NEW YORK — While straightforward pretty clothes are playing an important role on the spring runways, there are other notions afoot. Some shows, for example, feature highly unusual themes, including such outré influences as the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and the life of a notorious criminal. Who ever said that fashion was all fluff?

For starters, Patrick Rzepski’s muse this season was the recently deceased murderer Myra Hindley, labeled “the most hated woman in Britain” by that country’s tabloid press. Rzepski’s show, called, “We Miss You Myra,” opened with a look inspired by a dress worn by one of Hindley’s victims, whose body was found buried in the ground. The designer’s version was a tattered, strapless fuchsia number, which, he reports, was interred in his parents’ backyard for optimal effect. The disturbing theme of the show aside, Rzepski’s work this season shows admirable improvement. The silhouettes were more polished and straightforward, with great skirts, strapless pintucked and pleated dresses and a beautiful floor-length backless evening number.

Meanwhile, as if there weren’t enough pornographic imagery this week, Mary Jo Diehl’s second collection for House of Diehl featured preachers making obscene gestures, masturbating models and Amanda Lepore as the Virgin Mary draped in a candy-colored LV scarf.

Diehl, who studied philosophy at Wesleyan, asked her audience to think beyond good and evil, apparently à la the German philosopher, and featured a tag line “The Designer Is Dead.” While the tube dresses, trousers made of sewn-together button-down shirts and tops made of measuring tape were not exactly retail fare, the show was amusing.

Elsewhere, although Manuel Fernandez might seem eccentric, it was clear that his inventiveness doesn’t come at the cost of craft or cohesion. This was a show with a message: black-and-white, yet festive; full of ideas, and simmering with sexy shapes and details. Such looks as short white leather kimonos, bikinis under black perforated cardigans or maillots accented with flowers may not be practical, but they sure are fun. The designer’s Spanish spirit surfaced in skinny, matador-inspired pedal-pushers; white jackets with bright hand-embroidered flowers; fringed scarf skirts, and sheer peasant tops.At Renaldo, designer Renaldo Barnette may have just shown his first collection, but he has clearly been on or behind the scenes for years. He was at Anne Klein for some time, assisted at Tuleh and Nicole Miller, and for 12 years has been teaching design and fashion art at the Fashion Institute of Technology. His broad experience was reflected in his confident 25-piece spring collection, sanely priced — to retail from $120 to $500 — in simple shapes with lots of charm. Shirtjackets or trenchcoats looked terrific over miniskirts in chintz-finished black wool. The best jersey looks were the sportiest: long-sleeved shirt rompers or minidresses and a floor-length polo-shirt version. “I still like the simplicity of a T-shirt,” Barnette said. “If minimalism is dead, it died with me.”

Speaking of the notion that less is more, however, and considering the impossible schedule this week, such items as Miho Nikado’s charming sailor swimsuit, pretty tennis dress and cute box-pleated minidress don’t really add up to enough to merit a formal show.

Mary Ping, on the other hand, sent out a tight, artistic collection of Ts and T-shirt dresses, primarily in cottons and silks. The dolman-sleeved tops, cuffed shorts and cutout dresses were all strong, although Ping did have a bit of a Hussein Chalayan moment.

Gen Art was awash in sponsors to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Lars Andersson had plenty of interesting knit tops with strings draped into a scalloped effect, and Alistair Carr showed his oversized lavender ruffled jacket. But Annelore stole the show with cute skirts and cross-back pieces that had a retro flair. Overall, these young designers may have a long road ahead, but as is usually the case with Gen Art’s roster, the future looks bright.

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