1. Mad for Plaid
Waltzing into the future, Isaac Mizrahi cherishes the grand old brand he inherited: Like Liz Claiborne, he takes familiar motifs (dots, stripes, checks) and turns them into modern shapes. "People respond to prints emotionally," he says. "They trigger memories." This gingham dress ($189), for example, has a built-in petticoat that reminds Veronica Webb, 43—model, actress, TV personality—of her Sunday school best. "Crinolines are like cookies," she says. "They're there to make you happy."
2. Surprise Package
This smartly cut khaki raincoat ($169) unbuttons to reveal a floral printed lining that's echoed in the silk twill shirtwaist dress ($129). "I like bright and cheerful," says actress Becki Newton, 30, of ABC's Ugly Betty. "Moody and edgy doesn't suit me." One reason this collection feels so sassy and classy is that it comes with scads of playful extras, from a bra to match your shirt to a rainbow of cute shoes.
3. The Matchmaker
For years fashion arbiters have dismissed color-coordinated accessories as too "matchy." But now there's a more organic style, says Isaac, who gave interior designer Rhea Tziros, 30, spectator-style heels ($89) and a logo-print wallet ($38) to go with her striped gown ($169). "Bold patterns have made a comeback in clothes and home decor," says Rhea. "I'm always on the lookout for fun prints I won't get tired of."
4. Rethinking Pink
Brighten your look with pretty separates: Florals and checks mix effortlessly, especially when they're anchored with gray, the softest neutral. From left: Isaac's business partner, Marisa Gardini, 41, says he's broken her of the all-black habit (sweater, $79; skirt, $99; flower pin, $55). Veronica credits Isaac's clothes with improving her mood (jacket, $219; sweater, $49; skirt, $99; flower necklace, $85).
Dietitian Maye Musk, 60, glows in a yellow jacket ($119), shirt ($119), and silver pleat skirt ($99).
Make your future rosier with gingham and flowers (cardigan, $79; top, $49; skirt, $79).
You can also "infiltrate your life"—Isaac's phrase—with vivid accessories like eye-catching shoes ($79 and $89)
Defy the recession with color, says Isaac: "It's the greatest luxury of all." Orange bag ($138).
"Navy and white is very all-American," says Marisa of her checkerboard coat ($169)...
...and Rhea's striped sheath and jacket ($89 and $119).
Punctuate the light-dark pattern with a white, bone, or bright bag ($60, $118, $108).
12. Design Democracy
Young and skinny is no longer the standard of attractiveness, says Isaac. Pigeonholing women and clothes according to age is "very limiting and disempowering," agrees Faye Wattleton, 65, co-founder and president of the Center for the Advancement of Women. Her sharp safari-style suit (jacket, $129) is as timeless as it gets (sunglasses, $30; bracelets, $42 and $48; clutch, $60). Nor is this collection just for the slender: "Size-ism is as bad as racism!" Isaac says.
The slouchy gray pantsuit and frilly blouse on Valerie Lefkowitz, 28, a photography student, go up to a size 16 (jacket, $229; trousers, $139; top, $119). "Pleated trousers aren't supposed to be good for women with hips," she says, "but these fit great." Bracelets, $48 each. Clutch, $98.
14. Denim on Denim
Left: Head-to-toe anything used to be deemed unfashionable, but Rhea's tailored all-denim look—jacket ($119), shirt ($59), pencil skirt ($69), patchwork tote ($85), and shoes ($89)—is fabulous. (Tip: When you match, match all the way!) "This suit can take you anywhere, from work to the PTA," Isaac says.
Right: Friendly denim is the quintessential Fabric Next Door. But translated into a trench-inspired dress ($119) and upgraded with sleek accessories—silver bangles (from $25), an oversize tote ($120), and loafer-style heels ($89)—it makes Becki look amazingly polished.
15. Accessories Unlimited
"I like big, bold, amusing things, and I pile on a million pieces," says Iris Barrel Apfel, 87—designer, connoisseur, and fashion icon (her style was celebrated in a 2005 show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Her chunky necklaces (gold chain, $65; green-and-gold, $150 each), bracelets (from $28), and trademark glasses (Liz Claiborne frames, $36, with FeatherWates Invisibles lenses) are set off by a brilliant cardigan ($59) and dramatic khaki pants ($79). Iris adored the wide-leg "Hollywood glamour" trousers: "I can't believe how well they fit."
16. Rainbow Coalition
"I prize exuberance," Isaac says. "I prefer it to caution." Valerie's purple coat ($169), green shell ($49), and yellow shoes ($89) don't look clownish, thanks to the grounding of a khaki skirt ($59). The patchwork tote ($110) ties the colors together.
Necklace, $65; bracelets, from $40