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Glamour over gloom in NYC

Contrary to expectations, designers in New York are using wondrous and unexpected textures to draw attention.

Before this season's show schedule kicked off in New York last Friday, international fashion chat revolved around how designers would entice consumer spending in a climate that discourages frivolous purchases. Many pundits predicted the aesthetic direction would lean towards safe, familiar and classic pieces with just enough twists to make customers buy. So far, we've seen only two days of shows, so it's hard to say if the play-it-safe brigade will be proved right, but from the look of things, designers are swinging in the other direction and using wondrous and unexpected textures to draw attention.

In the lead up to New York Fashion Week, a flurry of designers set out to remind women that the market shouldn't dictate their wardrobes. Rather than donning moody sartorial armour during depressed times, autumn/winter 2009/10 promises a more resilient and upbeat exterior. At Monique Lhuillier, a hot red-carpet choice, this meant giving her sweet and feminine aesthetic a more ornate, somewhat tougher feel: one dress featured cascading tiers of tulle overlayed with petal-shaped fabrics, while a long black gown saw gold and silver linear embellishments run down the body, providing a fluid, art deco feel and, elsewhere, the placing of tulle over tulle to evoke an ethereal, yet unpredictable, skirt shape.

Having recently parted company with his financial backers, Peter Som was also in a textural mood. His collection included a brightly coloured blue, yellow and red print dress worn under a blue bolero with mink sleeves and a tiger-patterned mink coat over an eye-popping dress, while tweeds appeared in coats and skirts, speckled with depth-enhancing hues. The Nepalese designer Prabal Gurung, who worked under Som at Bill Blass before the label closed its high-end division, used fur to punctuate his looks with luxury (and controversy), giving a nod to the old Hollywood glamour that the legendary American design house was known for.

While classic American style belongs to Blass, if we were to go by Michelle Obama's recent sartorial choices the future of American fashion may belong to Jason Wu. As Obama's go-to designer for her inaugural gown and the March cover of Vogue, Wu has earned, almost overnight, a rising-star status. For this collection, he offered a sophisticated take on luxury American sportswear. It came as no surprise that there were wonderful daywear ensembles such as ladylike knee-length dresses belted at the waist and a full A-line skirt paired with a maroon sweater. However, Wu's strength seems to be in attire fit for evening affairs, and the standout dresses at his show were ber-feminine chiffon and tulle gowns textured with silver embellishments.

For Stella McCartney, who showed her pre-fall 2009 collection by appointment, texture came in many forms. Perhaps most striking was the hardware, such as large gold grommets placed all over shift dresses, photographic animal prints on blouses and her signature oversized cape-like knits and cashmere coats and jackets with panelled sleeves that resembled lanterns.In comparison, Cushnie et Ochs, the Parson School of Design's Designer of the Year winners in 2007 and a recipient of Ecco Domani's fashion foundation award in 2009, mined a minimalist vein reminiscent of Helmut Lang. Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs, the duo behind the label, peppered the neutral-hued collection with sharp cutouts in taut and short dresses, but they also presented interesting juxtapositions. A knitted dress had sleeves with different weaves, cascading crystal spikes engulfed a short frock and furs ran down backs of panelled coats.

For a New York Fashion Week newcomer, Cushnie et Ochs's show was well attended by the industry's players, including Cathy Horyn from The New York Times and Linda Fargo of Bergdorf Goodman. Yigal Azrouel, however, managed to corral an A-list crowd of New Yorkers about town: Genevieve Jones, Interview magazine's editor-in-chief Christopher Bollen, Purple magazine's Olivier Zahm and Vogue's editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley. It was, perhaps, a fitting guest list for a designer favoured by Hollywood It-girls such as Rachel Bilson and Jessica Alba. Though there were some very 1980s strong-shouldered, bias-cut and ruched minidresses, Azrouel didn't forget what he's known for: a dishevelled take on chic that downtown city dwellers love. Skinny jeans were worn with an oversized sweater and a giant scarf, mannish trousers paired with a slouchy leather jacket and leggings worn with cavernous cape-like knits la Rick Owens.

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