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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Every fashion season, someone wants to know what color is the "new black." This time, the new black is no color at all.
Among the scores of designers who unveiled their newest collections this week in New York Fashion Week, a striking number concentrated on looks with scarcely any color.
The dominant tones for next spring and summer, in collections including those of Donna Karan, Alexander Wang and G-Star, were solid white, beige, ivory, khaki, olive, oatmeal and terracotta.
Such hues are an intrinsic part of the uniforms, or daily wear, in consumers' wardrobes, said Paco Underhill, author of "What Women Want." In the fashion business, those daily uniforms provide the most revenue, he said.
"That's where the money is," he said.
But neutrals don't necessarily mean boring, and they can range from pale rose to deep russet, said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute which reports on the top colors each season.
"These are not your mother's neutrals," she said. "They have wonderful undertones, very subtle."
And neutrals appeal to a thrifty consumer, she added.
"It's less chancy. If you buy a neutral, it's going to last a long time," she said. "The economy always plays into it."
Some designers stayed predominantly with neutrals but perked up their collections with splashes of bright colors.
Ralph Lauren, who unveiled his Western-inspired collection on Thursday, adhered largely to cream, ivory, parchment and saddle brown tones, brought to life with glittering platinum lame and sparkling beaded fringe.
Narciso Rodriguez showed nearly all white, blush and black with dashes of poppy orange; BCBG Max Azria showed white and gray but mixed in coral, peony and crimson; and Tibi brightened up a largely ivory, cream and tobacco collection with jackets and coats in vivid fire orange and purple.
Underhill compared the mix of a few bright spots to an old-fashioned car dealership. "I have a convertible in the front window, so I can sell sedans off the back lot," he said.
Designer Raul Melgoza of Luca Luca complemented neutral hues -- pale golds and silvers -- with bright coral and blue.
"My aesthetic is to think at the end of the day, 'Is this wearable? Where can this be worn?'" the designer said. "It's not that you don't want to sprinkle it with some pizazz, but everything has to have a consumer in mind at the end."
Neutrals can show off intricate detailing, such as in the collection by American designer Michael Kors, who used hemp and linen dramatized by hand-knitting and hand-smocking.
"It seems to be about the subtlety, the drape and the tucking and how the fabric flows and how it's cut," said Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail consultants. "It's almost like color would distract from that."
But muted tones can run the risk of failing to capture consumers' attention, said luxury consultant Robert Burke.
"I would have thought there might have been more really distinctive colors," he said of the spring and summer 2011 looks on the runways in New York this week.
"Designers have got to motivate people to buy with their designs," he said.
That's not to say some designers didn't burst at the seams with color. Diane von Furstenberg used broken wave and cloud designs in rich gold and deep violet, and Vera Wang made folded dresses and coats in bright tomato red, poppy and chartreuse.
Carolina Herrera, who drew from old-fashioned botanicals and traditional Korean clothes, showed hibiscus reds and oranges. Custo Barcelona wildly mixed prints and stripes, and Anna Sui combined brightly patterned peasant ruffles, crocheted vests and handkerchief skirts.
Cynthia Steffe showed deep aqua and red animal print, and Lela Rose used vivid fluorite pink and DayGlo yellow.
Brazilian designer Alexandre Herchcovitch, whose models wore radiant blues and turquoise with matching lipsticks, took a dim view of all the muted colors.
"I don't see anything that's very new," he said. "I think it's pretty boring this season."
Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols, Christine Kearney, Gemma Haines and Nicole Huber; Editing by Eric Walsh