First the fashion folks decided that, after years of holding us hostage with seasonal proclamations, gosh darn it, the new rule is that there are no rules. Anything goes. You figure out what to wear. (Heaven help you if you guess wrong.)
Now they've decided there is no weather.
Maybe it's the reality that we're all living in these hermetically sealed bubbles. Air-conditioned cars. Heated garages. Life lived at 72 thermostatically controlled degrees.
When you live your life dashing from appointment to appointment, then going sleeveless in winter seems perfectly reasonable. When you have to walk only two feet to your seat, then yeah, those five-inch Jimmy Choo stilettos would feel tres comfy. Pantyhose? How gauche!
How else to account for the strange disconnect at what is supposed to be the spring 2001 women's ready-to-wear-collections, which took place here this week?
The nine-day fashion event is produced by 7th on Sixth, a subsidiary of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The shows are centered in Midtown Manhattan, behind the Public Library, where a giant white tent covers a good part of Bryant Park.
It was 76 and sunny here -- perfect sundress weather. Indian summer. But you'd never know it from the folks in the front row, outfitted in leather pants, black turtlenecks and coats. Because, don't you know, this fall it's all about the fall coat.
And on the runway, too, with clothes for spring, if the denizens of Seventh Avenue have their way, come April, we'll all be sporting leather and suede.
Here's a look at what major designers displayed at their shows:
* Judging from the fare trotted out on the runway, Cole's mind is firmly fixed on November 2000, rather than spring 2001. There were a few hints of spring: short rompers, Pucci print skirts and shorts in lime, purple, blue and white geometrics. But more often than not, it was somber pinstripe suits for men, under which were layered zip-up suede vests; creamy leather ensembles for men and women; and a soft, periwinkle blue suede sliced into curve-hugging pants and a cropped jacket. Despite Cole's seasonal confusion, his collection was young and fresh: clean-lined classics sure to play well at the local mall.
* Carolina Herrera also seemed confused by the seasons, sending out leather and suede in somber shades punctuated with bright bolts of shades she dubbed "dahlia" and "sunflower." There were neat little belted jackets with matching culottes, geometric printed jerseys in coral, belted suede jackets in deep chocolate, and a "sunflower" leather jacket tossed over wool trousers in "tobacco," as well as her trademark procession of slinky evening wear.
* Oscar de la Renta's showing was a seamless study in dozens of ways to wear opulent evening wear, from pink ostrich feather blouses to imposing, full-bodied pouf skirts, so round and buoyant they just might require an extra closet.
Many items could be called show pieces, such as an orange suede halter top bedecked with chunks of quartz, matched with his sharp-pleated skirt.
The collection rounded out with pretty pieces, such as floral embroidered pants with matching blouses, and some whimsical oddments, like a safari jacket surprisingly paired with a white evening skirt, completely covered in shimmy fringe. And there were plenty of sexy, midriff-baring leather tops that might be just right for well-toned audience members such as Sarah Jessica Parker of "Sex in the City."
* If you ask, in the words of the song, "Who wears short shorts?" the Ellen Tracy customer is probably not the first answer that comes to mind. Yet the abbreviated shorts appeared in everything from gold or white pearlized leather to black and white gingham, along with bare legs and high-heel sandals.
"It looks very modern and strong. It shows a lot of leg, but it's quite a ladylike look because of the (three-quarter-length) jacket," says Ellen Tracy head designer Linda Allard. "It's all about the legs."
For a more covered look, Allard sent out a slew of elongated, almost knee-length jackets, most notably in zebra-print denim.
* Ralph Lauren envisions spring 2001 clothes in just about any color -- as long as they're black and white.
Bypassing bright florals and pink pastels, Lauren offered striped evening gowns, bold windowpane-checked jackets and black contrast piping on fitted white leather dresses.
Lauren went back to the basics: Starting with a black pleated skirt and black cashmere/silk tank top, he simply added accessories such as a chevron-striped neck scarf and matching black-and-white spectator slides. The evening look segued into black and white sequined pinstriped pants.
He also sent out such cold-weather items as thick cashmere pullovers, mink-backed jackets and boots. The collection was an amalgam of walking oxymorons -- bikinis paired with suede shirts, linen skirts with shearling jackets. What season is this, anyway?
* Nicole Miller offered her take on the thoroughly modern -- metallic pants, miniskirts and wrap dresses that were 70 percent copper and aluminum, woven with 30 percent silk.
Miller sent out asymmetrical wrap dress in gold denim, dresses slit high on the thigh and shoulder-baring blouses. Nearly everything was paired with anklets in black or gold metallic with ankle-strap high heels. She also nodded to popular geometric prints, which showed up on slip dresses, so fashionable on runways this week.
* Betsey Johnson threw a curve into the typical reed-thin model presentation by using 29 Playboy Playmates on her bubblegum pink runway Tuesday night, the better to showcase her barely there skirts and babydoll nightgowns.
The models were decked out in rabbit ears, cottontails, leonine hairpieces and high, wooden heels. The clothes were a raunchy ode to sexy fashion: a valentine-red "heart tart" bikini, a bikini of fur and enough corsets to stock Frederick's of Hollywood. But a woman's closet can hold only so many tarty togs. Beyond the trash 'n flash were some wearable looks that took their cue from spring trends, including floral slip dresses, wrap dresses and metallics.
Meanwhile, fashionistas don't have to put up with the madness of the crowds to stay a step ahead. They can check out what's going on by hitting Elle magazine's Web site -- www.elle.com.