The secret, Carolina Herrera said, is in the details. Look to tailoring that appears simple, when it really isn't, or loose without crossing into '70s redux or boho slouch.
"Fashion has to have details and it's a way of doing them in a very simple way that they look effortless," she said. "That's what fashion should be: effortless and fun."
Rachel Roy reimagined the easy elegance of the 1992 film "The Lover," set in steamy, 1929 French Indochina. She wondered, with the sound turned down, how the teen lover would have looked in the summer suits of her wealthy paramour.
"I wanted the look to be loose but not sloppy," she said. "Something felt classy about how he put himself together but it was never too buttoned up."
She offered pajama pieces, like the Olsen twins at The Row, and loose trousers as many designers did this time around. Roy also offered cascading skirts that looked as if the fabric was wrapped around the body and pinned ever so lightly at the waist.
Fashion Week moves to London, then Milan and Paris when it wraps up in New York on Thursday.
Herrera, who seems to never have a wrinkle in her skirt, not a hair out of place, has a playful side, too.
A shirtdress got oversized pockets and a delicate red cocktail dress was made of seersucker silk.
It's not Herrera's way to make things too fussy, even when there's a lot going on. A black-and-blue gown was as soft and pretty as you'd expect from the designer, even though it was covered in sharp-edge embroidery.
Making things look simple can be one of the hardest things to do, she said.
There's something romantic about women in men's clothes. Even more so with an unexpected feminine touch.
That's what Roy set out to do. Tailored menswear styles ooze power, she said, and she likes that. For evening, there was a sculptural, folded gown with an open neckline in a floral print that was feminine without being prissy.
Roy's life as a working mother requires work clothes, weekend wear and black-tie gowns. She tries to offer all of that to her customer.
"In doing so I really want the woman to feel comfortable," she said. "If you're not comfortable, you're not confident, and if you're not confident, you're not looking powerful and smart, and, ultimately I want to look powerful and smart."
A little Brigitte Bardot. A little St. Tropez. A little easy chic. It all adds up to "a lot of "effortless glamour," according to Rachel Zoe.
The red carpet stylist-turned-designer said she'd like to dress the woman "who wants to stand with the attitude of 'I'm chill.' 'I'm relaxed,'"
Zoe herself wore a long black maxi dress that's part of her line. There was a similar black mousseline ribbon dress with cascading strips at the hemline.
Other looks include a men's style, white-canvas pantsuit with a yellow tie-collar blouse, a halter-neck, all-beaded shift dress and an off-the-shoulder long dress in a Matisse-inspired floral print in black, yellow and white that she styled with a floppy hat.
To a soundtrack of tribal drums, Karan turned out clothes inspired by her trips to Haiti working on earthquake relief.
Many of the dresses were form-fitting patchworks of canvas, linen, jersey and stretch silk. They were sexy without being flashy. The palette was grounded in earthy browns and the collection adorned with wood and gold-stud embellishments.
It was the full, swirl-skirt silhouette, however, that really grabbed the retailers and editors attention.
Wyclef Jean sat in the front row, adding to the authenticity of the Haitian journey.
Browne presented his collection in the hallowed halls of the New York Public Library. But this was no study hall.
One model was in long feathery garb, locked in a bird cage. Another, on a couch, wore a shimmery sequined mermaid gown — with fins. Two women in bathing caps and long gray and white skirts. Another was perched high atop a lifeguard chair.
The audience whispered its confusion. Was this all there was? Then a hostess came in to start the party. She cranked up an old phonograph. Cole Porter tunes filled the room.
The clothes had both a '20s flapper feel and a futuristic accent. Browne likes jackets, and here he played with shoulders, exaggerating them so they looked at times like stylish space suits. He also played with lengths. A trouser would begin at mid-thigh. Or a schoolgirl plaid skirt with suspenders would begin below the knees, the derriere covered by something completely unrelated.
MARC BY MARC JACOBS
Somehow the models didn't break a sweat. But it was a sultry affair at the Marc by Marc Jacobs show inside the cavernous New York State Armory.
No matter — they packed in anyway for a glimpse at Jacobs' secondary line, which featured sporty looks in bright colors like electric orange, flame scarlet and fresh grass. Ruffles, more precisely peplums, were big for the girls, striped pants in bright colors for the boys.
One felt a little sorry for the models who had to sport coats, though thankfully most of the outerwear was in cotton twill. Luckier were the few who got to wear bathing suits.
And speaking of bathing suits, hurray for the one-piece! There were no bikinis in sight, but three one-pieces, all adorable, especially one in flame scarlet with a peplum to give it some sass. Also sharp was a ruffle-less striped version.
Elle Fanning braved the air-conditionless show.
Gwen Stefani's LAMB collection came to New York Fashion Week, even if she didn't.
Instead of the big runway shows the line has put together the last few fashion cycles, there was a smaller presentation of two dozen styles. But, this is Gwen Stefani — and the line to get in was long Sunday.
She built on her vision from the fall of a hipster muse who has a richer life than nightclubs. Someone who works, someone who goes out at night — maybe even someone with little kids. Sound like anyone you know?
Look for her come spring in a halter-style babydoll dress, houndstooth culottes and a checkered, utilitarian jumpsuit with a drawstring waist. The red-carpet photographers might capture her in a long black T-shirt dress with a blue vertical stripe down the middle or gold cargo shorts with a sheer black V-neck top.
Big comfortable pieces like an oversize knit sweater in neon yellow was paired with a tight leather skirt, and a bright white form fitting, belted dress had a soft ruffle at the hemline just above the knee.
His jungle print with bright red, purple, green and pink flowers stood out. It appeared in a print, zip-front halter quilted vest paired with matching long pants and as an accent on a pair of skinny white crop pants and leather jacket.
She let her models slip into something more comfortable but left them runway ready.
The looks were all cocktail frocks, gala gowns and the occasional lace tap pant, with intricate beading and a sporadic train, but there was an underlying delicacy and simplicity born from the lingerie-like layers.
"I love the crossover from lingerie," Packham said.
Panichgul's easy breezy spring comes with cowboy hats.
He mixed Old West and Indian paisley in a silk georgette shirt. Hatted models had hot pink and purple hair.
Turquoise must be Thakoon's favorite color right now. A standout in the color was a cotton poplin gathered waist shirtdress with a black paisley overlay.
She used silk for texture, including an optic T-shirt and periwinkle color blocked shorts that could be worn inside while reading a book or just as easily out to brunch with friends.
One outfit that jumped out was the electric orange half-zip coat paired with the electric orange cotton lace-overlay shell and swirl-print skirt.
Rose turned up the sparkle factor with a metallic organza seamed bustier dress that shimmered and added feminine white fabric flowers to a gorgeous lemon-colored silk dress.
Posen expressed a restrained, respectful sensibility in a parade of old Hollywood-style gowns.
No loud music, swarms of paparazzi or jostling for seats. He let the dresses own the drama.
Coco Rocha wore the first and last looks: a snug ivory silk-faille, double-lapel daytime dress with a trumpet hem, and a molded gown made of lustrous, gray satin with a huge mermaid hemline.
Little easy elegance here. Rocha, like many of the models, struggled to get down the long catwalk because the many dresses were cut like second skins with narrow pencil skirts — even underneath those huge flares of fabric at the bottom.