NEW YORK — Marlene Dietrich is having a moment. The runways of New York Fashion Week are paying homage to the late star's sultry, glamorous but sometimes slightly mannish style.
On the second of eight days of previews for next season, Friday's newness largely came from this old-school Hollywood star.
Dietrich's "balance of smoldering femininity and masculine garb was the starting point for the mood," explained Peter Som in his notes for editors, stylists and retailers. His collection was filled with modest-yet body-conscious silhouettes. A top look was the peek-a-boo effect of slim sheaths and pencil skirts covered with a glossy organza that often extended the hemline or covered the arms.
"She, like Katharine Hepburn, wore pants but still looked like a woman. She wore menswear and androgynous style with a sexiness," said Catherine Moellering, executive vice president of The Tobe Report, a trend-tracking service.
Jason Wu said in a pre-show interview that he aimed to interpret different elements of historical Chinese fashion through the lens of Dietrich's 1932 film "Shanghai Express."
"I don't need to say any more about Marlene Dietrich, or that time and place. It all has such strong features," Wu said.
Dietrich also was an inspiration for Tadashi Shoji, who previewed his looks Thursday.
Here are some of the looks shown Friday.
Jason Wu has been considered a strong up-and-comer since Michelle Obama wore a gown by the then-barely known designer to the presidential inaugural balls in 2008. A Target deal put a limited collection in stores earlier this month, and Wu's confidence was evident in a dramatic show that was also highly personal, with Chinese-influenced styles inspired partly by a trip 18 months ago to Taiwan, where he grew up.
The runway show had studded fortress doors, billowing smoke and a theatrical finale. The clothes tapped into Chinese military uniforms with Mao jackets, grommets, strong shoulders and capes, with the best look in the show opener: a green coat with attached cape and black lace. Tassels, embroideries and brocades drew on ornate costumes worn by empresses, with references to 1930s and '40s Hollywood, where traditional Chinese dress was reinterpreted in movies like Marlene Dietrich's "Shanghai Express."
The result? Puffy jackets in glitzy brocade.
The lingering look from this collection, though, is likely the finale: a black wool jacket with epaulets and mink trim covered in crystal embroidery paired with a black skirt etched with fabric through a process known as devore.
Peter Som's fall collection had below-the-knee hemlines, covered sleeves and wrap-style coats. It felt very modern and sexy — never dowdy — thanks to Som's creative use of sheer fabrics, especially a glossy organza that topped pencil skirts and slim sheaths. He showed awareness of a woman's body while never clinging to it. He used architectural shapes and clean lines to draw attention to the waist and a woman's curves, but that added layer — whether it was the organza or a peplum — gave her a little freedom.
"Masculine and feminine, hard and soft, textured and smooth," he described in his notes at the show held at Milk Studios, New York Fashion Week's main rival location to the Lincoln Center tents. Som said he "wanted to convey a sense of strength and beauty" inspired by Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn.
Luxury has become a signature of Som, but this season he did it more with soft leathers, cozy cashmere and silk instead of exotic furs and feathers. There were a few fox coats that were colored as if they were lipstick graffiti.
Otherwise, though, the palette was very uptown: winter white, camel, emerald green and plum.
KATE SPADE NEW YORK
Kate Spade New York offered a playful shoutout to Paris with styles in maraschino red, aqua and forest green, huge polka dots and graphic prints.
Creative director Deborah Lloyd matched the walls at the brand's show in a black dress adorned with French script reading "Toutes les filles sont folles," or "All the girls are crazy." She perched her models on columns in a downtown space, inspired by gardens near the Palais-Royal in Paris and the columns in its famous courtyard. "The last time I was there, all these cute girls were being statues on columns," she said.
She went oh so French with a cobalt blue button-up swing coat adorned with a large matching bow at the neck, and a column skirt with large dots in two shades of blue and a girlie bow at the waist.
Lloyd carried a dreamy, watercolor flower pattern from a full, pleated jumper into tops and cardigans. Her "joie de vivre" embracing Paris and the fashionable women who live there also showed up in a pattern adorned with colored drawings of the women themselves, including one holding a lit cigarette.
"There's definitely a French, flirtatious feeling to this collection," Lloyd said.