NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. recession may be ahead, but fashionistas are being offered an escape from the gloom with a glamorous fall look of lingerie-style designs, full skirts and retro belts shown on New York catwalks this week.
The collections marked a "return to grown-up glamour," said David Wolfe, creative director of trend forecaster The Doneger Group. "It reminds me of what happened to fashion in the Great Depression. Fashion offered us a great escape.
"The uncertainty of the economy, the indecision of the election, was reflected in clothes designed to be very, very beautiful, making women an offer they can't refuse," he said.
As New York Fashion Week kicked off last Friday at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, attracting thousands of buyers, celebrities and reporters from around the world, the U.S. stock market fell after the government reported jobs were lost in January for the first time in almost 4 1/2 years.
Yet backstage, designers prepared to bring on the bling, feathers and fur and splashes of purple, red, pink and green.
"It's very Elizabeth Taylor in 'Butterfield 8,"' designer Carmen Marc Valvo told Reuters, describing the inspiration for his collection, due to be shown on Friday. "In the opening scene, she's wearing her little slip and she throws the fur coat on top.
"It's very lingerie-inspired and it's about layering," said Valvo, who will show transparent blouses with corsets and pants. "It's about sensuality, feeling frail and uncertain, which reflects what's going on in the world."
Several designers, including New York Fashion Week newcomer Arthur Mendonca of Toronto, paired slim-cut slip dresses with a masculine tweed jacket or cardigan.
"She's a seductress, as every woman should be," designer Diane von Furstenberg said, when asked about the muse for her collection "Foreign Affair," which evoked Marlene Dietrich in the Billy Wilder film about a female spy in wartime Berlin.
At the von Furstenberg show on Sunday, one seductive fall look featured a green jersey dress with black lace peeking out of a low neck and topped by a black wool Army coat.
Designer Nanette Lepore showed slim corset dresses in black-and-white tweed. Her cropped jackets and trousers in a menswear brown plaid fit more closely than many knits.
British designer Rebecca Taylor took inspiration from a vision of a French girl going through old boxes and wardrobes to find beautiful clothes that she "throws together in such an irreverent manner and then throws on her boyfriend's jacket."
Taylor paired chiffon dresses, pulled in at the waist with skinny sparkling belts, with tailored winter coats.
Color expert Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said a survey of designers before Fashion Week indicated "it seemed to be moving in a cooler direction of blues and purple, unusual for fall.
"Designers are being thoughtful," Eiseman said. "We know the economy is dicey. So it's time to use your neutral colors as a base and the brights are there to create some excitement to entice you to buy."
Black and white, taupe, gray, chocolate brown and navy figured prominently in many collections, along with thick and thin belts worn on the waist.
Many designers, especially Marco Zanini for the Halston revival collection, used seasonless fabrics like cashmere and silk blends that travel light -- a nod to global warming and a growing international clientele.
The pencil skirt is important for fall, said Robert Verdi, U.S. television style expert. "It's from the Hitchcock movies with Tippi Hedren, a skirt with a higher waist, flattering on most women's body types," he said, noting that 1950s styles may be signaling what lies ahead for the country.
"People sense a recession coming, so the clothes are much more conservative," Verdi said.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols)
Editing by Michelle Nichols and Stacey Joyce