New York Whether you're a fan of fancy florals, kitschy candy or bold stripes, there is a printed fabric out there for you -- and they're all in stores now.
This spring, designers are using novelty prints to make the new class of clothes different from those of previous seasons.
After all, only so much can be done to make a garment look "fresh": A hemline can be hiked up, dropped down or cut asymmetrically, and tops can have either halter necks or racer backs, but, really, a skirt is a skirt and a blouse is a blouse.
When it comes to prints, though, the possibilities are limitless.
Cynthia Rowley's spring-summer collection was inspired by "candyland" panoramas painted by her artist friend Will Cotton.
"After I had the theme, then I got carried away," she says with a laugh. "I wanted wedding cakes and chocolate kisses -- I love kisses. It's a fun thing. It's taking the idea of sweet, girly prints to an extreme."
In fact, the gumdrop and jellybean prints came first, then the keyhole dress, tiny bikini bottom and "Sugar Mama" T-shirts. "You can do really sexy clothes in sweet prints ... You can get away with more risque looks," Rowley says. "This is real eye candy."
'Playful, fun, unexpected'
Developing the prints meant surrounding herself with sugar.
Rowley took photos of real cakes and then scanned them into a computer so she could create a repeat pattern. For the candy, she actually flattened out confections and stuck those in the scanner, too.
"We had so much Hershey's stuff in here!"
She adds, "These clothes are meant to be pretty casual. It would be hard to dress up in a cake dress. We don't want this to be taken too seriously."
Reed Krakoff, Coach's president and executive creative director, says the whimsy of butterflies and flowers seems a perfect match to spring's spirit. He decorated seasonal straw bags with appliques and is offering a rainbow twill version of many of Coach's classic shapes, such as the Soho hobo and tote.
"The playful, fun and unexpected details, from a rainbow sorbet of colorful stripes to leather butterflies and flowers, are the foundation of what makes this collection both organic and stylish," he says.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Choo's Tamara Mellon says cheerful patterns are having their day because retro prints are the rage. She suggests printed accessories as a way of wearing the trend without running the risk of looking unsophisticated or making an expensive investment in very memorable -- as in "you can only wear it a few times" -- outfit.
With a collection of floral, dotted and swirl-pattern Jimmy Choos, Mellon says there are no rules when it comes to printed shoes, bags, scarves and the like. "Anything can work. Just mix it up and have fun with your dressing," she says.
But she notes that it's easier to wear these bold styles in the spring and summer than the fall when fashion followers adopt a more serious tone.
Picking the right print
Michelle Smith, designer of the label Milly, likes seeing eye-catching prints against skin -- another reason this is a warm-weather look.
"When the styles are more bare, it helps break up the look of a print. In the winter you can accent your look with a print, but in the summer you can wear a whole outfit, but then the print should be small," she advises.
The best print for you depends on your attitude and message, according to Smith; a graphic or medallion pattern is a more serious, office-appropriate print, while something cutesy -- Milly's lollypop trench coat, perhaps -- says "Look at me!" and is better for a party or weekends.
The prints in the current Milly collection might best be described as romantic, since they were inspired by Smith's honeymoon almost a year ago to the Amalfi coast in Italy.
The lemon and nautical chain-link prints conjure up the seaside, while a pastel group of florals is a nod to Capri and Florence, which Smith describes as a little more cosmopolitan and feminine.
Smith gravitates toward cheerful, colorful clothes anyway so she's enjoying her place in the current print craze but she also knows the tide will turn eventually.
"I'm not looking forward to a return to minimalism," she says.