NEW YORK (AP) - The runways at New York Fashion Week carved a path through the woods _ sometimes literally.
Michael Kors had a wooden runway lined with boxwood for his sunny nature-inspired show on Wednesday, which featured a "shredded shrub" fabric. At Rodarte, dresses mimicked tree bark and wood paneling.
But nature was evident even in ways that were less obvious _ in natural, textured fabrics like gauze, silk and linen.
"It's all very natural and easy and it's all being mixed: chiffon, gauze, leather, suede, hemp and linen. It's an interesting take on what you find in nature," said Joe Zee, creative director for Elle magazine.
The earthy feel goes with the easy feeling that has prevailed at the spring Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week previews that run through Thursday. The fashion flock then moves on to London, Paris and Milan.
Bells and whistles can mask many things in fashion: sketchy tailoring, stale ideas and figure flaws. Simplicity done well, like Michael Kors turned out Wednesday, means everything else has to be perfect.
"It's all about the way you cut it, the texture ... You can't hide behind ruching and ruffles. But I love simplicity when it's right," Kors said backstage just after his "Sunshine State of Mind" collection debuted on the runway. The words he used to describe the look that included a daffodil-yellow cashmere tank dress, a crinkly hemp linen tunic, a white gauze pullover and matching sarong skirt that looked like something the long, lithe model just tossed on in the casually chic way models often do.
The fluid gabardine trench over a stone-colored pullover and floaty linen gauze skirt captured the easy elegance that editors, stylists and retailers are buzzing about as the big message from the spring collections.
The shoes were mostly flat buff-colored sandals. Kors said he was tired of seeing women in heels tucking an extra pair of shoes into their bags; the solution is stylish flats.
Really, no one had to go farther than the entrance of the Marchesa Fashion Week presentation at the Chelsea Art Museum to see "the dress."
It was a huge black-and-white tulle confection decorated in a hand-painted floral motif.
"One morning, Georgina (Chapman) came into the office and said, `I think we should start the show with the finale,'" said the label's co-founder Keren Craig.
She could have had her choices: Other feats presented Wednesday that seem destined for the red carpet were a mint-colored, hand-pleated mini with jadelike embellishment; a pearl-colored, all-embroidered dress with a lacelike effect; and a fully sculpted strapless gown made of a midnight-stained organza with flower details and painted illustrations.
The full change in fashion's favorite silhouette from the aggressive, tight shape of just a season or two ago to a looser, more languid look couldn't have been more obvious than on the Narciso Rodriguez runway.
His spring collection was feminine and sultry, yet it never lost sight of the strong woman underneath.
Sarah Jessica Parker and Courtney Love were among those in his front row. Love had to put her glasses on to get a better view.
The delicacy of Rodriguez's spaghetti straps _ make that angel hair _ on the last few slip dresses was masterful.
Rodriguez has made architectural styles his signature, and they were still a driving force here, but there was an overall mellowing in line with the trends that have dominated New York Fashion Week. And, strategic use of champagne-colored fabrics were used as he hit the bareness-without-skin trend.
Curvy girls walked a Lincoln Center runway Wednesday in clothes that accented their real-life silhouettes during New York Fashion Week's first-ever show exclusively for plus sizes.
Turned away from the official Mercedes Benz tents, sponsor OneStopPlus.com presented "Belle Epoque" just down the street above Jazz at Lincoln Center, drawing some of the most visible inspirations for girls and women of size _ Nikki Blonsky, KayCee Stroh and Gabourey Sidibe among them.
Models representing the low end of the plus spectrum (sizes 12 to 16) showed off one-shoulder goddess dresses and bouquet-print blouses, belted shirt dresses, cropped jackets in leather and lace sheaths.
"It's, like, finally!" said Stroh, who played Martha Cox in the "High School Musical" franchise. "Designers make good clothes, but who's going to wear them?"
"It's a very, very big step in acceptance of people of size," said Sidibe, the Oscar nominee for "Precious," of Wednesday's show. "We obviously buy a lot of clothes."
Like no one else at New York Fashion Week, Tory Burch is her own customer, and there were 20 Burch lookalikes on the runway Wednesday at her presentation.
Not that the models all had her bouncy blond hair or just-golden skin, but you could imagine Burch in each and every outfit there. There were striped pantsuits for business meetings, a tiered white linen dress topped with a bone-colored leather blazer for luncheons, and a nubbly Baja hoodie for weekends.
Kanye West was there, wandering in search of Burch to congratulate her. "I saw Tory before, but that was before I saw it. I have to find Tory again now that I've seen the collection."
Vera Wang typically specializes in artful, romantic styles, which might give one pause when she cites as inspiration Quentin Tarantino's violent "Kill Bill."
But Wang, in her notes, said it was a "fusion of East meets West, with a mixture of boyish urban sophistication and romantic otherworldly sensuality."
Wang's dresses were her best offerings, including a red silk-tulle gown with a high neck and hand-ruched draping over a bustier, and a gray jersey dress with twisted pleats and a sheer organza back drape.
She conducted a worthwhile experiment with a rolled "welted" cuff that she added to shorts and, even more successfully, to the collar of a jersey tunic that was paired with a high-waisted skirt that had twisting pleats. But Wang's high-waisted pant with a pleated front, skinnier legs and, there's no other way to say this, dropped crotch, might need to revisit the drawing board.
Max Azria has lightened up his dresses for the Herve Leger brand. Azria tweaked the skintight banded dresses to include light pinks, off-whites and beige to create a chic sexiness.
Azria said the sexiness of the signature dresses comes from the corsetry. When he's designing them, he thinks of a beautiful woman who "wants to be sexy and classic."
The clothes were definitely sexy. A nude color sleeveless dress had netting around the neck area and at the hip to reveal skin. A black dress of perforated leather and bands had cutouts. A peach dress played peek-a-boo with mesh. There was also a sweet pink strapless dress with pink and cream lines running down it, and dresses with woven straps that revealed skin.
Bill Blass made its return to New York Fashion Week with designer Jeffrey Monteiro at the creative helm, with a small, quiet collection for spring _ pretty but not a lot of flash.
That might be an intentional move, considering there have been several high-profile attempts _ and flameouts _ at returning the house to its place on the designer floors of department stores since Blass left the company in 1999 and, in 2002, died.
Monteiro said that color and texture were already on his mind when he found a photography book from the 1970s about South African tribal culture. It's from there that he added a raffia dress and a red-based striped tribal gown.
"I'd like to think I bring a youthfulness and a lightness to the collection. Mr. Blass did that, too, but I bring my spirit and my eye to it," Monteiro said.
3.1 PHILLIP LIM
The atmosphere at the 3.1 Phillip Lim show was austere and dark, but the clothes were demure and feminine.
Large white abstract sculptures were laid out on the huge wooden floor that the models walked on. In his show notes Lim quoted singer Charlotte Gainsbourg: "She walks crooked and paints her eyelids blue ... dandie-lion, I wanna go there too."
And there were blues but also black, tan, nude, taupe and some copper. Some fabrics were very languid and there was lots of layering. Some skirts looked like they had panels on them.
AP writers Lisa Orkin and Leanne Italie contributed to this report.