By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The newest in technology is driving the latest in fashion this week in New York, where hundreds of designers are unveiling their looks for spring.
From cutting-edge fabrics to wearable smart clothing, technology will be grabbing the spotlight at the semi-annual event that kicked off on Thursday and draws thousands of buyers, media and fans to see the newest styles.
"Technology is what's moving fashion forward," said Ken Downing, fashion director and senior vice president at Dallas-based retailer Neiman Marcus [NMRCUS.UL].
Downing said he expects to see romanticized gypsy looks that hearken to the 1970s but are modernized with high-tech patterns or fabrics.
"It's styled with real sensibility of looking forward," Downing said. "It's gypsy with a modern lens."
Silhouettes will be casual and relaxed but made of fabric that has inherent, subtle structure, thanks to technological advances, said Roseanne Morrison, fashion director at the Doneger Group, which researches and analyzes fashion industry trends.
"It's a coating. It's a finish," she said. "That's pushing the business forward."
Soft silhouettes were in full force at Nicholas K, the first show at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week tents at Lincoln Center, where many of the week's events are staged.
Evoking a desert journey through North Africa, the New York-based brother-and-sister design team showed draped necklines, loose trousers rolled up to below the knee and shawls worn tied at the waist, looped across the shoulders or twisted hijab style around the head.
Tadashi Shoji unveiled gentle silhouettes at his show, albeit with a more feminine feel using lace and chiffon. But his gossamer sheaths and gowns found structure with buttoned-up collars and insets of chain mesh.
Spanish fashion label Desigual showed a bright cacophony of swingy dresses, flared skirts and flouncy shorts in psychedelic prints and tropical florals.
Morrison noted that the newest fabrics are making garments, even shoes, stretchy, softer and more comfortable.
"Everything is easy to wear," she said. "Everything moves with the body."
The influence of high-tech fabrics on fashion is huge but to the untrained eye can go unnoticed, said Clare Varga, head of youth, denim, kidswear and active at WGSN, which predicts trends and style for the fashion and retail industries.
"That's the key point here: Performance fabrics are now indistinguishable from non-performance fabrics," she said. "They are both high performing and aesthetically beautiful."
For example, she said, ripstop fabrics were popular in sport attire for being lightweight, rugged and breathable but have proven to be gracefully diaphanous in fashion.
Even higher tech is Intel Corp's introduction this week of a smart bracelet, with messaging and other functions, to be sold at high-end department store Barneys New York.
Ralph Lauren Corp just launched its Polo Tech shirt, which transmits biometric data to a smart phone or tablet, while designer Tory Burch launched Fitbit jewelry this summer that tracks steps, calories and sleep cycles.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Doina Chiacu and Lisa Shumaker)