To the millennium and beyond

NEW YORK - At last, fashion feels like it's of this century.

Thanks to a heavy dose of minimalism coupled with a slew of menswear influences, a dash of metallics, a smattering of leather, a few scooped necks, and the baring of shoulders, women's ready-to-wear has crossed into this millennium.

Designers at New York Fashion Week, who presented their sartorial visions for Spring 2013 runways, drenched maxi silhouettes in saturated pastels. Diane von Furstenberg played with color-blocking - altering the size of the blocks to go beyond the classic Mondrian print on her pant and dress ensembles.

For more-sultry looks, designers mixed leather and lace, satins and brocades. Philly favorite Nicole Miller did edgy better than most. Her black leather and lace rocker chic was softened with floral prints. Project Runway winner Christian Siriano added tulle to his tough-girl look, giving her a bit of fairy feeling.

Neutrals, a spring staple, were crisp and strong. White shirts, many with tuxedo shirttails, were a mixture of sheer cottons and gauzy fabrics. But there was also a lot of black. Next spring it will be lacy - funky and black in midi pencil skirts.

Contemporary favorites from J.Crew to Tory Burch finally stopped relying completely on inspiration from decades past and far-flung countries. Moving forward, fashion remains dressy. But instead of stealing sophistication from previous decades, the look is a modern minimalism. Each look was firmly ensconced in this century, so much so that at times the looks even felt futuristic.

"There is a lot of layering of color," explained Macy's fashion director Nicole Fischelis. "Designers are working in the here and now. We are seeing a different use of prints and the combination of femininity and sport as never seen before."

Hence the racerback silhouette popular on runways, especially Diane von Furstenberg, Tracy Reese, Derek Lam, and Philadelphia's own Ralph Rucci.

One of the most exciting parts of the Spring 2013 season, this silhouette conveys a sense of strength and prettiness at the same time. Thank you, first lady Michelle Obama, for making shoulders an aspirational fashion accessory. To wear these looks, you might have to drop and do 20 push-ups.

Shoulders are also major proof that Fashion Week is giving us more "transitional" looks than spring and summer pieces. Racerbacks can easily be layered over thin turtlenecks or paired with leather - white leather will be trendy in the spring, too. It's about keeping wardrobes simpler and presenting mixed media appropriate for year- round use, as in a two-tone gauzy floral and metallic look a la Nicole Miller.

"When I look at fashion, I'm seeing combinations that never would have been mixed before," said Susan Morgan Rolontz, a New York-based retail and fashion analyst.

"Designers have been mixing so much, it's become effortless, second nature, and it all looks good. It's fearless."

The transition applies to a shift not just in weather, but in our lives. Fashion is unpredictable, so much so that just because it's on the runway doesn't mean it's going to be a runway look for spring. Consider how long it took for colored jeans and high-low skirts to become popular. Both were presented on Spring 2012 runways and we didn't see them take off until this year.

And we can't forget the social forces driving fashion's instability, and our personal unsettled energy, too. Who will be president in January when these fashions hit retail stores? Will I even have a job? What will be trending on Twitter and Instagram months from now thanks to which celebrity?

"Fashion has turned on its edge," explained Sean General, a Philadelphia-based fashion consultant and owner of Generalosophy, referring to designers who went outside their aesthetic box, such as Carolina Herrera, who added more graphic elements to her traditionally quiet gowns.

Philadelphia's Rucci injected fierce colors into his more sultry, superbly constructed garments, while Tracy Reese went more rocker chic.

"They all showed up to the party, they looked great, but different. Like the girl who always wears a dress but comes all biker chic. She looks great, but she looks different. She's changing. This must be a new her. Fashion is like that now."

Many described this quiet newness as underwhelming. Fashion is boring, they argued. Fashion, like us, is shifting, is getting settled into its new world order.

I think it had more to do with the shift away from celebrity than with the actual clothing. Save for Martha Stewart or Sarah Jessica Parker, the front rows weren't awash with the ever-insistent flash of paparazzi.

Speaking of celebrity, it's worth pointing out that former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham's collection of simple black, white, and blood- red/orange pieces was superb. A cap-sleeved white sheath succeeded in being both revealing and demure, and I'm in love with the open-toed booties.

Speaking of accessories, don't be surprised if black-rimmed glasses become the rage - another look from Tracy Reese - and the envelope clutch finally goes mainstream, replacing the super-oversized bag.


Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington 215-854-2704, or follow on Twitter @ewellingtonphl.