* Semi-annual New York Fashion Week opens
* Relaxed styles in luxury materials such as silk, leather
* Consumers willing to spend - but carefully (Updates with fashion show by Nicholas K)
By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK, Sept 6 Pajama styles, track pants and bomber jackets are the trends that top U.S. department store buyers expect to see on the runways at New York's Fashion Week that started on Thursday - a relaxed chic they say was inspired by the London Olympics.
More than 80 designers will show collections for the spring/summer 2013 season as part of the semi-annual event. Many of the shows take place at Manhattan's Lincoln Center as part of the official Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, while dozens more labels will parade their collections elsewhere in the city.
Dresses are likely to feature strongly on the runway, but buyers say this season will be all about sporty separates.
"The Olympics were probably on many designers' minds when they were designing these collections ... so we will see sporty jackets and track pants and some athletic inspirations," said Colleen Sherin, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue.
The excitement generated by the summer Olympics inspired designers to focus on comfort and ease, but while the athletes in London donned Spandex and cotton, designers will instead use luxurious materials such as leather and silk.
"It's hard to deny that everyone has been paying attention to the Olympics. We've been looking at these fit and healthy individuals and all these interesting sporty silhouettes," said Ken Downing, fashion director of Neiman Marcus.
"But it's not the idea of wearing casual clothes in casual fabrics. It's often this movement about doing something with a relaxed sensibility, with less structure, but often doing it in a very luxe fabric," said Downing, dubbing it "relaxed chic."
Sporty bomber and motorcycle jackets are expected to feature in a variety of fabrics and prints. "It's a jacket moment," Downing said.
Indeed, the first model to walk the runway on Thursday for New York-based design house Nicholas K sported a bomber jacket in supple beige leather. Other jackets - safari, cargo, cropped and swinging - dominated the casual spring line by Nicholas K, the first designer to show this season at the Fashion Week tents at Lincoln Center.
Despite rocky stock markets and worries that the Euro zone financial crisis and global economy could dampen luxury spending, consumers are still willing to shop. Consumer spending makes up about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.
"The customer is very savvy. She's willing to pay for the quality and something that looks like the price tag that's attached to it," said Downing.
COLOR REFLECTING OPTIMISM
As the United States slowly recovers from its worst recession in decades, Sherin said customers are more thoughtful.
"That is just how people shop now. They look for items they can wear several different ways, where there's a multi-use factor that they can certainly wear more than once," she said.
Color can grab consumers' attention, and department store buyers said they hope to see lots of it in New York.
"Fashion is reflective of and responsive to the times," said Barneys New York Senior Fashion Director Tomoko Ogura. "At the moment, I think people are looking for optimistic ways of dressing and infusing bright happy colors is an easy way to accomplish this.
"I expect to see soft spring shades with shocks of brighter, more saturated tones," she said. "Blue and ocean colors will also play a significant role in spring's color palette."
Sak's Sherin said she expects to see shades of yellow and green and bright blue, while Neiman Marcus' Downing predicted that lace would feature prominently.
"Lace brings a lovely romantic spirit, and it gives an instant femininity to everything it's incorporated into," Downing said. "Designers are really paying attention to what emotionally women gravitate to. Women love lace, there's no denying it."
When it comes to dresses, Downing says it will be a tale of two silhouettes - tight-fitting and loose cuts. Dresses remain popular because women can skip the extra, sometimes more costly, step of coordinating skirts or pants with a blouse or T-shirt.
But what expected runway trends may not work?
"Head-to-toe pajama dressing," said Saks Sherin. "It needs to be broken up.
"In the real world we need to show women how they can incorporate a piece into their look. Not head to toe, unless you're Hugh Hefner," she said.
Fashion Week in New York is followed by events in London, Paris and Milan. (Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing Jackie Frank and Vicki Allen)