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Building fashion: Architectural influences abound

Breaking down one of spring 2012's biggest trends

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I've never built an ornately designed house before -- or any house, for that matter -- but I'll wear anything with an asymmetrical neckline.

That was my thought as I listened recently to Arlene Goldstein, Belk's vice president of trend merchandising and fashion direction, talk trends for spring. One of the major themes she kept coming back to? Architectural details.

In every spring issue of your favorite fashion magazines, from Vogue to Harper's Bazaar, there are influences from architecture. American designer Derek Lam's spring 2012 ready-to-wear collection, for example, was reportedly inspired by an actual house — the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, courtesy of architect Richard Neutra, built in 1946. Lam took the straight lines, rectilinear panels and wood and white tones of this stylish mid-20th century home and shaped them to fit a woman's body.

The collection gives new meaning to the term "big as a house," doesn't it?

One major design influence under the architectural umbrella this season is color blocking. Remember back in the 1980s and early '90s, when wearing bold colors was the epitome of style? (I regretfully admit to wearing Cross Colours myself for a very short period in time. But hey, I was in my early teens, so don't hold that against me.) Back then, most color block designs were encompassed into one item, like a shirt or dress. But now you can combine two or more colors together into one ensemble, like a shirt that's black on top and white at the bottom, paired with pink pants. Or go further and pop some color into your shoes, handbags or jewelry.

Color blocking is very optical — it demands attention and plays with the eye. Much like the Duke Energy building in Uptown does when lit up at night. From the variations of colors that change based on what I like to call the city's "mood" (i.e., whatever events or causes are currently being supported) to the actual design components, there's clear evidence of color blocking.

"The architectural inspiration is popular, and it resonates to fashion because any type of great design is all about constructing an interesting visual," says local stylist Erica Hanks. "For my clients who are more timid, an easy push into the architectural inspired trend is to start with color blocking and to play with an asymmetrical neckline or hemline, whether it be a beautiful top or a dress."

Another spring trend that draws influence from construction is geometric patterns. If you're not sure what I mean by that, picture the view of the Harvey B. Gantt Center from Stonewall Street. According to the Center's website, the exterior utilizes a "Jacob's Ladder" styling that reads in architecture the same way it does in fashion: as a repetitive layering of shapes in various colors. Designers like Narscisco Rodriguez have used the same concept to make their looks more playful.

Wardrobe stylist Franklin Headen is also a big fan of geometry in fashion. He says he'll be pushing for geometrically printed pieces featuring "tessellation prints ... basic squares, circles, polka dots and diamond-shaped patterns."

But those sharp angles and concaves can be more than simply splashes of pattern on fabric. "For the more daring girl, cutouts in the back and through the arms can really give a spring wardrobe a bit of edge and visual interest," Hanks says. One such dress (pictured) can be found at Julie's Boutique in Huntersville: a very of-the-moment red dress with beautiful cutouts throughout the bodice with a nude underlay.

Ruffles, pleating and anything that adds more texture to your look are also trending. I've been thrilled to see actual materials found in buildings, like metal and natural wood, intertwined in designs alongside cotton, silk and other conventional wearable materials. Jewelry designers continue to use stone and wooden materials for their designs to create a naturally organic and botanical look. Even Michael Kors, one of my favorite ready-to-wear designers, offers a very "safari chic" clutch in his recent collection, designed with a prominent metal accent.

Another way to turn up the heat in your wardrobe is with hemlines and necklines. Headen says he's dressing his clients "in skirts and dresses with asymmetrical hems — longer in the back, much shorter in the front." The Dressing Room boutique near Uptown is another shop that's highlighting the spring's architectural details. "We're bringing in lots of fabulous items with vivid colors and pleats," says co-owner Natalie Manning. "We'll have dresses with very structured angles at the neckline creating a bold new statement. And of course, the always classic asymmetrical line of the one-shoulder dress."

So, the next time you walk outside, take a look around. You might be pleasantly surprised to see just how much your daily wardrobe resembles that of your surroundings.

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