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Stripes, leather and futurism: The big trends from NY Fashion Week

Sprint coats by Michael Kors

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His campaigns may be shot by Steven Meisel, but Michael Kors is himself an accomplished lensman. Witness the photographs that the designer took of the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel and served as the basis for his upbeat spring collection. The only difference between him and Meisel? Kors used his cellphone.

He wasn't snapping alone. Designer Maria Cornejo turned a photo of crop circles she took from an airplane window into abstract polka dots on jacquard suiting. The same goes for Tom Mora, head of women's design at J.Crew, who referenced the popular phone app Instagram by way of saturated colours and out-of-focus prints.

Individual snapshots might say a thousand words, but they mostly spoke during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which concluded last week, to a need for immediate gratification. This time, it seemed, designers were less interested in exploring skimpy clothes we would want to wear six months from now. How else to explain the predilection for leather, a fabric present at every single show for the spring/summer 2013 season?

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Indeed, one would have been hard-pressed to find another material at Alexander Wang. The designer used skins, so stiff and hard-edged, to explore an idea of urban futurism. They hovered over the body in sharp panels held together by fishing-line embroidery. Yigal Azrouel, meanwhile, took a softer approach via paper-weight leather sheaths and trousers. BCBGMaxAzria and Jason Wu, for their parts, went the fetishistic route, employing leather harnesses to bind delicate dresses. Both collections, inspired by Helmut Newton's vamps, would appeal to Christian Grey, hero of the Fifty Shades of Grey series. (It was easy to guess who had indulged in some trashy summer reading.)

"I call this the front-row coat," Kors said at a press conference before his show, holding up a yellow double-faced leather trench. Like a lot of designers, he was stressing the importance of outerwear for spring, inspired in part by frontrow fixtures such as Harper's Bazaar editor Joanna Hillman, who has never met a jacket she couldn't drape over her shoulders. Joseph Altuzarra offered the ne plus ultra of the genre in tailored outerwear that was sliced and diced, not a single one worn with sleeves on.

However severe Altuzarra's cuts, they were softened by railway-stripe cotton fabrications (remember OshKosh B'gosh?), which also made appearances at Rag & Bone and Marc by Marc Jacobs. Stripes, in all their incarnations, were omnipresent throughout the collections. Marc Jacobs used them to graphic, sixties-style effect for his main line, while Tommy Hilfiger offered his own update on the nautical variety in – what else? – glossy leather.

When Hilfiger's striped motifs relaxed into rope prints, the silhouettes and fabrics did, too. In a series of wide-leg trousers and fluid jackets, they reinforced the idea of pyjama dressing. Sleepwear took a more literal turn at J. Crew, where pyjama tops played against tailored trousers with lace trim. "It takes everything down a notch," J.Crew's Mora said of the pairing. "You can be so overly dressed up but then you just look cool."

Pyjama trousers also made an appearance in Vera Wang's collection, but with a decidedly Indian twist (think white lace jacquard and cypress-green damask). In general, the subcontinent certainly resonated, as Marchesa's Georgina Chapman also looked to the East for inspiration. Her collection, which made use of traditional Indian techniques to produce gowns embellished with pearls, crystals and gold-leaf details, was much more literal than Wang's (and less refreshing for it).

A few obvious saris were also paraded alongside Marchesa's red-carpet creations, although none were as moving as Altuzarra's versions. Draped and wrapped to the neck in embroidered Bedouin-blue charmeuse, they inspired a hush that reflected their visual power.

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