New York Fashion Week kicks off a day early

Atmosphere at Jonathan Cohen Presentation during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2015 at Triple A Loft on Sept. 3, 2014, in New York. Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

New York Fashion Week kicked off a day early Wednesday with a heavy breathing show of strength and style from the performance brand Athleta, a salute to the fashion challenges of returning U.S. servicewomen and models tucked into the horse-drawn carriages of Central Park.

More than 100 designers are scheduled to show their spring-summer 2015 collections in the Mercedes-Benz tents at Lincoln Center and other New York venues. The eight-day event kicks off the season, with the industry moving on to London, followed by Milan and Paris, when the New York shows conclude.

At Athleta's show, a flying female tethered to wires did some air running above a stark white stage at the activewear company's first-ever -- and high energy -- show. She was joined by breakdancers, yoga stretchers and mini-trampoline jumpers in printed and solid tights, running pants, athletic bras, sweatshirts and a new dry-down technology the brand has just put into quilted vests and bomber jackets.

The idea, Athleta officials said, is to give active women more options for all-day dressing as they transition from workout to grocery shopping to school pickup or the office.

"Her life is always constantly in motion and so she wants a more versatile product that is not overtly fashion or overtly activewear," senior design director Nancy Taylor said backstage of the company's core customer.

Versatile performance wear is on trend as more fashion houses experiment with high-tech fabrics.

One sound example for Athleta is the company's city jogger pant, which would transition well through evening if paired with the right top. On the performance side, the company has put stretch insulation into jackets and other outerwear for warmth and better mobility in the arms, said Athleta President Nancy Green.

The typical Athleta customer "wants to be relevant. She cares about style but she doesn't want to change her clothes five times a day," Green said.

Soft pants are a big part of the trend, she said. The city jogger pant is high-stretch and lightweight, made of a fabric Athleta had already been using for shorts. And they've added more lightweight jackets to last season's moto quilted down, using a proprietary feather treatment Green said will stay dry against sweat.

Also Wednesday, the Couture Council of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology honored Carolina Herrera with the 2014 Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion. Ralph Lauren, Renee Zellweger and Lucy Liu were among the attendees at the Lincoln Center luncheon.

"Salute the Runway," a show featuring current and former military women as part of an initiative to raise awareness of the fashion and style challenges they face when transitioning back to civilian life, was scheduled to take place Wednesday evening.

Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Carmen Marc Valvo and Mara Hoffman were among designers who contributed wardrobe staples for the show, including the iconic little black dress. The "Salute the Runway" initiative has put on fashion shows on military bases in Texas, Washington state and elsewhere.

A last-minute addition to Wednesday's early bird slate: Victor de Souza, who has dressed Rihanna, Madonna and Lady Gaga, decided to put seven models in horse-drawn carriages for a moveable fashion show through Central Park on Wednesday night.

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