Designers opt for elegance, ease in spring New York collections

By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Soft, billowing fabrics in muted colors with bursts of yellow, cobalt blue, black and red dominated the runways on Tuesday at New York Fashion Week as designers showing their spring/summer 2014 collections looked back to earlier, elegant eras.

With pleated, wide-legged trousers, sheer blouses, beaded, backless column gowns and tailored dresses and skirts, many styles were reminiscent of the 1920s and '30s.

London-based designer Jenny Packham, a favorite of Hollywood A-listers and Britain's Duchess of Cambridge who wore a blue polka dot Packham dress for her first public appearance with her newborn son, used classic elements such as checks, polka dots and stripes in new ways.

"It is very ephemeral. It is a bit of a fantasy collection, the idea of these girls walking down to a perfect picnic. It is actually a very Edwardian, '70s look," Packham, who is celebrating the 25th anniversary of her label, said backstage.

Her collection was based loosely on the 1975 cult film "Picnic at Hanging Rock." Directed by Peter Weir, the film set in Australia in 1900 was about a boarding school picnic during which three girls wander off in a trance and disappear.

Packham captured the look with beaded empire and clinched-waist gowns with pearls and Swarovski crystals, pleated and lace blouses with palazzo pants and dresses and gowns in apple green, ivory, beige, peach, orange, red and yellow.

Badgley Mischka recreated the seaside glamour and sun-baked feel of the 1920s and '30s in Deauville, France in a collection of ivory and blue tailored but feminine daywear and evening dresses in a rainbow of colors.

The looks were inspired by French photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue, said Mark Badgley.

"The women were so polished and put together but still careless and nonchalant at the same time, which is very much what I think our modern woman wants to look like," he said.

The styles were sleek and lean with close-to-the-body silhouettes in fabrics such as taffeta and chiffon for gowns and summer-weigh boucles for skirts, jackets and dresses with hems that hovered at or slightly below the knee.

"Our collection is extremely feminine, especially when it comes to evening," said James Mischka. "There are a lot of voluminous sweeps to the hems and details, but everything is feather light."

The design duo, who has worked together since 1988, deliberated avoided black.

"This season women don't want to look at a black dress," said Badgley. "They want some color that they can get excited about."

FIN DE SIECLE EUROPE

J.Crew designer Tom Moro also had European beach culture in mind in his style that he said in a statement reflected both surfers and "the lido lifestyle of the Venetian coast."

Paying tribute to the surfer side of the story, he paired a gray T-shirt inscribed with "tres bien" written in cut-out photos of palm trees with trousers displaying a single bold stripe.

A mint-and-lavender print sundress, along with skirts and tops with lace, eyelets and gondolier-inspired stripes, captured the imagery of a European resort at the turn of the century.

Tory Burch used a palate of greens, whites and corals to mimic the easy glamour of beach culture in her designs inspired by the French Riviera of the 1960s.

The collection of simple silhouettes adorned with jeweled collars, block-print florals, and appliqués reflected Burch's signature classic style.

A linen burlap appliquéd dress and embroidered botanical prints on tops added notes of wit and elegance to her designs.

Designer Vera Wang explored an architectural approach in her collection with its asymmetrical silk chiffon sling, and organza circular seam dresses in blacks and blues paired with zip-up baseball jackets.

She topped a red crepe de chine asymmetric skirt with a silk chiffon top and a fly-away train for a whimsical look, and palazzo pants with a one-shoulder top and a red sash in the styles she said had an athletic reference.

Dennis Basso glammed it up with a Hollywood goddess-inspired collection marked by exotic materials such as alligator and mink.

Hand embroidery graced linen and cocktail dresses and tulle gowns, while fur or alligator vests and jackets topped lace skirts or tulle dresses.

New York's semi-annual Fashion Week at Lincoln Center draws stylists, buyers, fashion writers and fashionistas and is followed by shows in London, Paris and Milan.

(Additional reporting by Jane H. Furse and Chris Michaud; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Andrew Hay)