New York Fashion Week starts with a message: Relax

NEW YORK (AP) - September 5, 2008 A loose, beachy vibe infused the first collections for spring 2009, drawing inspiration from fantasies of far-off places. Tropical prints combined with an easy slouch to evoke less stressful times.

"When the economy is so bad and with the horrible things happening all around the world, one gets inspired to create a certain kind of beauty," designer Narciso Rodriguez told The Associated Press before the shows began. He promised an "anti-stress" collection later in the week.

On Friday, BCBG's fresh-faced models had the air of waking up late at a small beach resort, tossing on whatever was nearby. Perry Ellis had two words for its beach-bound customer - "leisure suits." And Elie Tahari dressed the glamorous couple on a seaside vacation, sipping frosty cocktails with warm sand between their toes.

When the economy slumps, some designers turn to bright colors and go beyond basics to lure customers into stores. But this Fashion Week, labels were also counting on currency-rich foreign buyers to take advantage of the weak dollar.

Mercedes Benz Fashion Week runs through Sept. 12, with more than 100 shows over eight days.

BCBG Imagine a fashion designer in his studio, draping fabric on a model and delicately pinning it up here and there as a work in progress. That's where Max Azria stopped with his spring BCBG collection.

The result was casual elegance. Slim pants and short-shorts rompers were mixed loose chemise dresses - many of them one-shouldered to make the models look like Amazonian goddesses.

Several jumpsuits were included, some better than others. An extreme wide-leg jumpsuit in a wine color with an elaborate crisscross halter top looked more like a sexy maxi dress in the spirit of the 1970s with a modern edge, while the skinny-leg disco version seemed more dated.

A handful of looks had more of a hard-rock edge, including a black glossy vest over a high-sheen jersey dress and ankle boots. Otherwise the palette was more tonal, with Azria's favorite shades of stone prominently featured, along with flashes of bright orange and blue.

PERRY ELLIS Perry Ellis designer John Crocco presented two words that carry all sorts of baggage - "leisure suits." Yet on the runway the loose, jacket-and-pant combinations stood out as a style worth wearing next spring.

Crocco envisions his beach-bound man adopting a relaxed attitude, mixing hoodie sweaters with those leisure suits, with their drawstring pants and unstructured jackets. He also offered tailored shorts in a longer board-short length and lace-up, hippie-style tops that worked well in knits and crinkled hemp but not in seersucker plaid.

Seersucker played an important role in this collection and other than that shirt, it worked well, seeming modern on a hip guy with a 5 o'clock shadow in a flared chino pant or unstructured sportcoat.

JULIE HAUS Julie Haus staged her first-ever runway show Friday as part of New York Fashion Week, attracting a front row that included Molly Sims, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Leighton Meester.

Meester, of TV's "Gossip Girl," was wearing a magenta version of a dress shown in blue on the catwalk. It was one of the best looks of the collection, with a ruffled halter neck and bare back.

Haus, however, didn't offer as many of her signature dainty cocktail dresses as one would expect. The young woman Haus imagines is confident enough to see the world on her own, borrowing bits of her look from Japan, China, New York and Paris. She wears rock 'n' roll T-shirt dresses, 1980s Day-Glo colors and also a pretty pastel mini trench coat.

ELIE TAHARI Elie Tahari was ready to start the New York Fashion Week party: His new collection, shown Thursday on the eve of the official kickoff of spring previews, is for the glamorous couple on vacation.

The clothes on a makeshift runway over the pool at the Four Seasons restaurant were relaxed but not rumpled. For women, there were loose silhouettes balanced with bareness, while men wore unfussy styles.

Long, sheer cocktail dresses in tropical floral prints doubled as cover-ups over bikinis, and slouchy pants tied at the ankle - bordering on harem pants - were paired with tube tops and tailored jackets.

The men wore polished white suits that were more European mogul than John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever," and trousers and ties were skinny all around.

ANGEL SANCHEZ The bright sun and muted sand of the Tropics came together in an ultramodern showroom as Venezuelan fashion designer Angel Sanchez previewed his spring collection.

A group of Sanchez's dresses were done in the washed pinks and browns - with pops of ocean blue - that one would see looking down at the beach. The best look was a sheath covered in the sheen of pailettes.

The contrast came from the eye-catching yellow used on several of the evening gowns. A dress with alternating white and yellow pieces of netting, fashioned into tubes that looked like blades of seagrass, was something entirely new - even to this sometimes-jaded audience of stylists, editors, retailers and big-spending customers.

RUBY SLIPPERS Fashion Week's opening celebration must have been imagined by a fashionista: Dorothy's 70-ear-old ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz" were redone by contemporary designers and landed in Saks Fifth Avenue's shoe department - which is big enough to have its own zip code.

A party Thursday showing off styles by the likes of Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik and Roger Vivier had as its centerpiece one of five pairs of slippers designed for the 1939 film by MGM costume designer Adrian Greenberg.

Stuart Weitzman thinks the Judy Garland film is a favorite of most shoe designers, including himself. "`The Wizard of Oz' along with `Cinderella' - and those two great pairs of shoes - hooks girls on them for life," he said.

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