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The big chill at Fashion Week

In New York, designers warm up to winter with cozy coats and thick layers, but leave room for some cool, chic looks

Plaid jacket ensemble by Thakoon. Plaid jacket ensemble by Thakoon. (JASON DECROW/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / February 15, 2011

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NEW YORK — For designers, the winter jacket has long been something that simply gets in the way, a bulky wrap that obscures the real fashion that awaits underneath. But the oft-dismissed garment has been promoted to the main attraction for Fall/Winter 2011. Designers such as Donna Karan, Derek Lam, and Thakoon have been celebrating the coat during New York Fashion Week, playing with it in innovative new ways. (It’s perfect timing with the endless arctic winter we’re slogging through.) Nearly all the runways are filled with cozy layers, thick cable knits, and sturdy coats crafted of blankets and wool. Fear not, fashion lovers, there’s also the usual helping of highly impractical and improbable looks as well. Here are a few runway highlights.

WINTER WONDER

If you stage your show in the ballroom of the gilded and opulent Plaza Hotel, you’d better have the glamour to back it up. Enter Thakoon, the rising design star who has been helped in equal parts by first lady Michelle Obama and Vogue editor Anna Wintour. The highlight of his Sunday evening show was a puffy down coat reimagined into something that Marie Antoinette would have worn if snowboarding had been popular in 18th-century France. It was part of a trend that was seen across the runways all weekend: fashion combined with function, a combination that can be hard to come by during Fashion Week. Thakoon used plaid — another emerging trend for next winter — in everything from sleeveless wool dresses to elaborate jackets. The designer also brought the look indoors, with chic cigarette pants and a classic little black taffeta dress with a plunging back. Not ideal for a chilly evening, except perhaps when paired with a ski jacket fit for a frothy French queen.

QUITE POSH

Victoria Beckham, pregnant with her fourth child and juggling a small group of the country’s biggest fashion editors, demonstrated that she has not lost her sense of humor, despite the pressure of her duties. “I have a microphone, but you’re all safe, I’m not going to sing,’’ she said in the posh (pun intended) Upper East Side apartment where she showed her collection. Impeccably tailored dresses married the minimalism of the 1990s with Art Deco details — including sleek head wraps that put the emphasis squarely on the draped, wrapped, and pleated dresses in shades of vermilion, saffron, and sand. It was one of the most civilized shows of the week thus far, complete with tea service, a crackling fire, and a somber soundtrack that included Dionne Warwick’s theme from “The Valley of the Dolls.’’ The former Spice Girl also proudly sent her 100th dress down the runway, proving that her staying power as a designer far outweighs her supposed talent as a singer.

HOW THE WEST WAS WORN

Not only did designer Diane von Furstenberg lure such disparate celebrities as Fergie and Barbara Walters to her Sunday afternoon show, she also mixed her classic prints with an understated western influence. Naturally, von Furstenberg’s version of the old West, titled the “American Legends’’ collection, was about exuberance rather than cowboys, but she did break out some wide-brim hats, a bit of fringe, and elegant gaucho pants. Von Furstenberg isn’t one to lasso herself too tightly to a theme, so after moving off the prairie she revealed a series of lovely crepe dresses and finished with something no American legend should be without — a sparkling sequin chiffon wrap gown.

LADY LOOKS LIKE A DUDE

Fashion designers time-traveled back to the 1970s in their 2011 spring collections, and it seems that many of them are happy to stay there for the fall. The Tommy Hilfiger Fall/Winter 2011 women’s show was intended to “capture the nonchalant style of the 1970s rock star’s girlfriend,’’ but it seemed more accurately to capture Diane Keaton circa “Annie Hall.’’ With celebs such as Petra Nemcova, Rosario Dawson, Rose Byrne, and up-and-comer Bella Heathcote looking on, Hilfiger suited up his models in a parade of burgundy and blue. With men’s tailoring, wide-brim hats, leather, and ponchos galore, he may have missed the mark on the 1970s rock star girlfriend (next time he should ring up Pamela Des Barres for tips), but he did create a collection that managed to step beyond his country club comfort zone into a sophisticated new realm.

LAM’S WOOL

Derek Lam found his muse for his winter collection, and it appears to be frostbite. His Lincoln Center show was all about experiments in making wool chic, which meant beautiful pea coats and Shetland coats, plus another emerging trend this week, blanket and cape jackets. Lam finally brought his models in from the cold by dressing them in pieces that hinted at 1990s minimalism and grunge, both of which have been appearing with alarming regularity already.

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com.