NEW YORK (AP) -- Now you see fashion, now you don't.
Illusion was one of the key trends to emerge as New York Fashion Week entered its fourth day Sunday, with sheer looks making a quiet statement.
Strategic use of sheer fabric -- here on sleeves, there on a neckline, overlay or skirt -- gave the illusion of bareness without revealing too much. The look was naturally sexy, without being vulgar.
The light, airy feel of the clothes went with a generally optimistic feeling that has prevailed at the spring 2011 previews at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
Late Sunday, the crowd headed to a twenty-fifth anniversary party for Tommy Hilfiger, one of the splashiest events of the week.
Picture this: Victoria Beckham in a white matte gazar gown with sculptural pleated shoulders and a waistband adorned with linked microbeads. The dress was part of the spring collection Beckham offered to a select group of editors, retailers and stylists.
"I pushed myself with this dress," she said, vowing to wear it to the next big fashion event.
The Cadillac-pink shift dress with an asymmetrical, curved neckline is also headed to her personal wardrobe, and the masculine leather weekender that's part of her new handbag collection can be for her husband, David Beckham.
Beckham takes the unusual step of personally narrating her show, and is now treated by the industry as a celebrated designer, not a celebrity.
The themes of her spring dresses was a celebration of curves, she said, taking out some of the corsetry that she previously built silhouettes on, replacing that with oval panels that she said would give the same flattering shape with more comfort.
Derek Lam made a strong statement about style next spring without making any noise. The designer defined the quiet chic that has populated many of the runways.
The soothing palette in shades of ivory, tan and parchment got boosts from quick contrasts in navy, black and a bit of indigo denim.
Silhouettes were lanky and easy. An embroidered poncho worn with a belt looping through the front side only would make a chic daytime dress, and a cashmere silk tank dress-sweater combination in oatmeal was the sort of no-frills look that a woman would reach for again and again.
Planning on wearing Thakoon for spring? Start your crunches now.
The designer Thakoon Panichgul took the sheer look and ran with it for a collection that had a boudoir feel, with loose pajama stripes, bra tops and sheer lingerie-like dresses. At times the runway seemed more suited to Victoria's Secret than the front-row crowd that included former White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers.
Panichgul won name recognition for dressing first lady Michelle Obama on many occasions, but in nothing quite so daring.
To be sure, there were some beautiful clothes that could travel outside the bedroom -- a pajama stripe silk layered vest with white cotton twill pants had a loose and pretty feel. Starlets might consider the cobalt metallic python dress -- it would be a good choice for Kerry Washington, another front row guest.
Catherine Malandrino took a trip to an artists' village in the south of her native France with crackled leathered bolero jackets, flowing gowns in breezy jersey and wide-legged trousers in terra-cotta, olive and clay.
She was true to her free-spirited roots as her models stood as statuary on pylons in a Lincoln Center courtyard.
Black macrame gladiator sandals to the thigh were paired with slash tops and teeny knit bottoms. A long dress worthy of the beach was hand-crocheted in ivory with open ovals from the chest to the bellybutton.
Malandrino's palette paid homage to ceramics maker Roger Capron and the southern French village of Vallauris.
In the rarified world of Lincoln Center, perhaps it's the equivalent of borrowing a cup of sugar: Designer Cynthia Rowley asked the new neighbors at the New York City Ballet if she could borrow its backdrops for her show.
The ballet company obliged, so Rowley's lovely, polished clothes were presented with sets of "Swan Lake" and "Romeo and Juliet" standing tall behind the models.
The swing toward sophisticated styles is part of the evolution of fashion, Rowley said in an interview later Saturday.
The first look out was an otherwise simple taupe dress, but cutout dots like a Connect Four unit made it new and interesting. The same goes for all the transparent panels on sweaters and polos, and the colored pebblelike embellishment on shirts, shorts and a cocktail party-ready shift dress.
Prabal Gurung is showing the growth and maturity of a designer who wants to stick around.
And the industry seems ready to support this Singapore-born, Nepal-raised young man for the long haul. Top-name retailers, editors and stylists, including Rachel Zoe and Ikram Goldman -- known to work with Mrs. Obama -- gave him hearty applause.
Gurung took a bit of a risk on his third-ever runway, starting with colorblocked cashmere knits. It was a statement worth making: Gurung wants to dress real women -- women of style, not those obsessed with trends.
The DKNY woman breezed onto the runway neatly wrapped in the brand's new heritage-print scarf.
This might be Donna Karan's typically trendier line, but the spring collection borrowed from many classic wardrobe staples, including shirtdresses, ruffled blouses and trenchcoats.
"Who doesn't need a good trench?" said Harper's Bazaar Editor-in-Chief Glenda Bailey on a soggy day, noting the black one she was carrying. "Works for everything."
So would Karan's trim blazers -- many with peplums on the back -- and tapered trousers that she hoped would straddle precision and effortlessness.
Z SPOKE ZAC POSEN
Zac Posen pumped his arm in the air as he took his bow to mark his return to the main stage of New York Fashion Week.
Posen had been the toast of the town for several seasons, lining his front row with top-tier celebrities, staging elaborate musical performances and turning out photogenic, theatrical clothes -- clothes that very few people would have to occasion to wear, by the way.
He recently switched gears, doing more intimate shows of more practical daytime clothes away from the tents. And then he announced that he was moving his collection catwalk to Paris.
Still, there was his contemporary Z Spoke collection to show, and he did his preview with the swagger that he had before.
Z Spoke doesn't have the craftsmanship or drama of his signature label, but the fruit salad-inspired styles -- really, T-shirts with apples and pineapples, among them -- were colorful, cheerful and trendy, and would look appealing on retailers' racks.
CARMEN MARC VALVO
Carmen Marc Valvo has always stuck by his ladies -- those who are more country clubbers than nightclubbers, and more comfortable in beads and tulle than bra tops and studs.
He did good by them again as models paraded in lovely outfits befitting their lifestyle.
This consistency is what his customer craves. While he rarely breaks new ground, he doesn't fall into a lull of tired looks. Valvo certainly played into the sheerness trend that's been all over this round of spring previews, and he paid proper attention to the back, which also matches what's going on in other collections.
But he didn't play into the clean ease that many designers have used as their starting point this season. Instead, Valvo said he found inspiration in gardenias and black iris and a woman's "hopes of the sun-kissed days of Camelot."
AP writers Leanne Italie and Lisa Tolin contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)