By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Designers from around the world began unveiling their latest looks at New York Fashion Week on Thursday, as fashion buyers and editors assembled to see what will be au courant for spring with trend watchers expecting a season of simple silhouettes.
Hundreds of shows are slated in New York over the next eight days, displaying looks for spring 2014, before attention moves on to events in London, Milan and Paris.
The range on New York catwalks can be vast, from Custo Barcelona's joyous prints to Carmen Marc Valvo's beaded evening wear, Diane von Furstenberg's lush colors and Ralph Lauren's polished classics.
Longtime designer Carolina Herrera can be relied on for sleek sophistication and veteran Michael Kors for his clean lines. Mathieu Mirano has made a name for himself at age 22 designing for pop singer Lady Gaga.
Others are harder to figure out in advance. Publicity material for Concept Korea said the collection by Kaal E. Suktae was inspired by a phrase from the Bible: "The stone the builder rejected has become the cornerstone."
Roseanne Morrison, fashion director at The Doneger Group, experts in retail trends and forecasting, said she expects an abundance of skirts, A-line sheaths, cropped tops and soft pants in a departure from skintight looks of recent years.
"I think we're just moving into this whole mood of simplicity ... almost unencumbered," she said.
Tadashi Shoji, one of the first designers to appear on Thursday, showed an abundance of sleeveless sheath dresses and cropped tops, separately or by pairing abbreviated tops over sleek A-line silhouettes.
The trend recalls the 1990s, said Ken Downing, fashion director at retailer Neiman Marcus.
"It was that moment of being very pared down after coming out of all the opulence of the '80s," he said.
Giving a boost to the simpler clothes are innovations in fabrics such as latex and neoprene, Morrison said. Clothes now can be minimally cut or draped without losing character.
"It's finally advanced to the level where it's got a softness too, but it still has substance," she said.
Shoji's runway proved Morrison to be on target. The Los Angeles-based, Japanese-born designer brought out dresses of neoprene, some bell-shaped or square-necked with a full skirt, topped with embroidered tulle overlays and lace detail.
POWER SUIT IS DEAD
Shoji said his Spring 2014 line of chiffons, rosettes and frosted pastels was about "sweetness and liberation."
"The '80s power suits are so dead. I think now modern women in 2014 are so self-confident, they don't need to wear that kind of style. They can show their femininity and sweetness," he said after his show.
Watch for designers playing with proportions, Downing said.
"It's going to be a tale of the long and the short of it in many ways," he said. "The idea of a shorter, cropped jacket is going to come into play over longer shirting."
Indeed, at Nicholas K, models wore short sweaters over long T-shirts, tunics over dresses and cropped jackets over knee-length shirt tails.
Nicholas K went with a Native American theme, replete with headbands, feathers, braids and moccasins. The palette was restricted to earth tones of off-white, beige, gray and black or, in fashion parlance, alabaster, antler, granite and onyx.
Taking short-over-long layering a bit further, Richard Chai put skirts and dresses over trousers, reminiscent of the 1990s look of singer-songwriter Tori Amos.
Chai played with asymmetry, his hemlines and patterns more often than not running on a diagonal. He bunched the folds of a loose-fitting strapless blouson dress over one hip and zig-zagged stripes and patterns in a patchwork effect.
Brightening up the day was a riotously colorful show by Desigual, inspired by Mediterranean sunshine and the phrase "La Vida Chula" or "Life is Cool."
The casual-chic clothing by the Barcelona-based design house has always conveyed that fashion is fun, and this season proved to be no exception with a collection of tie-dyes, stripes and galactic polka dots.
Desigual's high-contrast black-and-white prints showed next to those shot through with oranges, pinks and aquamarines, and its multi-hued halter chiffon dress and a raincoat decorated with a colorful sketch of Barcelona's cityscape stayed true to the design house's lively looks.
Husband and wife team Max and Lubov Azria of BCBGMAXAZRIA presented flowing dresses and gowns in pastels and block prints in cool cottons and silks.
Tailored chic but with an urban edge and a touch of sexiness, BCBGMAXAZRIA accented solid-colored dresses with sheer panels above floral hems, adding linen/leather open-toed booties for a smart daytime look.
The sheer panels appeared in the designers' dresses, trousers and gowns, a repeating theme in a show that featured oversized trousers and cropped tops as well.
A Fashion Week fixture, Azria founded the company in 1989 and has been showing in New York since 1996.
Fashion Week in New York, a twice-a-year event, runs through September 12, closing with shows by Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Marc Jacobs.
(Additional reporting by Patricia Reaney, Jonathan Allen, Jane H. Furse and Marguerita Choy; Editing by Xavier Briand, Doina Chiacu and Cynthia Osterman)