New York — Whether it's soft sable or faux fox, top American designers are suggesting that the most stylish women will be wearing fur next year -- be it a coat, cape, pants or even a hand-warming muff.
Use of fur in ready-to-wear fashion has been increasing in recent years, and during Fall 2004 New York Fashion Week it finally took over the runways.
Oscar de la Renta's beautiful red cashmere hand embroidered sable trim coat was among the most opulent garments; Michael Kors' lavender fringed mink poncho the most fun; and Ralph Rucci's black Russian broadtail pant the most sophisticated. But fur even turned up on the unlikely runways of Vera Wang, who paired a tweed day skirt with a sheared fur capelet, and trendy togs-maker Max Azria for BCBG used goat fur with suede to create a mahogany tunic.
Ralph Lauren, a master of understated elegance, used just a touch of fur to top a brown and cream cashmere skirt suit, while Michael Vollbracht, designing his second season for Bill Blass, put sable pompoms around the neck of his oatmeal-colored skirt suit. Francisco Costa kept up the Calvin Klein tradition of simple-yet-striking styles with a sleeveless midnight blue shearling coat.
Carolina Herrera used a navy cashmere and black mink sweater to complete a chic ski ensemble worthy of her customers who might be jetting off to St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Removable fur collars "define sporty modern luxe," writes Donna Karan in a statement describing her 20th-anniversary collection.
Even accessories designer Kate Spade previewed a little affordable luxury: faux Persian lamb and faux mink handbags that will retail for about $250.
"It's time to go back to luxury. Fur is really soft and cuddly. The best way to pamper yourself is to put soft fur against your skin," says Escada designer Brian Rennie, who added fox and mink trim to tasteful tweed and cashmere jackets.
Jaqui Lividini, senior vice president of fashion merchandising for Saks Fifth Avenue, expects fall to be a strong season overall.
"The overrunning trend (for fall) is glamour but not the sexy glamour of a few seasons ago; this is demure glamour, refined glamour, with a touch of nostalgia. It's very elegant," says Lividini.
She believes the fur accessories will catch on because they are so flexible -- a fur shrug can be worn with either an evening gown or jeans -- and because they are more affordable than a full-length fur coat. ("The smaller the piece of the fur, the smaller the price," she notes.)
Lividini also expects a wide variety of synthetic furs to be available, and she explains that by using fox fur made to look like mink or chinchilla, designers already reduced the price of many garments.
"And we have to talk about jewels!" adds Lividini, noting the beautiful brooches, jeweled embroidery, jeweled details and metallic threads that were seen on the runway.
Ralph Lauren even used beading on top of beading to create a belted look around the waist of a brown dress.
Lividini described the earthy and jewel-tone colors that dominated the collections as "very sophisticated," and she particularly loved the unexpected combinations, such as lavender with green, turquoise with red and pink and brown.
Other important trends to emerge during the fall previews included sheer and illusion fabrics, tweed, and the "glamazon," a name Diane von Furstenberg gave to women who are both strong and feminine.
"Leather and zip create the new suit," declares Karan.
Narciso Rodriguez, with his stretch cotton and wool velvet scuba dress and zip-front wool and satin suit, and Zac Posen, with a combination of leather and Lycra for a sparkling black wrap trench coat, also successfully balanced edgy and pretty.
Tweed, always a fall favorite, looked modern and fresh as designers used the fabric in nubbier weaves and often used tweed as a fringed trim.
And many dresses and gowns, including the fancy ones from Badgley Mischka to the cocktail party wardrobe from Nicole Miller and the daytime styles from Kenneth Cole, had a smooth liquid look. One of the best was a black gown at Calvin Klein that had panels that seemed to float.
"Our customer is going to love the glamour moment," Lavidini says.