DESIGNS Spring fashions mix sassy colors, graphic designs

Designers give consumers something to make them feel better.
ST. LOUIS -- You know it's spring when you can shed tights for a slathering of sunblock, Ferragamo pumps for flip-flops and bulky overcoats for feather-light cardigans.
OK, so in St. Louis, we're not quite there yet. Still, window displays at area retailers reflect the season to come that promises, in a nutshell, color and lots of it.
Designers want us to feel good and to get in the spirit of the season, said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Seattle-based Pantone Color Institute. The institute compiles detailed reports on color trends following spring and fall Fashion Week in New York.
"Everyone is trying to think optimistically," Eiseman said. "We live in a very uncertain world, economically and politically. The designers took the bull by the horn. The timing was right to give consumers something to make them feel better. It's instant gratification."
In fact, there's a connection to childhood playfulness, crayons and creativity, she said, in the vibrant spring collections that drove designers as varied as Nanette Lepore and Bill Blass to opt for mixes of hot pinks and green to Michael Kors, Alice Roi, Douglas Hannant and others to play with punchy shades of red, orange and blue.
"I must say, it's not just whimsy, it's surprising how much thoughtfulness (the designers) put in," Eiseman said of their inspirational use of color.
"It's not about two or three colors. We're talking very natural, soft and muted pastels, midtones and very bright, acidic ones like acid green and hot pink," said Gregg Andrews, fashion director for Nordstrom.
But color's not the only "it" bit. As the season warms, get ready for strong graphic designs and blooms (large and small) on practically everything from handbags and headbands to tank tops, sheaths and cropped pants.
There's something for every print lover this season, said LaVelle Olexa, senior vice president of fashion merchandising for Lord & amp; Taylor.
"It's an evolution of prints. We see color, prints and different ways of utilizing them," noted Olexa, who sees florals and Pucci swirls being among the season's power patterns. "Now, there's more acceptance, and women are more adventuresome about using them."
Sporty looks get redefined this season. You'll still see numbers and initials as well as racer back striping and checked patterns that look like they belong on college jerseys but have instead been reworked on tennis-style dresses, summer sweaters and jackets.
"It's going to look a little more feminine," Andrews said. "We'll continue to see striping and banding. But the coloration is going to be brighter, softer."
This season look for retro V-neck cable tennis sweaters paired with slim pants, retro golf shirts and the return of the polo shirt and argyle socks.
Making a splash
Melodie Tauben, owner of Vie in Clayton, Mo., adds that paisleys will make a splash along with embroidered prints "with lots of embellishments."
Such styling will lead some fashion followers to mix florals on top of florals and stripes on top of unrelated stripes.
"I love it, but it's difficult for some people. They fear that it might be overwhelming and unflattering. But it's beautiful," said Tauben, pointing to James Coviello floral print separates in her store that can be mixed and matched accordingly.
Stemming from our love affair with all things feminine two summers ago, romance gets a second breath this season. Soft cuts, flutter sleeves and body-skimming silhouettes revive the understated elegance of jackets, dresses and tiny handbags.
"I love the images of the '50s Vargas girl -- fresh and innocent. And, the '70s baby doll-like proportions," said designer Cynthia Steffe, behind the scenes of her Spring 2004 show last fall.
Steffe confessed that she used 10 shades of pink (paired with shades of green, black and red) in her girlish line that includes a plethora of ruffled skirts; strapless dresses drenched with florals and beading; corseted dresses and cardigans with skinny wrap belts.
Sensual and modern
Party pretty trends were sighted at Zac Posen's spring show, something not ignored by his front-row celebrity posse. Among the admirers was Liza Minnelli. "I like how sexy everything is and the brilliance of the cuts. It's elegant, sensual and modern. That's the magic of it," Minnelli said, following the show. "It's the sexiest show I've ever seen."
And, indeed, the show featured pieces that stood up to this Wunderkind's billing as one of the master's of the party dress. Delicious charmeuse and chic chiffon dipped in soft pastels and bold brights danced down Posen's runway.
Others say the moment of romance was reflected in Donna Karan's collection that harkened back to the 1920s and 1950s, too. "It's more about the dress story, soft in a newer way. Gatsby inspired," Nordstrom's Andrews concluded.