Autumn in New York

Given what’s going on in the world, is it any wonder that we’re all looking for a little security mixed with a dash of optimism right now? Judging by the European collections that came to a close last month, it looks like fashion designers are feeling the same way. How else to explain the prevailing mood of the newly scaled-down run of shows? Designers took a kind of back-to-basics approach, finding solace in their signature looks. Forget the recycling of bygone decades that has dominated fashion for many a season; next fall is about each designer revisiting his or her personal best and bringing it up to date with a bang.

Giorgio Armani went back to the simple combination – endless variations on jackets and pants – that made his name in America more than twenty years ago. Tom Ford hit the spot with his collection for Gucci, returning the label to what it always does best: the sexy urban cool of throw-’em-on furs, slinky dresses, and supertight pants shaded black and updated with great oversize coats and jackets. Karl Lagerfeld deftly reworked some of Chanel’s icons – the gilt chain bag, the cardigan jacket, the little black dress – and made them look utterly relevant again. And Miuccia Prada, perhaps in homage to the hits from years gone by currently on sale in her SoHo store, was visited by the ghosts of Prada past – the gold sequins, the lipstick print, and, most notably, the black nylon that evoked the beginning of Prada fever in the early nineties. (Incidentally: With the style flock buzzing again around Chanel’s quilted-leather-and-gilt-chain bag, it can only be a matter of time before the classic Prada black nylon bag enjoys a rerun.)

Of course, it isn’t just nostalgia that’s driving designers; there’s an economic thread running through this thinking. In these financially tough times, it pays to play to your strengths. But fashion these days is also far less about slavishly following trends than it is about keeping abreast of what your favorite designers are doing and what cool new items they’ve come up with. By giving their customers a little bit of what they loved in the past, spliced with something new, designers hope they’ll be able to entice people to spend again.

There are certainly fewer of the rural-idyll, peasanty looks that designers have been ploughing the past few seasons – and that made some women want to run back to the city. Look to fall 2002 for the rise of delicious, adult clothes: more tailoring, more glamour, more polish. Both Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors at Celine made a strong case for this: the former with his Tippi Hedren–inspired straight skirts, leather bomber jackets, and Inuit-by-way-of-Courrèges parkas; the latter with one of the chic-est takes on the utilitarian theme – parkas, cargo pants, and distressed-leather jackets – that percolated through Paris.

For those of you who prefer to strip down rather than bundle up come fall, there was plenty of summer-weight, flash-some-flesh fashion. Some of it looked good: pale pearlescent tones of cream, gray, and pink – a nice contrast to the ubiquitous black – and loads of miniskirts, made more substantial when shown with the season’s boots. More perplexing, there was also an endless array of shorts. We assume that’s because ever-earlier delivery times mean fall clothes can turn up in stores in the middle of a July heat wave. On the other hand, of course, you can always blame global warming.

Autumn in New York