel cashmere opened the show, and a roomy cashmere duffel coat looked glamorous with sunglasses of the same color. Camel was also used for a wool cashmere pullover, a wool-and-cashmere dress and a big boucle cape.
Capes in general were a popular item. One particularly nice look was an elbow-length black leather cape that tied in front.
A red, knee-length fox fur vest, paired with wine-colored flat boots, was by far the most flamboyant item in the show. A shorter, navy fox vest was more understated and in line with the rest of the collection. It was paired with a navy crochet dress and brown ankle boots.
The "Project Runway" alum used the Russian opera as the inspiration for his fall runway show, using a book of Russian opera houses as reference.
The girl wearing this collection, he said, was on her way to see the Russian opera.
"I wanted it to be a story of what she wears during the day, what she'll wear for a cocktail dress, what she'll wear to the opera," he said.
His vintage-inspired day looks evoke many eras, from the 1940s to the 1960s, and were mostly separates of turtlenecks paired with loose leather trousers and faux fur vests in muted colors such as white, black and camel.
One ensemble included a pointed-toe flat in a penny loafer style, a surprise inclusion given fashion's love for the high heel. Siriano explained it as a way to ensure its wearability, and also because he "wanted it to be a bit more demure, a bit simple."
Other shoes in the collection included bootie heels and heeled penny loafers with gold trim, echoing the filigree that anchored many of the evening dresses that closed the show.
Joseph Altuzarra's urban, confident, fashion-forward customer wears graphic black-and-white leather - layers it on, in fact - and then there's the fox or mink fur on top. She's not shy about drawing attention in fur mittens, shiny grommet embellishment and strategically placed zippers. She wears her high-waisted trousers with a low-slung belt.
His fall-winter collection also includes optic white pants and a khaki cotton sleeveless trench worn with a khaki four-button tailored skirt.
The silhouette he offers his customers is strong and slim, sometimes with a little bump at the hip.
"The design and construction emphasize the nip of the waist and exaggerate the hip, while shrunken proportions mixed with a bolder shoulder volume sharpen the classic silhouette," he says in describing the shape.
Highlights from day three of New York Fashion Week:
BAND OF OUTSIDERS
Scott Sternberg's womenswear customer likes her jackets, especially blazers. For fall, they're getting them with a little 1940s flair.
The designer would like to see her wearing them with great trousers like the women of the era who knew how to work -- with feminine wiles -- the borrowed-from-the-boys look.
But, Sternberg said, he doesn't want her to be clichÃ©d, either, so he tossed some 1980s videogame references for good measure.
He had been in contact with Atari to partner on some holiday menswear gifty items when the light bulb went off for more refined women's clothes, Sternberg explained.
"We're turning Atari images into really chic prints for women on things like cardigans with Swarovski crystals on top," he said. " Video games on top of the '40s: It's kind of insane but kind of cool."
Opulent touches and intense tones of malachite green, oxblood red and amethyst were Lhuillier's red carpet calling cards.
With the Oscars around the corner, the drama on Lhuillier's runway was wrapped in beads on lace and punctuated by malachite, with illusion effects, plunging backs and strapless glamour.
Lhuillier has been lucky in Hollywood (Julianne Hough at the Golden Globes) and hopes these gowns will help continue her run.
"Well you know, every time I start a collection I always say, 'What haven't I don't before, what's exciting, what's new, what do I want to accomplish this season?' So I wanted this girl to be super sexy. It's dramatic, mixed in with a little Art Deco, and just really intense color and intense structure."
While she didn't skimp on comfy, everyday looks for fall, sending out cable knit dresses in bone and shaggy fur coats, her gowns stole the show - though her roomy cocktail dresses with high-low hemlines and swingy sheer overlays were pleasers, too.
She used a digital feather print on crepe for a sheath dress and a crepe strapless gown. A burnished brocade was printed on a tweed, notched-collar coat paired with black pants. Another print was an abstract of butterflies.
Lhuillier said backstage she "wanted to be darker, more sensual, and a little stronger and more confident" on the runway this time around. And she wouldn't talk Oscars.
"You'll have to wait and see but, um, anything is possible," she smiled.
Connie Britton, who appears in "Nashville," wore a fitted black Lhuillier on the front row and said her gowns are "pretty fantastic." Actress Bridget Moynahan was in a red Lhuillier and calls the designer "a good friend to have."
It was that easy: Stuart woke up one day thinking about how stylish British model Stella Tennant and her friends were, so Stuart thought she would create a wardrobe just for them.
She aimed to dress an aristocratic fashion risk-taker for all those parties at castles in the English countryside.
"I was thinking about the beautiful dinners and the charades she and her friends play, and the great performances they see at the end of the night," Stuart said backstage.
Her offerings include a plum-colored halter dress covered in satin flowers, a more tailored dress in black wool with more sharply cut flowers, and a white sheer man-tailored shirt paired with black evening shorts and a full-cut long black coat.
Miller's collection was called "Menswear With a Twist: Raiding the Boyfriend's Closet."
It was the good girl meets bad boy, packing a wardrobe of tough leather jackets, pleated skirts and several fedoras for the adventure. No apologies to mom.
There were particularly short knit dresses and a skin-hugging corset dress in a print called "tatooage," which looked exactly as it sounds.
And there were outfits more in line with what's expected from Miller, including a long dress in a wallflower print with a ruffle front and a stretch-denim dress with sexy net inserts.
The black matte-jersey, floor-length dress, with a dropped leather waist and notched V neck, that closed the show was the right high note to leave on.
But where Miller saw "golf pants" on a pair of loose baggy trousers paired with a burned out velvet-and-georgette blouse, the audience might have seen glorified sweats.
Feminine beaded tops over boy shirts were paired with punky skinny pants adorned with zippers as Taylor explored Frank Lloyd Wright and the Lower East Side of the 1980s.
"I had been reading that book, 'Loving Frank,' and I wanted everything to feel a little bit more architectural," said the New Zealander based for years in New York. "It inspired me to look at his work because I hadn't been terribly aware of architecture, really."
A black tweed and leather T-shirt was shown with an olive green stretch leather pencil skirt to capture both inspirations. Taylor paired a black, box-pleat top with a girly peplum and a frayed design in a tweed skirt done in wine red.
A black pleated leather skirt was trimmed in a mesh-like lace and worn with a pleated top in plum.
The collection for fall, Taylor said, was definitely more structured and tailored than her work in the past, with help from a bonded stretch knit that created a delicate texture.
She patched colors together in an ode to Wright's famous stainglass windows, relying on petrol blue, ruby, lavender, violet and camel.
Max Azria wanted to infuse the metal sculptures of the artist duo Les Lalanne with the bandage silhouette of the Herve Leger line, but what he got was urban jungle-inspired armor.
Azria mixed studs, exposed zips, fur and beading with the bandage silhouette for which Leger and his namesake label are known, creating a riot of black, white and autumnal animal prints.
It all seemed demure, thanks to a below-the-knee hem and fur hooded goatskin sweatshirts that didn't seem out of place after the blizzard.
Demure isn't a word normally associated with Herve Leger, yet nary a knee peeked out of the collection. Whenever the lower hem wasn't covering up legs, tight black leggings made of bandage strips and knee-high boots covered up any skin.
The brand, long popular among club-going types, debuted a line of footwear during the show -- boots that were, like the clothes, dark, sleek and skin tight.
Minkoff named her colors after planets and other spacey things.
A winter white was "Saturn" and used for a leather motocross jacket. The color caramel became "eclipse" for a leather duffel coat.
Minkoff put a twist on the colorblocking trend that has been around now a few seasons by mixing chunks of different textures instead of contrasting hues. That technique was also seen on the runways of Jason Wu and Nicole Miller.
Minkoff's soft-line exaggerated shoulder, instead of the aggressive ones that were so popular on the runways a few years ago (and in the 1980s), also turned up elsewhere.
The collection "embarks on a voyage to the future, marrying modern, spacesuit-like construction details and a new sophisticated grunge attitude," Minkoff wrote in her notes.