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NEW YORK — The fashion world is showering springtime shoppers with two distinct color palettes this season: juicy, fruity brights that are eye-popping and peppy, or natural neutrals that aim to tap into our eco-consciousness and worldly tastes.

There is no mushy middle, though, with nary a dusty pink in sight.

The fashion world is hoping that the infusion of lively colors will help bring consumers out of their winter doldrums and into stores.

“There is a true psychology to wearing color,” says InStyle fashion director Hal Rubenstein. “It really can change your mood. … Not to be too Pollyanna, if you wear something that’s mood brightening, it could have an effect on the people around you. It can enhance your environment.”

After that initial jolt, shoppers will be offered the more soothing shades of sand and ecru as the weather warms.

When he unveiled his candy-colored spring collection on the runway, Michael Kors explained that his prescription for a population fretting over the war, the economy and the election was to put them in something “delicious.”

But Francisco Costa, designer at Calvin Klein, made the case for serenity, taking his inspiration from somber Dutch painter Wim Schuhmacher and the Hutterites of Montana, who lead a very sparse existence.

“Fashion always braces extremes and counterpoints,” says Gregg Andrews, Nordstrom fashion director. “The newness is the shocking hues and the neutrals, and I think it’s the combination of the two that look extremely sophisticated.”

Andrews’ choice as the No. 1 shade for the season is a vibrant yellow. It works well on its own, in a print — either a trend-right pop-art geometric or painterly floral — or in a colorblocking pattern.

Other favorites are bright cobalt and a pink that he nicknamed “highlighter pink.” He describes it as “less purple than magenta and deeper than hot pink.”

Designer Lisa Perry has made saturated colors her trademark. On the day of a recent interview and photo shoot she wore a colorblocked shift dress with diagonal swaths of turquoise, green and royal blue.

Yes, she is extreme in her color choices, Perry says, but she doubts people who claim they can’t wear brights have ever tried them. There is a color out there for each person, she promises.

Her advice to color novices is to start out with turquoise, among the most flattering shades of the color wheel for all skin types. From there, progress to yellow and then pink.

Stephanie Solomon, Bloomingdale’s fashion director, has already worn her new pink dress by Perry. “Everytime I wear it, I feel 10 years younger. I never receive more compliments than when I wear this dress.”

She was drawn to the hue for the same reasons as everyone else. “It’s something I haven’t owned in a while and brights make us happy. … You probably own enough black. If you’re looking at the perfect yellow dress in front of you, you should buy it.”

Solomon is talking mostly about knee-length or shorter dresses — or maybe a simple cardigan, handbag or shoe. Anything more than that can overwhelm some women because then the garment, not you, is making the fashion statement, she says.

A simple shape is key to the look, advises InStyle’s Rubenstein.

“If you’re going to wear a color that’s going to turn a head, the dress can’t be overdone, over-draped or over-embellished,” he says. “You need to find it in a fluid fabric and a shape that enhances the body.”

Men also are embracing color like they never have before, according to American Eagle chief design officer LeAnn Nealz.

“They not only welcome it in polos and T-shirts, but woven shirts and knit underwear as well.”

As a wise buy, though, bright colors have their

limitations. Solomon knows she can’t wear her new pink dress as often as she’d wear a more subdued one — otherwise she risks being known as the lady in the pink dress.

That’s where the neutrals come in.

Mixing a vivid color with something from the tan family gives the same high-low effect as mixing a designer piece with a basic, explains Nordstrom’s Andrews, and the result is an outfit that’s sophisticated and chic that will last beyond this season.

Remember, too, these neutrals are anything but basic. They either have a print inspired by a global craft technique such as ikat or wood-blocking, or they have an interesting texture, and the cut and fit of the clothes should be perfect.

Suze Yalof Schwartz, Glamour magazine’s fashion editor at large, holds up Bottega Venetta’s trim, ladylike silhouette, shown on the runway with just-the-right shoes and bag, as an example of how to do it right. “You can’t wear khaki trousers with an oversized white men’s shirt. … You can do a head-to-toe look that will look more polished and less boring.”

There can be something luxurious about earth tones, says Paul Overfield, design director at Cole Haan, which recently launched its woven-leather Genevieve accessories collection.

Technology has allowed for many more leather finishing techniques that make neutrals exciting. The brand is now burnishing, aging, washing and even throwing salt on its leathers to get the texture right, according to Overfield.

“I think accessories always go back to the earth tones. If you’re desperate to cheer yourself up, you go to the brights, but when you think about having something on your body all day long, you’ll go toward the neutrals.”

Customers do like having the choice, according to Old Navy spokeswoman Rebecca Weill.

“A lot of this is driven by our customers — and our customers have gotten increasingly sophisticated. They knew they didn’t have to choose between color and neutral. They know both are compelling stories.”


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