AP Fashion Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- You don't need to be buttoned-up to be the boss.
The styles shown Wednesday as New York Fashion Week neared its end showed women softening their edges -- but keeping their confidence. At Michael Kors, the models resembled a secretary pool from the 1970s that had since moved into the corner office. Those bow blouses now have a luxury coat and handbag to go with them.
Gone are the minimalist, sharp-edged looks shown on so many runways for fall. There are looser, less restrictive outfits for spring that are more soft and feminine, but still grown up.
"You know it's funny, last fall we had this very sharp, strong, urban collection, which really was for me this reaction to how fast life has gotten," Kors said backstage before his show. "But sometimes I think life is a little too fast. And when we go out to dinner put your phone down, put your BlackBerry down, have a conversation. Write a thank you note, a real one. Walk down the street in the summer when the weather gets warm and wear something that catches the wind."
Oscar de la Renta showed it's possible to be feminine and still feel like you own the room. Vera Wang softened up her look with fabric petals. Gilles Mendel's collection started with an ingénue who grows in confidence and becomes a woman.
"She's strong, she appreciates quality, she loves clothes. I like a celebration of this woman," Mendel said at his J. Mendel show.
With a palette that includes mint and blush tones and softer blouson shapes, spring styles are for a woman who's not afraid to wear a pink dress to the boardroom.
Even the bra tops appearing on so many runways are being paired with palazzo pants, not skinny jeans, making them almost -- almost -- office-appropriate.
Kors offered scarf-neck georgette blouses with the bow undone, a whisper light wool georgette pleated skirt in "banker" gray and a crisp white trench to top it off. There was also a sand-colored suede trench. Good thing his muse can make decisions.
A ticking-stripe boyfriend shirt was worn with denim shorts and a wrap made of white fox -- yes, summer fur -- with an unexpected stripe lining.
He had some moments that seemed 1970s inspired, with disco studs on slinky dresses with full hemlines and palazzo pants with bra tops.
"The challenge is to have romance for everyday life," Kors said, "and how do you have charm in everyday life?"
A good place to start is smiling models, and Kors had those. Karolina Kurkova, Frankie Rayder and Karen Elson are among the catwalkers who make infrequent runway appearances, but always seem to turn up for Kors.
To say the designers at Proenza Schouler loosened up their look for next spring, you have to know the starting point: The collection typically is inventive, cool and fairly aggressive.
Their clothes are for the model types -- the young women who jet-set the globe in search of the next great party, the one that starts after midnight.
So to see the words "understated domesticity" and "serene and polished" in the notes Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough used for their runway show was more than a little surprising.
But, as promised, there was movement and ease, mixed with their other hallmark, experimental fabrics.
Accordian-pleat, below-the-knee skirts were shown in a myriad of metallics, tiered tops and jackets were paired with cropped, loose-leg pants, and a series of cotton crepe outfits were printed with the shadings and shadows of well-loved garments.
Don't worry, they took care of their model friends, too. They can wear the stunning top cast in copper, a breast plate held in place with some wide ribbon, that closed the show. Not many others can.
Pearls were still being sewn on the showstopping red carpet looks an hour before Marchesa's show, but the audience would never have known the frenzy.
When it came time for models to come down the runway in an elegant space at the New York Public Library, the delicate dresses floated with ethereal calm.
Some gowns had pearls, others butterfly appliques -- and some had both. There was more of a light lingerie feel to the silhouettes than big sculptural pieces designers Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig have turned out in seasons' past.
The inspiration, according to Craig, is a Victorian-style curiosity case, where people would display treasures such as butterflies and birds.