al Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s, saw wider pants…Jeffrey Kalinsky, owner of the Jeffrey stores in Atlanta and New York, cited biker looks at Michael Kors as a key trend…A definitive item at Balenciaga was designer Nicolas Ghesquiere’s scaled-down leather aviator jacket with a big knit collar…Jill Stuart stuck to the basics, albeit with a hip twist…Zac Posen, a promising newcomer to New York show week, favored dramatic, retro styles such as exaggerated shoulder treatments and a tuxedo jumpsuit…Robert Burke, vice president and senior fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, noticed wider pants with a lower rise. He added, “People don’t want in-your-face fashion.”…Carolina Herrera presented the glamour of Old Hollywood with tuxedos, wide pants, long gowns and a belted coat in gold lame.

The Nesting Instinct
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, 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.

THE BUZZ: Michael Kors piled on the cashmere, camel hair and fur for fall…Freda Greenbaum, co-owner of A Nose for Clothes, with nine locations in Florida and Georgia, 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…Marc Jacobs showed cashmere sweats and comfort flannels as part of his grunge theme…Ruttenstein saw lots of layering in the collections, which he said hasn’t been around for several seasons…Yeohlee offered overalls in gray flannel and Nicole Miller opted for coziness with an oversized, fur-trimmed hoodie…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.”…Cynthia Steffe made knits even cozier with mink or fox trim…Neiman Marcus’ Ken Downing saw a continuation of activewear that looks more like sexy sportswear. “For spring, we brought in a lot of great activewear that is slimmer and lower on the hips, some with great-looking hoods,” he said….Influenced by the runway trends, Gordon Morikawa, owner of Xin, a Los Angeles boutique, bought soft knit tops combined with activewear details and embroidered and printed tracksuits by Charlotte Ronson.

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.

THE BUZZ: Saks’ Lividini saw a trend in folk luxe, or sophisticated heartland-inspired looks emphasizing patchwork, ornamentation and layers, calling Oscar de la Renta’s variation “exquisitely executed.” “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 individuality, clothes that don’t have a mass-produced look, but more of an artisan individuality,” said Ruttenstein, citing Donna Karan’s patchwork evening dresses…”Spring was … a little bit bent on hippie, but for fall, it becomes a little more luxe and has a different type of expression, with richer colors and different types of fabrications,” said Julie Gilhart, vice president of women’s fashion merchandising for Barneys New York…Anna Garner, fashion director for Henri Bendel, listed earth tones, offset by Asian influences rife with exotic colors and patterns, opulent accents, flowers, naturalness and texture as key fall trends…Bergdorf’s Burke said, “I think you’re going to see this kind of eclectic, bohemian mix. The overall trend is for these artisan, one-of-a-kind pieces, not for very distinct, head-to-toe minimal looks that don’t have a lot of personality.” He also predicted longer, tiered skirts will continue…Trend-savvy Gordon Morikawa, owner of Xin in Los Angeles, liked Issho’s three-tiered skirts in lightweight corduroy and eyelets. “Corduroy is definitely our customer,” he said.

Time Traveling
Victorian, Edwardian and Russian-royalty influences abounded, chiefly in the form of flowing, often ankle-length skirts. Sensual, heavily tactile fabrics like lace, velvet, tapestry and satin and embellishments such as fur and beads are fit for a czarina. And black is back, from dapper and dandyish at Ralph Lauren to tailored and urbane (Donna Karan) to soft and flowing (Calvin Klein).

THE BUZZ: Ralph Lauren’s yoked velvet gown had a Seventies/Victorian connection, as did Jill Stuart’s velvet cutaway jackets, which channeled Edwardian dandies and “Sergeant Pepper” alike…Burke saw a continuation of lace… Garner at Bendel’s, agreed that longer skirts are starting to catch on…A Nose for Clothes’ Greenbaum called the Russian-royalty trend very item-driven. Key elements she cited were fake fur, capes, ponchos, rich colors like berries and cognacs, ruffles and beautiful embroideries…Saks’ Lividini listed Russian influence as one of the most important trends, because it represents a quiet opulence…Marc Jacobs incorporated painted velvet and metallic brocades into his fall collection, and Richard Tyler had elegant, luxe velvet gowns in purple, navy and forest green accented with taffeta rosettes or lace bands across the back…DKNY and Badgley Mischka sent out a baby-doll dress and gown respectively in lace…Jen.Bel took the Goth route with Victorian dresses, blouses and pants in a palette of mostly black with beaded lace edging, laced ribbons and hook-and-eye closures.