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Fabulous Fall

Bursting with energy, New York Fashion Week turned out to be one of the best in a long, long time. Honorable mentions to Calvin, Donna, Michael, Narciso, Ralph, Marc, and Oscar, who, with every American thread, showed us fashion's more relevant than ever. So what if there were fewer celebs and the shows were smaller? The clothes were absolutely fabulous. But don't just take it from us. Listen to the people who were there.

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Donna Karan, designer: "I had a message, which was to celebrate New York: the drive and sexiness of the city. Right now, for me, it's really important that the word fun is on everyone's lips. It's about letting loose, having a release, enjoying sensuality. I've really got into dancing lately -- any kind of dancing. It's a great way to feel a release from day-to-day living. After September 11, I think we were all searching for that little piece of nostalgia, and I found it by returning to black. People are always saying to me, 'You always do black, Donna!,' but this time it was different. I mixed the black with brown, the black with blue, added texture to it to enrich it. I used leather, pony skin, double-faced cashmere, and satin, some of which we washed so that they had this soft, worn-already feel to them; they would feel like a favorite sweater. I didn't want anything in the collection that felt too sharp and don't-touch-me."

Michael Kors, designer: "One of my clients, who is a shopper of Olympic strength, called me yesterday. She told me that she'd sat at home and had watched my show on Full Frontal Fashion on MetroTV. And I realized that with seating being so limited, a lot of people have been doing the same thing; it's become the car crash of the Upper East Side -- you just can't tear your eyes away from it.

"You can talk as much as you like about how people are staying at home more, or that they're spending more time with their families, but the simple fact of the matter is that women still want to look feminine and sexy. And they want things that are practical and indulgent: an anorak lined in sable, jeans hand-stitched, what looks like a straightforward skirt but has been constructed from so many pieces of suede. No woman now shops thinking in trends -- It has to be in pink. She knows that there are just a few pieces that she has to have."

Ed Burstell, retailer, Henri Bendel: "It was a terrific week for retailers. There wasn't that element of people trying to go over the top. There were lots of nostalgic, homemade references, things that look like they'd been made by Grandma. I felt that a lot of the younger designers that we sell went to the next level -- Matthew Williamson, Luella Bartley, and Alice Roi. Catherine Malandrino evolved her love affair with Americana, Zac Posen has a fantastic exuberance, and Jess Holzworth has a downtown sensibility that's edgy, but she's an original. The flip side to that was the return to wonderful elegance from designers like Ralph Lauren and Narciso Rodriguez. We're going to sell the hell out of Michael Kors.

"I think people will respond to clothes that look like they have a history to them. People need to make an instant emotional attachment to clothes. One of the highlights of the week for me was Rick Owens. He has this slightly punk, slightly gothic, Hollywood-L.A. sensibility, and he has an amazing ability to fit clothes to the body. The other highlight was the return of Stephen Burrows, who used all this bright, beautiful color for sensual, confident clothes. He feels very relevant again. He designed through the seventies and the eighties before bailing out because of bad business advice. It felt like good karma to have him back."

Behnaz Sarafpour, designer: "I just wanted a very soft, dreamy, romantic look that had a bit of history to it that went with the poetry that I was reading, mostly poems from the 1800s. The main poets that I was interested in have their poems on the pieces. The Emily Dickinson suit is about hope, the Herman Melville long blue dress is about creation of art, and there are two Byron poems on a short, gray georgette dress -- they're embroidered on the hems."

Oscar de la Renta, designer: "Now is not the time to tell the women of New York that they should go out and buy a sweater and skirt. For me, this is exactly the time that people have to dream and fall in love with clothes, that they can lift your morale."

Linda Wells, editor, Allure: "My feeling is that the clothes have to hit you in the gut, that they have to be so desirable you want to say, 'To hell with the bills.' At Ralph Lauren there was a black denim coat and a black denim jacket that I thought were great; a black shearling vest at Calvin; the leather bomber jacket that opened the show at Balenciaga; and every single coat at Michael Kors. This season, you could go naked and just wear all of the new coats that are out there. I liked the way that there was a feeling of things being a little rough around the edges, that it wasn't about 'I'm dressing up.'

"I was perfectly happy not to hear live bands on the runway, and there were fewer celebrities and that's just fine. I also thought the lack of elevated runways in favor of seeing everything at ground level was interesting; the message seemed to be that fashion wasn't being put on a pedestal."

Kenneth Cole, designer: "Last season was our biggest and grandest show to date. This season, it just felt right to bring the show into my office and have the editors enjoy the peaceful and comfortable setting. It is important to convey the message that we need to feel better about ourselves, take care of ourselves, and that it is okay to want to look and feel good."

Kal Ruttenstein, retailer, Bloomingdale's: "Black was the biggest trend. But layering was big, too; there was more of a feeling of generosity of cut and fabrics, expressed best at Narciso Rodriguez -- clothes that skimmed the body, that didn't hug it."

Ralph Lauren, designer: "Excess is gone. The show has become more about the integrity of the clothes and the environment and less about the spectacle. Consumers want sophisticated clothing that is rich in quality and individuality. It's about finding that perfect precious piece. What I really wanted to do was to make clothes that inspired people to dream a little."

Anna Cryer, executive fashion editor, British Vogue: "The big American designers, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, and Ralph Lauren, do what they do so well. And this season, you felt that a lot of them were re-trenching, doing what they normally do, but better. And Michael Kors was so slick and polished and confident."

Narciso Rodriguez, designer: "I can't remember a season that I enjoyed more. I just wanted to do something really good. Good details and good fabrics and honest and straightforward clothes. I wanted to bring some joy back to the art of dressmaking. My happiness and my joy at being in New York is really what the collection is about."

Robert Burke, retailer, Bergdorf Goodman: "The difference from a year or two ago is so marked. Then, everyone bought the same things and carried the same bag, and somehow it didn't seem to matter. For fall, I think people will want things that perhaps feel a little more Bohemian, less contrived and costumey. I was also interested in the way that eveningwear has evolved from something that was all about big-occasion dressing into something a bit more casual, as if designers were responding to people's staying at home more."

Lars Nilsson, designer, Bill Blass: "Clothes should have a warmth; they should be comfortable. In these times, people need to feel good in what they're wearing. I did a lot of knits and cozy sweaters, scarves and cashmere and warm things. Even in the colors, I went warm, with reds and eggplants."

Carolina Herrera, designer: "I showed in my office this time, and what I showed was the key item for this season: the three-piece suit. Trousers, jacket, blouse. This season, this is the best. This is what you need to have. I find it very snappy and chic."

Nicolas Ghesquire, designer, Balenciaga: "My collection was about the meeting point between the sharp and structured silhouette from last fall and the loose unconstructed silhouette from the current spring-summer. My five main inspirations were aviator jackets, the oversized sixties silhouette, traditional British fabrics like tweed, graphic color-blocked jockey shirts, and yetis -- fur without fur."

Benjamin Cho, designer: "I've definitely come back in with a calmer perspective -- I had time to breathe, and I just understand that I enjoy doing this, making clothes, nothing else. This season, I felt less like making things commercial. That's not my point right now. I don't mind living cheap and doing this as long as I can make things that I really believe in. If I'm working on a budget, I just have to think: Do I want to make wearable pants or buy ribbons for this conceptual top that I'm completely excited to try? The conceptual always wins."

Nicole Noselli, co-designer, Bruce: "This season, we were trying to loosen up our shapes a little. We've always been into long, structured shapes, and we wanted to move on to something else. We're trying to do a lot of layering and draping. The idea was that if wind hits the garments, they'd create a lot of volume.

"Last season was such a strange time, but in the end, it didn't change anything. This is what we do, and now we're doing it again."

Rick Owens, designer: "My word is soft. The cashmeres are soft, the knits are soft. Even the leathers are soft."

Diane Von Furstenberg, designer: "We all feel a little more vulnerable, but a little kinder and a little more humble. What I wanted to do was somehow celebrate New York. That's why I called it 'Crosstown Traffic' -- it's because New York is the crosstown of the world, it's where everyone comes to sell their wares, it's where dreams turn into action. I don't really do advertising, so showing is a way of conveying the image and conveying the mood and a certain spirit and a certain attitude. You go back and forth and say shows are ridiculous, but at the end you see gorgeous girls wearing the clothes, bringing them to life."

Cynthia Rowley, designer: "I always used to say, 'A show should be a show! It's entertainment!' But not anymore. I wanted a really simple runway. I've been having a lot of people over to my apartment. It changes everything when you start doing that: You have a totally different attitude about what you're wearing. It can be hot or cold, and it doesn't matter. I showed a lot of skimpy, bare, nightie things that are meant to have a big coat thrown over them if you're going outside, but they're the most comfortable thing to have on in the most protective environment."

Sarah Hailes and Beth Buccini, owners, Kirna Zabête: "We loved the mini at Balenciaga. That's going to be a very important silhouette for us, with the oversize top. We also loved the tough leather jackets with high necks. There's definitely a neck thing going on -- big, high, thick, thick necks. But if there's one thing that bridges the season, it's the hippie thing. I'd say folkloric is the theme that will bridge spring into winter."

Anna Sui, designer: "I wanted to project optimism. I wanted to make the sort of clothes that should be keepsakes. I wanted to make the most beautiful peasant shirt, the one you dream of finding, in the colors that you dream of. We all have to show our support in our own way, and this is what I do. I wanted to make this the most exciting show I ever did."

Simon Doonan, retailer, Barneys: "I'm always looking at the clothes and saying, 'Is this going to improve anyone's life?' And with Michael Kors, the answer was yes. And the same thing with Narciso and Ralph. There was an optimism about it. And yet it was very chic and wearable. Narciso was a bit more kinky, but the execution was great. I hate a dangling thread, so I tend to gravitate towards the things that are beautifully made.

"There's something innately mod about Michael and Ralph that appeals to me. I like sportswear, and I like it to be beautifully executed. If I want to see the avant-garde, I'm going to look at Rei Kawakubo. But I love sportswear, and that's what New York is all about."


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