New York! New York! It's a wonderful town - especially if you like cashmere, charcoal grey and comfortable trousers. And there's nothing wrong with that, says Tamsin Blanchard
The difference between fashion in America and in fashion in Europe is that the European designer creates; the American designer markets and merchandises.

The main considerations in America are, "Will it sell?" and "How many licences can I sell under my name?" while French and British designers will ask themselves, "Is it new?" or "Will this dress challenge the wearer?" In Europe, there is fashion. In the US, there are simply clothes.

Calvin Klein is the king of clothing. He may be aware of the creative work of Helmut Lang in Paris or Jil Sander in Hamburg, but he does not want to burden his customer with unnecessarily difficult shapes or intellectual challenges. This is cloth and thread, after all, not oil and canvas. For Autumn '97, his collection is divided into straightforward categories: the coat, the jacket, the dress, the T-shirt. What could be easier?

The opening outfit in Calvin Klein's collection was a charcoal grey, felted cashmere coat worn with a matching skirt - an outfit pure in line, luxurious in fabric, and a dream to wear. There is nothing difficult or tricksy about it. After all, when the high-flying Calvin Klein woman gets dressed in the morning, she does not want to have a confrontation with her wardrobe. She wants easy pieces that work well together and flatter and fit. And why not?

She can choose from a good grey flannel suit with wide, comfortable trousers, and a simple, one-piece wool dress in neutral tones or vivid tangerine. She can wear a fitted leather jacket with wool trousers, or she can get seriously attached to a sleek, long-sleeved T-shirt.

Charcoal grey is the new chocolate brown. For some reason, there seems to have been a run on the colour, whether in cashmere, wool or chiffon. Marc Jacobs, New York's not-so-young star who is in the process of designing the first-ever luxury clothing range for Louis Vuitton, sent his version of the grey trouser-suit down the runway to whoops and applause from the audience. It wasn't that good, but Jacobs is the golden boy of New York, considered hip because he has a new, shaggy haircut and friends called Kate, Naomi and Shalom - rather than because he designs clothes worth their $1,000-plus price tags.

Jacobs spent the night after his show at Jackie 60, the vaguely underground night-club in the meat-packing district. The theme for the night was punk, and regulars had decked themselves out in ripped Union Jack T-shirts, leather jeans and spiky hair. The drag kings stuck to their frocks and high heels, thank you, watching a surreal Sid and Nancy cabaret act on stage.

Daryl K, the Irish-born designer, had obviously pogoed at a punk theme night, too. The designer, who identifies with the rough and ready East Village, rather than Madison Avenue, showed a collection of easy sports wear, on punk-haired, kohl-eyed aggressive models, that was high on energy but still predictably wearable and sellable. K, short for Kerrigan, has a strong following and backing from Japan, and a growing presence in Europe, too. Her hooded track suit tops, combat trousers and distressed Goth dresses are priced with a young, funky clientele in mind. Unlike most of the designers who showed last week, Daryl K's signature smacks of downtown Manhattan and takes inspiration from the clubs and streets, rather than from the catwalks of London, Paris and Milan.

A good investment for next season would be a soft black kohl eye-pencil. The cheapest way of "updating" your wardrobe back to the Eighties is to draw heavy lines around your eyes. Daryl K's was punk/Goth; Anna Sui has been busy rediscovering her CDs by The Cure, and Siouxie and the Banshees; Donatella Versace has been catching up on early Blondie. Her collection for Versus included a touch of bondage and a lot of leather for short skirts, wide-shouldered jackets and bandeau tops. In Paris, Martine Sitbon has already explored the Goth theme that she has been playing with since the early Eighties. In New York, the British label Ghost took up where Sitbon left off, with dark make-up, thorny prints and distressed devore.

The Australian designer Richard Tyler showed two collections last week: Collection (very expensive) and Couture [CHK sked] (ridiculously expensive). Tyler does a lot of business in Los Angeles. His tailoring is sleek and slick, while his evening dresses are sheer and sexy. Shoulders were wide, another aspect of the Eighties that has come back to haunt all those who thought they had only just left them behind. Ralph Lauren revived the power shoulder as well, showing herringbone jackets combined with pinstriped pants so wide they would flap in the wind. There were power skirts too, short and tight, with shiny, hard, chrome accessories, including metal belts and shoes with chrome heels, apparently inspired by the Chrysler building's Art Deco architecture.

Lauren is the archetypal American designer, giving uptown women exactly what they want to wear. His suits, skirts, jeans, short dresses and coats, in luxurious black or gunmetal leather, look - and are - expensive. The designer also played with the cliched old Victor Victoria theme. Ralph must have been Julie Andrews' guest of honour at the musical now playing on Broadway. But the Marlene Dietrich smoking-suit looked a little too contrived, even if women are smoking cigars in bars up and down Manhattan.

The other great showbiz designer, Isaac Mizrahi, who should really be on the stage, played a similar game to Lauren with mismatched jackets and trousers (wide and mannish again), sparkly evening wear, and smoking- suits. Mizrahi's take on masculine dressing, shown in a derelict old theatre west of Broadway, was more relaxed, and less uptight than Ralph's.

One of the most powerful women of them all, Donna Karan, also played a game of role-reversal, stealing her husband's trousers and wearing them with a soft cardigan jacket, or a cashmere sweater thrown nonchalantly off one shoulder. She also took the trouser shape and sewed the legs together to make a long hobble skirt. The bleached, rusted and burnt velvet strappy dresses Donna shows for evening are beginning to look tired now. Nevertheless, Donna Karan showed three collections last week, her signature line, DKNY, and D, a new bridge line that is now into its second season of diluting the collections of brighter, sharper, European designers.

Along with Calvin and Ralph, both of whom are opening stores in London over the next 12 months, Donna Karan is a queen of licensing. Sun-glasses, perfume, moisturiser, shoes and tights are just a few of the ways to make mega-bucks from selling a name. From Calvin Klein, who showed his home collection to the fashion press, coming to the UK soon, there is even a salt-and-pepper set.

Last week, another name entered the fray, a blast from the past that will soon be available in every shopping mall in middle America and beyond: Halston. The designer, who was a key member of the Studio 54 set and who dressed Bianca Jagger and Lisa Minnelli for the best party years of their lives, died in 1990. The Halston name, or simply the letter H, as the designer was known, has been resurrected in the form of a marketing strategy that promises to be massive. The first collection, designed by Randolph Duke, was a hit, a perfect combination of H's signature jersey dresses, spiral cuttings and glamorous evening wear, designed with a modern eye so as not to look like the costumes from the forthcoming Studio 54 movie. So if you already have a knicker drawer full of labels bearing the letters CK, DKNY, and RL, make room for the letter H.

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