Byline: Rebecca Kleinman

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, fashion turns to comfortable — yet chic — clothing to ease tension and promote a feeling of security. Layering was everywhere. Perhaps designers sense their customers’ need to “bundle up” as protection from the vagaries of a cold, cruel world. At Anna Sui, for example, funky knits and metallic crochets were shown over printed chiffon tops and dresses, and even the occasional stovepipe cords.
The don’t-worry-be-comfy philosophy is also what’s behind the slew of creative sweater looks that turned up at Helmut Lang, Michael Kors, Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga, Catherine Malandrino and Rick Owens. Finally, the humble sweatsuit continues to get the Cinderella treatment, turning up in cashmere and with the odd fur accent.

Greenbaum loved the amount of detail, trim, washes and treatments available in activewear. “These versions aren’t like the basics found at Gap. When you mix the sexy sweats and the American heartland or craftiness trends, the category takes on a whole new meaning. They make a woman look sexy and give her an identity,” she said.

Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s, saw lots of layering in the collections, which he said hasn’t been around for several seasons.

Jaqui Lividini, senior vice president of fashion merchandising and communication at Saks Fifth Avenue, said, “There is a whole sense of pampering the mind as well as the body. It’s searching for serenity, especially applied to entertaining, lounging and what to wear at home.”

“Michael Kors, which we’re so excited about, and Rebecca Taylor really believe in layering. We also saw the concept from many of our T-shirt companies, such as pairing a long-sleeved shirt with a basic crewneck,” said Williams.

Hippie Chic
The runways were a veritable quilting bee, with flowing, patchwork skirts by Lars Nilsson for Bill Blass and patched denim versions and corduroy pants at Custo Barcelona. Designers waxed nostalgic with embroidery and prints, such as Katayone Adeli’s “Home-Sweet-Home” needlepoint-patterned fabric and Nicole Miller’s kitschy living-room print. Touches of tie-dye, crochet, floral prints, fringe, earth tones, corduroy and tiered skirts round out the bohemian closet.

Lividini saw a trend in folk luxe, or heartland-inspired looks with patchwork, ornamentation and layers. “There is a return to earthiness, to those things that one is emotionally attached to,” she said. “It’s traditional, authentic and rustic and has a tremendous amount of comfort to it.”

“There is a big statement for clothes that don’t have a mass-produced look, but more of an artisan individuality,” said Ruttenstein, citing Donna Karan’s patchwork evening dresses.

“Hippie chic is where we put most of our focus,” said Weidig. She pointed to Roberto Cavalli’s handpainted, patchwork denim and suede pieces, jackets with patchwork linings and distressed denim jeans.

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