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Designers lend flair to the familiar

The country might be going through some of its toughest economic times. But on the runway at Mercedes-Benz Fashion week, it's a world of easy and breezy.

Designers kept it light and airy during Spring 2009 collections on Sunday and Monday, opting for safety in what's familiar rather than cutting edge.

Carolina Herrera

Carolina Herrera was among those returning to her roots with a stunning collection of evening dresses and suits that was strong on bold color but still maintained Herrera's sense of classic elegance.

“I thought the colors were vibrant and beautiful,” said Andre Leon Talley, a Durham native and Vogue's editor-at-large. “There was a strong sense of sophistication.”

Herrera focused on structured masculine pantsuits (with cigarette pants!), soft evening gowns in bright solids such as teal, marigold and hibiscus that were highly wearable and her signature white button-downs with beading and embroidery.

Lela Rose

Most of Lela Rose's spring looks were more straightforward than from fall, with clean, classic lines that have made her the go-to designer when you need an always-appropriate dress.

Rose was generous in her choices of bold, rich pigments, including lapis blue, mustard yellow, sapphire and pimento.

She ended the show with a series of can't-miss dresses, including two stunning wedding gowns – one in chiffon and one in organza with a bow-tied front.

Diane von Furstenberg

Diane von Furstenberg was among the designers this season looking to the '60s for inspiration. Straying further from her trademark working girl's wrap dress, DVF's Bohemian-inspired looks were breezy and somewhat complicated with big, bold colors and a heavy mix of floral prints.

She called her collection “effortlessly seductive” with airy chiffons and flowing long dresses that were far from her structured wraps and shirt dresses that have put her back on the map in recent years.

A few dresses hit the old DVF mark of effortless chic, including a purple drape dress, a bright orange jacquard and chiffon dress and a lollipop stripe sequined shift. Each was uncomplicated and seemed easy to wear.

Tracy Reese

Tracy Reese also looked to nature and romance for inspiration for her spring collection, relying on floral prints and pastels for her relaxed silhouettes.

She also introduced a Black Label collection, what she calls an “upstairs” version of the core Tracy Reese brand. The look was all about rich fabrics, including organza, chiffon and brocades.

She was at her best Sunday with her signature frocks and shifts, the standout being an oleander rose double peplum strapless dress.

Donna Karan

Donna Karan, in her blow-out 20th anniversary runway show, took a step back in time for inspiration, with a series of drop-waist dresses that could have been from 1989, just without all the heavy accessories and big hair.

There were other signs she was reminiscing: Outfits with navy and shots of lime green and others with electric blue and black, boyfriend jackets and the parachute dress. The ultimate in '80s redux, however, was a black stretch jersey dress with a pink bow tied around the hips.