By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Designers from around the globe unveil their latest looks at New York Fashion Week beginning on Thursday, when hordes of fashion buyers, watchers and lovers assemble to see what will be au courant for spring.
Design houses are staging hundreds of shows 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.
Some of first lady Michelle Obama's favorites known for their wearable looks - Tracy Reese, Jason Wu and J. Crew - are showing as well.
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 sheath tops, 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.
The trend recalls the 1990s, said Ken Downing, fashion director at 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 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.
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 the show by Nicholas K, kicking off the week of shows in tents erected at Lincoln Center, 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.
A mix of high and low hems will continue from recent seasons, Downing said. Skirts will be either long or mini, and pants will be more plentiful than dresses.
"Keep your eye open for the backpack," he added. "We've seen it hovering, quietly, slowly emerging ... and I am thoroughly ready to see the backpack come on with great enthusiasm."
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. (Editing by Xavier Briand and Doina Chiacu)