Red threads look ahead

At Fashion Week, warm hues fill next fall’s collections

Marc Jacobs’s retro futuristic style. Marc Jacobs’s retro futuristic style. (Kathy Willens/AP)
By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / February 17, 2011

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NEW YORK — Fall/Winter collections are seldom heralded for their colors, which often stay near to black, charcoal, mossy greens, and muted blues. But a funny thing’s happening for Fall/Winter 2011: Designers want color. Not only are they craving color, but they’re craving one in particular. Red is everywhere this week at New York Fashion Week. Call it plum, burgundy, ruby, or rose, but chances are you’ll see it, and there is no doubt you’ll be seeing it next fall when these collections hit stores. Perhaps inspired by the presence of Valentine’s Day in the middle of Fashion Week, designers are using this sweet shade to make their pieces just a bit warmer. Here’s the rundown as Fashion Week winds down.

Innocence lost with Marc Jacobs

Given that it was Valentine’s Day, it was only natural that there would be romance in the air at the Marc Jacobs show Monday night. But Jacobs skipped the romance and moved on directly to sex. The fashionable crowd attending Jacobs’s show — including Martha Stewart, Josh Duhamel and wife Fergie, Leighton Meester, and Sofia Coppola — rushed against traffic and a clogged sidewalk full of gawking stargazers to make it to Jacobs’s show, which (these days) notoriously starts on time. But once inside, what a show it was. Jacobs presented a retro futuristic trip back to the 1940s, recasting the silhouette of the Andrews Sisters in freshly sexed-up pencil skirts, rubber and cellophane blouses, and stretched felt. While many designers are still reinventing the 1970s (a trend Jacobs launched), the designer is having fun deconstructing yet another decade. Nearly every model sported a petite beret held in place with a near-invisible cashmere chin strap. The innocence and formality of these tiny hats made the clothes feel even more risque as models strutted past enormous white vinyl pillars. The result was Jacobs tampering with the memory of a more innocent era, and making it something less chaste and far more fun.

Betsey Johnson’s call of the wild

At first it seemed like a complete impossibility. Had fashion’s wild child Betsey Johnson managed to reign in her wacky personality enough to show a subdued collection (by Betsey standards) of muted animal prints Monday night at Lincoln Center? Her first few models to sashay along the catwalk wore prints in grays and blacks, along with Cleopatra wigs on their heads. It did not take long, however, for the cascade of color to begin. Johnson’s shows are far more party than runway, and her presentation quickly became something of an East Village drag spectacular when she sent out pieces from her new diffusion line called the Pink Patch. Featuring employees from her stores (mostly dudes in drag), the event may have broken records for most models in a single show. It was hard not to be swept up in the bash, and even “Sex and the City’’ costumer Patricia Field was up and dancing with Johnson by the time the spectacle came crashing to an end.

Alice + Olivia’s economic recovery

While we would have preferred to see a collection based on the boozy glamour of Vera Charles, or the geek chic of Agnes Gooch, it’s fitting that Alice + Olivia designer Stacey Bendet would choose to update the look of intellectual party girl Mame Dennis for her fall 2011 collection. Not only did Auntie Mame survive the market crash of the 1920s with verve and panache (not to mention a singing Lucille Ball), she also came roaring back into money in the end, and all Fashion Week designers have their eyes set on a similar prize. It was a joy to see Bendet give the youthful Alice + Olivia girl a sophisticated edge. Again, there was a playful feeling of the 1970s throughout the collection, but the 1970s that was looking back to the 1940s. Time travel should always be this much fun.

A flare for luxury

Carolina Herrera knows that her wealthy, well-heeled customers are not looking for radically shifting trends, yo-yoing hemlines, and Franken-shoes that lead to nasty cases of hammertoe. Her Fall/Winter 2011 collection was a graceful assemblage of flannel coats and opulent ball gowns. But Herrera did add drama with a series of flared sleeves. You could almost hear her thinking: “Let the juniors flare the pant legs, my ladies wear skirts.’’ While she generally steers clear of the trend of the moment, Hererra did partake in one — luscious reds. Her collection was filled with deep hues of cranberry and rose. But these colors suit Herrera’s ladies who lunch, and they worked beautifully in her evening wear.

Benz’s bohemian belles

It was strange to see actress Susan Sarandon in the midst of the fashion crowd Monday at Chris Benz’s presentation. It was stranger yet to picture her wearing Benz’s very young, borderline frumpy (meant as a compliment) ensembles. Perhaps Johnny Weir, also in attendance at Benz and virtually every other show this week, would have an easier time carrying off these looks. Benz, inspired by time spent as a mentor for a Georgia design school, made clothes for the coed, circa 1972. Bigger-than-life hats, layer upon layer of sweaters, blouses, skirts, and fur-trimmed coats gave his models the appearance of having rummaged through thrift stores to piece together their ensembles. But unlike other designers who have tried this approach and failed (we’re looking at you, Charlotte Ronson), Benz’s approach to this style worked, thanks to a color scheme that never felt like Rhoda Morgenstern’s apartment, and some absolutely fabulous tailoring.

Christopher Muther can be reached at