Mirror, Mirror: At Fashion Week the clothes say 'let's play'

Spring/Summer 2012 collection designs by (from left) Diane von Furstenberg, Victoria Beckham and Alexander Wang. (Getty Images, AP Photos)

NEW YORK - Here at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week 2012, the runways are filled with colorful and sporty fashions. But don't get it twisted - these flowing pieces have little to do with the bohemian whimsy of recent seasons. We're talking full-on playtime here.

Elle magazine creative director Joe Zee felt the vibe. I caught up with him as we arrived at Rachel Zoe's show, which featured such über-wearable as a skinny bordeaux pantsuit, a green camouflage jumpsuit, and a dazzling, floor-grazing white gown.

"This spring is easy and carefree," Zee said. "There are a lot of athletic influences. If a girl can be sexy at the gym, those same clothes can be sexy in her closet."

At Victoria Beckham's show, I saw tight sheaths in University of Florida blue and orange that would be appropriate for a day at the track. Her above-the-knee skirts would be awesome on the tennis courts. And Adam paired pink sweatpants with a cute drawstring bow - yes, sweats - and a jeweled, Peter Pan-collared top.

Although the looks were sporty, silhouettes remained tailored, with a number of sleek ensembles that fit close to the body. Diane von Furstenberg's jumpsuits and midi-length dresses in blazing orange floral prints, cool ocean blues, and purposeful greens were designed for the woman with a "lightness in her step, to her touch, and on her face," according to the designer.

Even with economic hardships, higher gas and food prices, extreme weather patterns, major flooding in the Northeast, and the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, it seems we still want to play.

There are shades of optimism in fashion, said trend-watcher Robert Verdi when we caught up at a show. "Life is difficult, why should our clothes be dark and dreary? Did that make us feel any better?"

In the eyes of designers, endurance means endorphins, and endorphins mean good feelings, said Megan Deem, senior editor of fashion at InStyle Magazine.

"Alexander Wang drew a lot of inspiration from sports, showing us a sleek collection that reminded us of BMX and motocross," Deem said.

Jumpsuits fashioned in sheer floral prints, camouflage, and fiery corals are high on the must-have list for spring. "These pieces are easy, but dressy. It's casual, but it's still cocktail party," she said.

Florals help add to this mood. For spring, sheer floral fabrics will continue to be layered. And because of this, we think we are about to enjoy the comeback of the slip.

Prabal Gurung, king of the colorblock, offered tea-length floral skirts in strong purples trimmed in black, reminiscent of Oscar de la Renta. So did Altuzarra, who paired tropical floral prints with shiny black patent leather for an edgy look that felt more like winter than spring - although Altuzarra took those same prints and matched them with whites that would definitely work for a business trip in, say, Hawaii.

Even Tory Burch worked in bold print floral leggings that she paired with a matching pocketbook. Burch's travel bags are sure to be boutique favorites.

Last, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention Asian influences that manage to be a mainstay in fashion. There was a lot of Fashion Week buzz about Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's collection The Row, which featured kimono dresses.


Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at ewellington@phillynews.com, 215-854-2704, or @ewellingtonphl on Twitter.