FASHION / Any Day Wear: Calvin Klein defined power-dressing in the Eighties. Now he's behind the move to simple, subtle dressing for the Nineties. Marion Hume looks at a designer precisely of his time

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THERE is one disadvantage to the work of Calvin Klein, and we should get this over with straight away. Once his clothes have been imported into Britain from New York, they become ferociously expensive. But this season, Klein's collection is particularly beautiful, defining the puritanical feeling that is influencing fashion now. Though he was in the forefront of power-dressing a decade ago, this season's Klein collection has no suggestion of dated, label-conscious 'designer wear'. The clothes would fit in anywhere and, thankfully, the main collection informs the Calvin Klein diffusion line, CK, in which the prices are a bit more manageable.

Calvin Klein is the American fashion designer, in that he, more than Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan, defines what is special about American clothes. Not for Klein the colonial / cowboy nostalgia which is the appeal of Ralph Lauren's clothes. Not for him the glamorised working woman who puts on a bit of glitz for night, which is the look that defines Donna Karan's success. Klein doesn't pore over history books any more than he dreams into the future. His are clothes for right here, right now.

American fashion has traditionally been about simplicity and wearability. The best of American style is sportswear, rather than extravagant evening wear - which is why the most over-the-top American glamour queens rarely wear 'American' to the Oscars. But they do wear American designs by day and for less ritzy nights, and so do scores of other high- profile women.

Calvin Klein does design a few evening dresses (usually something sheer with a bit of sparkle and totally unforgiving on anyone who isn't whippet-thin), but he doesn't concentrate on 'Occasion Clothes' any more than most lives are filled with 'Occasions'. Instead, he excels at clothes to go to work in, to catch a cab or a bus in; clothes to wear day- through-night, and clothes to stay at home in.

The mood of fashion is quiet now after the twin storms of glitz and grunge, and Calvin Klein, more than any designer anywhere, knows just how to translate his times into clothing. His unfussy garments fulfil the ideal of a tranquil life that most of us who live in cities (and these are urban clothes) don't have. You can see that the clothes in these pictures are simple and easy. What you can't see is how they feel: the weightlessness of the lambswool and angora coat over the chiffon dress, the ease with which the long plain dress in navy wool crepe slips around the body.

Klein is not an originator. His clothes - along with his hugely successful scents and his provocative advertising campaigns - have, rather, interpreted social trends in fashion. Think of a pubescent Brooke Shields wearing nothing under her Calvins (jeans) in early Eighties New York; or of the bodies-in-bed Obsession perfume ads at the height of Manhattan's love-affair with Studio 54. Think of the end of the Me Decade, when Klein dedicated Eternity (the perfume) to his new wife, Kelly, the new All-American Calvin Klein Woman. And think of the beginning of the Nineties when Klein, who admitted to a few wild weekends in his youth, was escaping upstate with Kelly and launching another perfume, Escape, to celebrate.

At his show for this autumn season, seen in New York earlier this year, Calvin Klein grabbed media attention by using older catwalk models such as Lauren Hutton. He wasn't the first to put grown-up women on the catwalk. In recent years there has been a groundswell of support for the older woman in a fashion world dominated by pubescent girls. But he was the one to do it at the optimum

moment. Of course, the designer-as-god has had his day, and designer dressing from head to toe complete with shiny laminated designer carrier-bag has gone with it. Now we mix and match; wear long or short as we choose, take old beloved pieces and mix them with new. Women do still wear designer clothes from head to toe, of course - it just doesn't look so obvious any more.

Calvin Klein has grasped that. The clothes you see here have been fingered, longingly, shamelessly by those who couldn't afford them, including the fashion department of this newspaper. The coats have been slipped on enviously. So, too have the dresses. We come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Take it from all of us, absolutely the only thing against these clothes is the price. -

(Photographs omitted)