Only in the fashion industry can you find such a reversal of conventions as the ones seen this year. Opulent frivolity of lavish corseted ball gowns and head pieces that made the model more suited for the aviary than the catwalk replaces winter sobriety. Spare intelligence now contends with fluttery flirtation. Stark modernity might hold even in spring. Many designers have pared down the excess of winter to bring this season decidedly fresh, provocative and wearable fashions.
Dotted in many mainstream collections are the influences of couture designers Junya Watanabe and Yohji Yamamoto. Their experimentation with form and lines have had a profound impact on more commercially digestible designs.
Jil Sanders and Hel-mut Lang have introduced loose sheer pleated knee length skirts topped with gravity defying asymmetrical shirts that freely envelop the torso. Their dresses contain a seemingly carefree uniqueness, imprecisely gathered and haphazardly hemmed.
Donna Karan offers an alternative to the blouse – a loose column of gossamer fabric that enfolds the neck and torso to be worn under suits. Designers ranging from Calvin Klein to Betsey Johnson have presented versions of airy parachute dresses, billowy shapeless creations with drawstring hems.
This spring, marketable lines will pay more attention to tailoring, invoking Yamamoto and Watanabe's Comme des Garçons. Look out for asymmetrical seams on otherwise unadorned tops and dresses with unusual necklines. The slash cuts through black and exposes a flash of flesh or neon, certainly adding interest to spare garments.
But this spring is not a parade of black, nor is it filled with sugar powdered palette of pastels. Gray offers an exciting alternative to periwinkle, supplanting black and intense blue hues that sometimes seem more appropriate for fall.
One of the most striking though accessible cuts this season is the collar that shoots straight from shoulder to shoulder with an invigorating frame for the neck and face. Moving from the ubiquitous one shoulder tanks of last spring, designers have gone completely strapless. The simultaneously modern and feminine tube bandeau is the style of spring. In textured high-tech fabrics or shocking hues, the look possesses an edgy urbanity. However, in muted tones under a cardigan paired with clam diggers it evokes a soft nostalgia.
To complete these looks, accessories must be kept to a minimum. If worn, jewelry must be silver and straight. The interesting necklines supersede the necklace.
A clean, slicked back ponytail or the heavy boxy bob frame the face while emphasizing the new forms. The daring can draw attention to their face with monochromatic, severely defined eyes or strong lipsticks. Dark berry, siren red and fuschia (yes, fuschia) are the colors of the moment.
Not all designers willingly discard the capriciousness that crescendoed in last winter's collections, nor will many women give up girly glamour for often alienating minimalism.
Even Yohji Yamamoto acknowledges women's desires for traditional femininity with a collection of dresses that allude to the past while looking toward the future. Loosely draped but revealing the recognizable curves of a woman's body, Yamamoto creations maintain his signature odd twists and bunches while achieving a traditional elegance.
While many designers seem to adopt elements of his avant garde in their spring lines, Yam-amoto has shown a renewed interest in the frivolity of fashion. This season, though marked by startlingly spare pieces accented with one or two tailoring details, the overindulgence of winter lingers into the spring.
Delicate beading, a staple of many winter lines has carried over, embellishing almost everything with an art-nouveau flavor evocative of the lavishness seen in Titanic. The curvaceous mermaid slip dress is a glorious celebration of breasts, hips and waists, a sigh of relief for women who have had to endure half a decade of heroin chic.
The hyper-femininity evoked by this school requires a different approach to accessorizing. Feathers have been replaced by butterflies that adorn dresses in delicate embroidery and clips. Hair piles carelessly on top of the head, transparent makeup refracts light, dark strands of vintage beads against gauze give the lush feeling of a pre-Raphealite painting.
Both the excessively feminine and shockingly modern styles of the season require shoes that will invariably sacrifice comfort for style. The knee length pencil skirt shortens the legs and calls for the three inch boost of a sharp pair of slingbacks to elongate the calves. The same logic goes for the Capri paired with three inch Candie mules. Slip dresses would literally sweep the floor without the elevation of a pair of bare strappy heels. DKNY and Calvin Klein hinted at a rebellion against the ever-present stiletto when they both presented suits with flat, platform thong sandals.
This season comes complete with inherent contradictions – the spare, sharp and modern juxtaposed with the sweet, soft and nostalgic. However there is a bit of coherency. Heroin chic has finally been buried. Just look at the new St. John's Wort-happy Calvin Klein perfume ads. And with the modern knee length pencil skirt topped by the form fitting bandeau or the delicate bias-cut floor length slip dress, this spring is about curves.