NY fashion wears a serious look for spring

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NEW YORK, Sep 13 (Reuters) The frill is gone, baby. Tailored and sophisticated styles will take over from flowery baby-doll looks in fashion next spring.

The serious tone of spring collections, shown this week in New York, reflect the mood of a nation facing such tasks as choosing its next president and resolving the conflict in Iraq, say experts who see hundreds of shows in the semi-annual Fashion Week coming to a close yesterday.

Women's spring clothes are fitted and professional, a sign that the fashion world listens and responds to consumers' state of mind, said luxury consultant Robert Burke. A youthful look no longer suits the climate, he said.

''There's uncertainty and things are a bit more serious. The stock market's been all over the place and elections are coming up,'' Burke said. ''People want to look more serious and sophisticated as opposed to frivolous and girly.'' So spring will bring cinched waists, fitted blouses, pleated skirts, shirtdresses and high-necked collars.

Designer Charles Nolan showed school blazers. Derek Lam and Tibi produced safari-style jackets, while swingy jackets with shortened sleeves emerged in shows by VPL by Victoria Bartlett, Lyn Devon, Tibi and Luca Luca.

Alexandre Herchcovitch deconstructed tuxedos into waistcoats and backless vests. Sleeveless sheathes and strapless cocktail dresses were abundant and Carolina Herrera brought out dressy cocktail shorts as well.

''It's much more ladylike and very classic, and that is often suggestive of a much more thoughtful time,'' said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.

''It will be even more so next spring and summer because of the situation with the war and the national election.'' HILLARY'S IMPACT Sen Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign is having no small impact on fashion, she said. ''It puts us to thinking of women in a more powerful position. This is no time for girly stuff.'' Politics influenced the collection by Zac Posen. ''To me, with the elections coming, it's all about finding a way for the US to transition elegantly,'' he said.

Designer Catherine Malandrino said the uncertainty of the times helped inspire her elegant collection as well.

''The way I'm dressing women is to bring harmony to the body,'' she said. ''It's harmony between the body and the soul.

There's something very peaceful about it and I think we need it.'' Some scoff at the notion designers pay heed to what women want or need. ''I wish,'' said David A. Wolfe of The Doneger Group trend forecasters. ''I think designers just get bored.'' The changing style is a matter of economics, said Patricia Pao, head of the Pao Principle retail consultants.

''The whole unstructured look has been a nightmare for all the designers because in six weeks, the exact same thing is copied,'' Pao said. ''More structured dressing is very hard to copy.'' The baby-doll look wore out its welcome on catwalks, many say, after making women appear overly casual and sloppy.

''I think everybody was afraid to show it because everyone was making fun of it,'' said Stan Herman, former head of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

REUTERS JT KP0943

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