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Winding down at Fashion Week

Elie Tahari mixed heavy and delicate fabrics. Elie Tahari mixed heavy and delicate fabrics. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / February 19, 2011

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NEW YORK — By the end of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, the parties and celebs begin to overshadow the clothes as blurry-eyed fashion editors and buyers begin dreaming of the day they finally can take off the Jimmy Choos for a few hours. But as the week wound down here, there were still fantastic collections to be seen: Michael Kors celebrated a fashion milestone; Marchesa showed that Victorian literature can make for imaginative frocks; and Isaac Mizrahi demonstrated that winter can still be pretty in pink. Here are a few highlights as Fashion Week reached its homestretch.

The celebratory style of Michael Kors

There was a reason why Michael Kors was beaming slightly more than usual at his Lincoln Center show on Wednesday morning, and it wasn’t because Bette Midler gave him a peck on the cheek before the models hit the runway. This marks Kors’s 30th year in fashion, and while his show lacked confetti and cake, there was plenty of sparkle. Kors’s pieces are basic and unfussy, but anything but boring. There’s an art to making clothes that look this effortless, and Kors has an eye for slicing away the extraneous. Charcoal suits were flawless, and sexy leather shifts, cashmere sweaters, and slinky jersey dresses all spoke to the designer’s love of luxury. Tailoring and draping were immaculate, and there was even a bit more flesh than usual, with daring slits and exposed shoulders.

Marchesa gets left at the altar

When designer-of-the-moment Prabal Gurung explained that the inspiration for his collection earlier this week was the dusty Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations,’’ it felt like a sweet, quirky, and rather random literary fashion reference. But when Marchesa’s Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig used the same Miss Havisham for the Fall/Winter 2011 collection they debuted on Wednesday afternoon, it appeared that a trend was born. For those who failed sophomore English, or never rented the movie from Blockbuster to bluff their way through class, Miss Havisham was the heartbroken bride who refused to remove her wedding dress after being swindled by her supposed true love. She lives out her days seeking revenge. Chapman and Craig’s interpretations, many featuring distressed silk tulle, were at times quite literal. But because this is Marchesa, home of red carpet favorites, the pair also made gowns that lived up to celebrity great expectations. Still, it was also a thrill to see Marchesa move beyond their usually dainty sartorial comfort zone.

The tough and tender Elie Tahari

It has been fascinating to watch New York designers play with delicate and heavy fabrics this week. The mix showed up on the runway at Vera Wang, and again Wednesday night at Elie Tahari. In his show notes, the designer compares the dark romanticism of his collection to “the cinematic movement of an antique music box.’’ I would compare it to the film “Black Swan’’ set to the music of Stevie Nicks. Models came down the runway in black leather and lace, with chiffon capes billowing behind them. Before Tahari moved into more sturdy tweeds and cable knits, his dark, witchy ensembles were romantic and dangerous. In the second half of the show, he lightened the mood, but continued mixing leather jackets with voluminous, full-length chiffon skirts. It would have been fascinating to see more of Tahari’s dark side, but overall he presented some important essentials of fall 2011 trends: Length in dresses, leather, and lots of lace.

The sporting side of Phillip Lim

This week has been all about blending the functional and the frivolous. In some cases this combination came off as appealing as lemon meringue pie with a side of foie gras, it has also made for some stunning moments. Wednesday’s 3.1 Phillip Lim show saw the designer brazenly pairing an oversize anorak dress with tuxedo pants, and blouson jackets over culottes. There was rarely anything precious coming down the runway, and very few missteps. These were the clothes of an urban and modern woman. Lim’s fresh take on clothes may not always be the most practical (conical gowns?) but his vision of how to outfit the modern woman was on the mark.

Christian Cota hits new altitudes

Even if the audience at Lincoln Center had no idea that Mexican designer Christian Cota has a background as a painter, they could have guessed. Cota’s use of graphic prints and dabs of color had a painterly feel, as if he had carefully considered each hue, each texture, and every line of pattern. Cota expertly captured the melancholy mood of a gray winter afternoon with his pieces, which enveloped models like a snowy cocoon. His inspiration — hiking in the Himalayas — was evident with his glammed-up models swathed with lambskins and fox pelts. By mixing such influences with feminine and flowing skirts, wide-legged trousers, and shimmering gowns, Cota kept his show from becoming a tribute to “Seven Years in Tibet.’’ Instead, it had the aura of an après hike cocktail soiree.

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