THE train crashes out of the darkness into the light of the Metro. A disturbingly good- looking young man in black flips up the door handle, jumps on to the platform and hurries up the stairs. Marcel Marongiu, a fashion designer of boundless energies, is on the move.

It seems that 1993 will be the year when fashion designers forsake their ivory towers for ever. There are signs that the new names are all for rolling up their sleeves and getting practical. Few of them have airs and graces. Even fewer boast chauffeur- driven cars or enjoy lavish soirees in upmarket restaurants. Maybe the fact that Marongiu takes the Metro round town is a sign of the times.

The feeling is that designers such as Marongiu are the future of fashion. And that 1993 could be his - and their - year. Whichever way you look at it, the fashion world is in for a tumultuous 12 months. The old guard are in turmoil. The luxury fashion houses are struggling to stay in profit. The couture market is in crisis. And, perhaps most relevant of all, the designers who have dominated fashion for more than a decade are running out of ideas. Let us prepare the way, then, for the new generation. In truth, many of them have been around for a few years already, but they are coming good (in both commercial and pure design terms) at about the same time.

Marongiu, a confident, intense 30-year- old, makes a good spokesman, not least because he speaks his mind. In common with many other new names, he has a hearty suspicion of ostentation and pretension. When we finally get down to a formal interview, he takes me to a cafe round the corner from his studio for an omelette and beer.

The important point Marongiu wants to make about his attitude to fashion is this: the clothes we buy should illuminate, rather than disguise, our personalities. 'I'm fed up with the idea of clothes used as armour. I think and hope that my generation doesn't need to fake it with clothes.'

Marongiu thinks designers need to concentrate more on making clothes and less on imagery. 'The problem is that the models and the photographers have become more important than the clothes. I don't like the crazy shows by people like Gaultier and Westwood. The clothes should do the talking.' He stabs at a hunk of mushroom omelette. 'The best designers make clothes that are interesting, but can sell and can be worn. In the end, we have to think of the poor woman in the shop who wants to buy clothes that she can wear.'

All good common-sense stuff, of course, but often forgotten in the feverish world of designer fashion. Marongiu's design priorities are shape and silhouette rather than elaborate details and bright colours. His spring collection puts the emphasis on layers: long, wrapped, high-waisted skirts, pinstripe waistcoats and maxi-waistcoats, wrap skirts and tops, shirt-vest combinations, and stretch jersey knitwear.

He spends much of his time developing new fabrics: for spring, there are stretch jackets in a crumpled, battered-look, tie-dye fabric that mixes linen, cotton and Lycra.

Marongiu is Franco-Swedish. He worked in fashion illustration in Stockholm before setting up his own business in Paris in the mid-Eighties. The mix of nationalities in the new wave of designers confirms that the fashion boundaries are expanding beyond the Paris-Milan-London triangle.

Of the other new names, Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester are both from Belgium and Helmut Lang from Austria. Jean Colonna is from France via Algeria. Britain's most influential retailers are taking the new wave very seriously indeed. This coming spring, Joseph is stocking Margiela, Marongiu and Demeulemeester for the first time. Browns, the South Molton Street fashion institution, is bringing in Margiela, Demeulemeester and Lang. Lyn Gardner, buyer for Square in Bath, was the first to buy Marongiu. 'The new designers have an exciting spirit, but they are not too young and trendy. I can sell Marongiu to a 40-year-old as well as a 20-year-old.'

Joseph Ettedgui, the London retailer, senses a new mood. 'I've been waiting a long time for this. Some of the big names are over-exposed; the time is right for new designers to come through.'

They are well placed because they understand how the market has changed. They started up their businesses when the spend, spend, spend mood of the Eighties was already on the wane. As Marongiu puts it: 'I began when times were tough. I'm making clothes for my generation, which doesn't have loads of money to spend on fashion.'

He believes designers have a responsibility not to short-sell their customers. 'People are very insecure. Some designers take advantage of that. But you've got to have respect for the consumer. Otherwise, why should they buy my clothes?'

Marcel Marongiu spring collection available from late January at: Whistles, 12-14 St Christopher's Place, London W1; 15 Princes Square, Glasgow; 9 High Street, Oxford; Jones, 13 Floral Street, London WC2; Joseph, 77 Fulham Rd, London SW3; Square, 3-4 The Corridor, Bath.

(Photograph omitted)

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