New York Fashion Week Spring 2013: Slim Aaron’s Photos Inspire Barbara Tfank’s Ladylike Looks

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The designer, a favorite of Michelle Obama, showed elegant daytime and cocktail dresses at an Upper East Side penthouse suite that looked like something out of an Aaron's snapshot — or a glitzy Hollywood movie.

"I really love the photography of Slim Aarons because people are dressed to the nines, yet kicking their shoes off and relaxing," says designer Barbara Tfank, who drew inspiration from the photographer’s glittering images of socialites and celebrities. "He wanted to see the beauty in life and that’s what I set out to do as well." The setting for Tfank’s spring 2013 show was nothing short of glamorous.

Upon arrival, guests were whisked upstairs to the penthouse floor of a white glove building in the Upper East Side. Models wearing lovely silk, organza and metallic floral brocade day dresses and cocktail attire (some in full circle skirts, others in draped slim-cut styles) walked in and out of the formal sitting area as fashion photographers snapped away. Vogue’s Andre Leon Talley sat perched in a corner giving directions to the models. Double-French doors opened to a beautifully manicured garden terrace with expansive views of Manhattan. The dresses were very conservative, but in flattering cuts and feminine colors (rose pink, blue and gray pastels with pops of chartreuse and coral). There were boxy cropped jackets paired with pencil skirts and skinny capri pants that looked very Jackie Kennedy — or just right for First Lady Michelle Obama who’s a fan of the designer. The neon geranium and white plaid skirt suit (classic yet modern) or scalloped LBD would work well for campaign stomping. Mrs. O wore Tfank’s cap-sleeve cobalt dress to the State of the Union address.

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Tfank isn’t the first designer to reference the iconic 1960s and 1970s photographer. Rebecca Minkoff, who had Ryan Lochte and Lauren Conrad on the front row at her show, loosely reinterpreted Aaron’s glamorous images for spring. She catered to a younger society crowd — think tweed short-shorts with little matching jackets and bright buttoned-up floral print blouses with distressed denim.

Tfank, who’s based in Los Angeles, got her start as a stylist — best known for Uma Thurman’s game-changing lilac Prada gown at the Oscars in 1995 — and also worked as a costume designer before launching her own line in 2001. Her husband, Peter Markham, heads up the directing department at the American Film Institute. Tfank, who’s currently working on a yet-to-be-titled film, compares staging a fashion show to working on set design for a movie: "I decided to have the show in a setting that would actually be where people wearing these clothes would end up. … It's important to have the right set for the costumes. Of course, these are real life clothes, but I think this setting is perfect and it’s art directed, propped and lit beautifully."