Fashion: We'll take Manhattan by storm

Even a hurricane could not stop New York Fashion Week, where McQueen produced the American dream wardrobe.

Bigger, better, bolder... New York Fashion Week kicked off the spring/ summer 2000 collections last week in Manhattan. And what a week! First, a rabid mosquito infestation threatened to suck its way through the residents of the Upper East Side of the city and was duly attacked with pesticides. Then a so-called hurricane, by the name of Floyd, threatened to wipe out the second half of fashion week, but petered out, leaving nothing but giant puddles. As if all this obsessing over bugs and the elements wasn't American enough, attending the shows was like being inside the pages of the Hollywood equivalent of Hello! - such was the roll call of stars lining the front rows. No-one could possibly forget they were in the good old US of A.

And the designers didn't want you to forget it either, as flag-waving Americana became a major trend of the week. First was Tommy Hilfiger's red, white and blue collection in Madison Square Garden, a legendary US sports arena, where even the models' make-up - scarlet lipstick, sapphire eyeshadow and dazzling white teeth - reflected the US flag. From the rodeo-inspired, fringed jeans and cowboy boots inscribed "Tommy Rocks", to the Evil Knevil motocross leathers encrusted with glitter stars, Hilfiger's message was clear - "Yeee-ha! Ameri-ca".

Then came Ralph Lauren, the original king of collegiate clothes, re- packaging the uniform inspired by State-side style icons. Miss American Pie featured strongly in red and white gingham checks for the weekend, Wall Street pinstripes for the city, and rodeo leathers - punched out to look like lace - for the ranch. When Lauren, the designer who best represents the American dream, - he started out selling ties in a department store before rocketing to fame as America's biggest selling designer - came on stage at the show's end, it was only fitting he should be wearing a cowboy shirt, jeans and Cuban heeled boots.

The most surprising star-spangled event was when British star, Alexander McQueen, dropped his jeans at his curtain-call to reveal boxer shorts printed with the US flag. The gesture spoke volumes - evidently signalling his affection for New York, and yet also saying: "I'll take Manhattan... but on my own terms, thank you." McQueen also sent his models out in cool red, white and blue sportswear, complete with satin athletic shorts, vests and capes - looking like the girls who hold up numbered cards between rounds at boxing matches. McQueen is so astute at playing the media, with his air-born levitation sequence and his rather more unexpected homage to Americana, that he will no doubt generate those all-important front covers on the influential US glossies and so expand his business across the Atlantic - which is, after all, the point.

Americana continued apace with the big jeans trend. The country that brought us denim workwear will see to it that the jeans industry is revitalised, if only at the designer end of the market. Marc Jacobs, was the first to reclaim them from Gap and put them on the catwalk. His deluxe denim - cut into skinny drainpipes, some with big turn-ups; sun dresses; or cropped and fitted biker jackets - was some of the best, certainly the coolest of the week. If the pieces themselves were strict and simple in shape, the Western details were in the complex seams, white on a background of cherry, faded tan or blue, or piped with scarlet. Jacobs even branded his new line with a Sixties-style sun-burst motif, on back pockets or blown up across an entire A-line skirt - the fashion luvvies scribbled down orders there and then.

It was extraordinary that old-timers Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera - who share the same polished and coiffed, chauffeur-driven clientele - should offer denim as the way forward for spring/summer 2000, albeit in prim dresses and slacks with embroidered cut-outs. But Anna Sui could, and should, make a fortune selling hip-hugging jeans sprinkled with sweet rose-buds to her avid downtown bohemian fans, just as Daryl Kerrigan, the Irish designer based in New York, will profit from her skinny, low- slung leather jeans - ideal urban warrior gear.

As for Donatella Versace, anyone on the celebrity checklist - including Madonna's daughter, Lourdes, who sat beside her mother on the front row decked out in Versace Couture - will no doubt ditch the Levi's and wear Versus instead.

The thing that most readily sprang to mind by the close of New York Fashion Week, was how brilliantly the American designers coped with dressing down for dinner. Now that fashion's remit is to play down dressing up, it was still a surprise that ballgowns and pant-suits never made it on to a single catwalk in the city that used to offer nothing but.

Michael Kors summed it up with a lemon cricket sweater; flesh-coloured bejewelled trousers, and paper-fine leather jackets with beach-style zebra print shorts. Calvin Klein ensured no purchaser of his clothes would go out on the town looking remotely "done up" as his collection remains steadfastly pure and minimal. Donna Karan issued gauzy veils of romantic chiffon or kimono shirts - great for a party - but worn with simple every-day black trousers. And John Bartlett put sex into his eveningwear, that was apparently to be worn in office hours, with his gold bugle beaded Twenties-style flapper dresses worn over cigarette trousers and accessorised with wide cavalry belts slung around hips and neon yellow spike heals.

It was interesting to witness the British invasion of New York. If McQueen's show, the highlight of the week, showed off Britain's best loved avant- garde fashion - presented like a blockbuster movie set - in only the way an East End lad can, Nicole Farhi showed the business-building side of Brit-fashion, not only with a purely wearable collection but with her new emporium uptown - the size of an aircraft hangar - that's bound to be a hit with all those well-groomed Manhattanites. As for Tanya Sarne of Ghost, when she did eventually get to show her collection - rescheduled due to Floyd - she showed Brits can also put on a judicious display of directional, yet commercial clothes.

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