NEW YORK — The penis, goodness knows, has its artful place. But in mainstream fashion, while assorted images of its grandeur may be ironic, amusing, bold, provocative or all or none of the above, well, it’s a hard sell, so to speak. (Though hardly new or confined to the defiant edge. Remember, Tom Ford accessorized last spring’s Gucci collection with golden penis pendants). Similarly, most other fashion of the sexually explicit sort, some of which has veered toward soft-core porn — will be unlikely to make a major impact at retail come spring.

That’s because, however much they might spend at the shrink, most clothes-buying women are just too inhibited to raunch themselves up for an outing at, say, a friend’s wedding, a dinner party or their favorite restaurant. How lucky for such prudes that so many designers here are into pretty clothes! Real, honest-to-goodness pretty clothes! Playing counter to the Girls Gone Wild theme that surfaced over the weekend are the Girls Gone Mild, in feminine clothes that, while not always discreet, are almost invariably polite. Gentility with a retro slant —Twenties, Forties, Fifties — has been all over the runways, often with a wink at Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld and, once or twice, a nod to one of fashion’s newest influences, Rochas’ Olivier Theyskens. The ballerina makes a favorite muse, as well, with lingerie inspirations — albeit with hints of naughty sometimes nudging over into nice — still strong.

For the most part, designers are handling their retro wisely, a quantum leap away from last season’s too-literal Mod moment. Carolina Herrera, for instance, said that she was inspired by the Lartigue photo exhibition that started in Paris last year and then moved to London. In the days before her show, her office wall was covered with his photographs, as well as long-ago shots of her mother, perfectly, yet easily, turned out. “It’s the mood I wanted to capture,” Herrera said. “It’s not about copying a silhouette. What I love about these pictures is that these women look so elegant, yet so effortless. Fashion came to them in an effortless way.”Of course, as every woman who loves clothes — and certainly every designer knows — the notion of “effortless” fashion is a silly sham. It’s all about the look, baby. And Herrera achieved it with a beautifully orchestrated effort. With the addition of her daughter Patricia Lansing and new creative director Herve Pierre to her staff,Herrera hoped to retain a certain elegance, but one infused with ayounger spirit. For spring, she did so beautifully, moving from languid shapes to structured pieces and back. When the long printed skirt and simple tank with a whisper of Thirties Riviera won’t do, the vibrant yellow tango dress just might. She took the banal out of basics in small ways — adding a bit of frill to muscle Ts — and sweeping gestures — crafting a halter top completely from woven crocodile strips — without losing that essence of ease. For big evenings, even the grandest gowns were taken down a notch with the addition of bold embroidered straps. Still, everything dripped with a deliciously feminine air, right down to the shoes, tied up with organza ribbons.

For Oscar de la Renta, working a lady look is no one-season fling. Pretty— with more than a soupçon of cha-cha-cha — is his professional raison d’être, so it’s not surprising to find him leading the charge for spring. What is surprising is that he did so with a curiously retro hand, steeping the clothes too deeply in a Fifties frame of reference that sometimes turned too cute, not to mention costumey. It’s tough to imagine many of Oscar’s ladies fluffing up in a big-skirted shantung party frock.

Now, about those ladies: Clearly someone whispered in Oscar’s ear that for spring they will prefer the cocktail hour and later to lunch — or any daytime hour, for that matter — because this show was really about the party dress. Sure, he showed a moment or two of high sportif — a bright yellow alligator jacket over a striped sweater and cotton skirt —and some appealingly delicate suits. But even by day, he prefers the crisp shapes and strong colors of an archetypical Connecticut summer. One could envision C.Z. Guest (who sat front row, looking ultrachic) tooling about the yard in Oscar’s vibrant pastel prints, their merriment tempered not at all by the practicality of cotton. And he turned the basic sweater-skirt motif into a casual joy, reworking nautical in aqua and white over sprightly paillettes.Oh, but those dresses — full-on Fifties in bright faille and shantung. What is there to say but oops? Ah, but when he softened up with eyelet embroideries, pastel paillettes shimmy dresses worn with shredded silk bracelets and his graceful take on the ballerina moment — fabulous!

Elsewhere, the ball was certainly in Diane von Furstenberg’s court on Sunday evening as she presented her spring lineup of Twenties-inspired looks, along the way referencing artist Tamara de Lempicka, “The Great Gatsby” and tennis wunderkind Venus Williams, with whom von Furstenberg collaborated on her tennis wear line for Reebok. Von Furstenberg also sent out models done up in her recently launched Diane von Furstenberg Beauty makeup.

Front and center, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, T Boz, Bianca Jagger and Lauren Bush looked on as breezy flapper-esque dresses in Lempicka-inspired prints or crisp Gatsby white floated by. There were girlish tennis sweaters and pleated skirts good enough for Newport weekends or a breakfast of strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. Von Furstenberg certainly knows how to bring out a woman’s feminine side, and she did so in drop-shouldered chiffon dresses, pretty printed silk jersey minis, steamy swimsuits and cute nautical silhouettes. Still, sometimes her inspirations got the better of her, as with some Queen of the Nile looks for evening. But in the end, isn’t that what we all love about Diane — her whimsy, her carefree spirit?

After an absence of several seasons, Tuleh, one of fashion’s most unapologetically pretty lines, returned to the runway for spring with a fabulous presentation. But pretty lies at the heart of this collection. When designer Bryan Bradley launched the house with then-partner Josh Patner back in 1998, they wanted to create a collection for young women like their friends — social types with booked-solid event calendars and a penchant for feminine party clothes. And even if in the beginning it looked a tad kitsch, it struck an immediate chord among those young socials, indicating the need for such clothes.

Thankfully, over the years, the kitsch factor gave way to greater sophistication, and with this collection Bradley has Tuleh looking better than ever. What girl wouldn’t love to step out in the delightful dotted ruffles, the sweet florals or shimmering paillettes? Bradley understands intuitively how to make a girl look pretty, and just a little bit hip. Because while the look is refined, it never turned too serious. And yet he kept all these girly details in check by pairing those pieces with straightforward, tailored coats and jackets. Tthrough it all, the ladylike flou kept flowing — to the immense relief to all of Tuleh’s faithful fans.Oh, but those dresses — full-on Fifties in bright faille and shantung. What is there to say but oops? Ah, but when he softened up with eyelet embroideries, pastel paillettes shimmy dresses worn with shredded silk bracelets and his graceful take on the ballerina moment — fabulous!

Elsewhere, the ball was certainly in Diane von Furstenberg’s court on Sunday evening as she presented her spring lineup of Twenties-inspired looks, along the way referencing artist Tamara de Lempicka, “The Great Gatsby” and tennis wunderkind Venus Williams, with whom von Furstenberg collaborated on her tennis wear line for Reebok. Von Furstenberg also sent out models done up in her recently launched Diane von Furstenberg Beauty makeup.

Front and center, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, T Boz, Bianca Jagger and Lauren Bush looked on as breezy flapper-esque dresses in Lempicka-inspired prints or crisp Gatsby white floated by. There were girlish tennis sweaters and pleated skirts good enough for Newport weekends or a breakfast of strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. Von Furstenberg certainly knows how to bring out a woman’s feminine side, and she did so in drop-shouldered chiffon dresses, pretty printed silk jersey minis, steamy swimsuits and cute nautical silhouettes. Still, sometimes her inspirations got the better of her, as with some Queen of the Nile looks for evening. But in the end, isn’t that what we all love about Diane — her whimsy, her carefree spirit?

After an absence of several seasons, Tuleh, one of fashion’s most unapologetically pretty lines, returned to the runway for spring with a fabulous presentation. But pretty lies at the heart of this collection. When designer Bryan Bradley launched the house with then-partner Josh Patner back in 1998, they wanted to create a collection for young women like their friends — social types with booked-solid event calendars and a penchant for feminine party clothes. And even if in the beginning it looked a tad kitsch, it struck an immediate chord among those young socials, indicating the need for such clothes.

Thankfully, over the years, the kitsch factor gave way to greater sophistication, and with this collection Bradley has Tuleh looking better than ever. What girl wouldn’t love to step out in the delightful dotted ruffles, the sweet florals or shimmering paillettes? Bradley understands intuitively how to make a girl look pretty, and just a little bit hip. Because while the look is refined, it never turned too serious. And yet he kept all these girly details in check by pairing those pieces with straightforward, tailored coats and jackets. Tthrough it all, the ladylike flou kept flowing — to the immense relief to all of Tuleh’s faithful fans.

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