What Should Women Look for at Fashion Week?

Making Sense of Runway Styles

A model highlights spring colors during the Michael Kors Spring 2011 Fashion Week show.

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Twice each year Fashion Week sets the stage -- literally -- for what to expect from designers and in stores as the seasons turn. In the fall, designers debut their collections for spring and summer of the following year; likewise, in the spring they unveil their fall and winter lines.

While many designers have become known for specific trends and styles of clothing reproduced by competing makers and worn by the masses -- think the bandage dress of Herve Leger by Max Azria -- so, too, have their runway shows developed the distinctive style of the designer. Before Fashion Week starts, get insight on how to dissect the outfits on the runway and translate the newest fashions for your real-life wardrobe.

If you can make a trend yours by changing it up slightly, you’ve come to the understanding that styles from Fashion Week can be worn with everyday pieces.

- Kareen Borgella, fashion designer

Ready-to-Wear: From Runway to Real Life

When viewing looks on the runways at Fashion Week, it’s important to distinguish between ready-to-wear lines (also referred to as prêt-a-porter) and couture collections.
Generally speaking, ready-to-wear clothes are pieces that are easily mass produced, thus more readily available to the public and appropriate for everyday street wear.
Kareen Borgella, a designer with experience at such lines as Armani Exchange and J. Crew and with a luxury contemporary line of her own, explained: “As a designer we usually give a few 'wow factor' pieces to show our creative, outgoing side. After the show, sometimes particular pieces are toned down for more 'store-friendly,' sellable items. But they never have the original essence of the original runway piece.”
The good news is that there’s now an increasing amount of readily available and wearable clothing coming off the runways.
“More and more designers are creating 'more wearable' collections," said Daniella Kallmeyer, a designer with her own show at New York Fashion Week. "The consumers are more educated, the buyers are more conscious, and quality and sustainability trumps trendiness and fast fashion. Additionally, we are living in an information era; it used to be if you didn't have a ticket to the show, you would wait weeks to see it in the magazines and months to see it in the stores. Now, between the Internet, live streaming, bloggers and other outlets that help fuse fashion with our generation of pop culture, many designers are finding ways to relate more immediately to their customers and fans.”

Ready-to-Wear: From Runway to Real Life

Takeaways From the Runway

Each season, several standout looks and trends are pulled from the runway that serve as inspiration for clothing manufacturers that produce pieces on a much larger scale, therefore making items more affordable for the fashion-minded -- and money-conscious -- shopper.
When you look for items at Fashion Week that you can add to your wardrobe now, keep an eye out for classic pieces that are tailored with clean lines.
“Look for colors, detail and silhouette -- three simple but very important fashion fine points," Borgella advised. "The color should complement your personality and universal style. For silhouette, keep in mind not all styles are made for every woman’s body. That why it’s important to look for styles that flatter your curves, not chop them up.”
Keep your eye out for pieces that are practical in a relaxed or professional setting. Also look for items that can be easily mixed and matched for daytime and evening wear. While it’s easy to perform simple style tweaking on an outfit in terms of shoes and accessories, it’s the versatile pieces that become staples in every woman’s wardrobe.
So what's the strategy for spotting looks that work for you? “Understand who you are and what makes your personality shine … trends are trends; they come and go," Borgella said. "But if you can make a trend yours by changing it up slightly, you’ve come to the understanding that styles from Fashion Week can be worn with everyday pieces.”

Best Bets

Kelsie Hayes, a senior designer with Beckley by Melissa, suggested several designers to look for to find high fashion translated into wearable clothes.
"The designers I mainly follow are Alexander Wang, Richard Chai, VPL, Zac Posen and Rag & Bone," she said. "For versatility, all of [these] designers have mastered go-to pieces that are necessities in everyone's wardrobe. Maybe we aren't wearing the 6-inch fur-trimmed stilettos that Wang sends down the runway, but he has a way of creating the same idea in a more wearable fashion. Most of these designers have diffusion lines now, so it's much more accessible."

Couture: Fashion for Art's Sake

Unless you’re Lady Gaga or another celebrity with serious stage presence, it’s unlikely you’ll find a lot of viable fashion for your life on the runways of major fashion houses such as Alexander McQueen and Louis Vuitton.
While their shows, among others, are high fashion and often spark both seasonal and timeless trends, the outfits often showcased are more couture and costumey, and the shows themselves are more of a tribute to the artistic and creative side of the fashion world.
Generally, couture shows are the ones created more for art’s sake, with the pieces produced in limited numbers and at price points generally above the spending cap of the average shopper, not to mention these items often times require individual tailoring to the wearer.
While basic pieces from these shows can be incorporated into every woman’s wardrobe, it’s unlikely that the full outfits you see on the runways will translate easily to the real world or even be readily available.
“The lights and theatrics at some of the big shows are certainly entertaining and part of telling the story of the collection, but at the end of the day, it's about creating new trends and reinventing classic style,” Kallmeyer said.

Couture: Fashion for Art's Sake

The Designer Touch

Remember that just because a piece of clothing has a designer label, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right piece for you. Go with what’s flattering and what you feel comfortable wearing.
“Not everyone can afford designer clothes, but it's important to have a wardrobe of quality and classic basics," Kallmeyer said. "Consider your outfit like a painting -- it should be beautiful and finished and complement your figure, and then the designer piece is the frame that pulls it all together and presents it to the world in a beautiful and glamorous way.”

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