Strapless in NYC

Splitting at the seams on Fifth Avenue put Tamsin Blanchard at the cutting edge of off-the-shoulder cool for New York's spring-summer shows
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Indy Lifestyle Online
A funny thing happened between the spring/summer '97 shows of Calvin Klein and Donna Karan in New York last week. The fine, baby pink ribbon strap of my three-season-old Helmut Lang slip-dress broke. I must have been pounding my way up Fifth Avenue for quite some time before I realised that the dress had become somewhat asymmetric at the hem, and altogether one-shouldered at the top.

Without even trying, I had suddenly become the height of fashion a whole season early: according to New York's designers, the dress of next summer will be one-armed and cut at a very sharp and modern angle at the hem. But I could not help being thankful for the security of two straps: having your dress falling to your ankles when a single, lonely thread can no longer take the strain must be one of life's more embarrassing moments.

Even before the strap on my tired old dress had snapped, by the end of Calvin Klein's show it was given a new lease of life. His collection - inspired, he said, by the work of Ellsworth Kelly and Jasper John - made accessible, commercial and wearable the stark, modernist Lang aesthetic, as well as that of Hussein Chalayan, the British-based designer.

The difference is that Klein's take on stark modernism will sell and sell. Fine jersey T-shirts that hug the body were layered over one another in electric blue and white, black and tomato red, or red and canary yellow.

Paper nylon was made into streamlined slip dresses and the only interruption of the strong colour blocks and severe lines were the gentleness of soft georgette falling in a single point at the hem or an orchid print on a double-layered dress.

New York's designers were in agreement with Newsweek's verdict that London is cool again. There was more than a smattering of inspiration drawn from the catwalks of British designers, mainly from man of the moment Alexander McQueen. Donna Karan's new young line, D for DKNY, made reference to McQueen's sharp, shiny tailoring, while Richard Tyler, who presented his collection to an intimate few in his own grand mansion house on Gramercy Park, slashed a jacket down the back and along the elbows without quite catching McQueen's anarchic spirit.

Tyler's collection was one of his best, with ethereal, finely beaded evening wear, romantic frills and pleats, and immaculate hand-finishing. A flesh camisole dress and fine, delicate pink chiffon jacket looked like one-off antiques, a relief after so many collections which revel in their mass production.

Ralph Lauren also gave pieces in his African Masai collection a hand- finished, one-off look with hand-painted suede evening dresses, heavy antique-looking leather belts, halter-neck scarf dresses and wrap tops. Lauren has the common touch that makes rich Upper East Side women flock into his store to snap up suede trousers and crisp shirts. He is like a good MOR rock star: dependable, easy and slick. His solution to dressing for next summer is wear a fancy gold latticework evening gown, but throw over a safari jacket so you feel relaxed and at ease, all part of the happy, apple pie-eating American experience.

For the hip daughters of the Ralph-loving uptown girls, there are the downtown designers Anna Sui and Marc Jacobs. Sui seems incapable of moving on from designing collections that might have been put together after a day's shopping at Camden Market, while Jacobs is moving on up into the big time with a contract to design the luxury clothing line for Louis Vuitton on the cards. His was a collection of simple, relevant sportswear with the sort of pretty, uncluttered, sparkly evening wear Kate Moss likes for Hollywood parties. Another name to watch on the younger, downtown circuit is Dublin-born Daryl K with her country and western inspired collection of easy tailoring and jersey separates.

"That's so pretty," mouthed singer kd lang to her girlfriend on the front row of the hugely influential younger Prada line, Miu Miu show. The girlfriend was dressed in Prada chiffon evening dress and diamond-print jacket topped off with one of kd's cowboy hats.

On the catwalk, there were fishermen's tunics in cornflower blue or raspberry worn over trousers cropped below the knee, Thirties' Chinese print dresses and, best of all, stiff long ball skirts in upholstery fabrics worn with fishermen's jumpers. The finishing touch was mid-calf socks and flesh- coloured court shoes worn throughout.

The dress was the main component of many of the collections. At Ghost, they were light and floaty with asymmetric hems and empire lines or cowl drapes held up by one or two delicate straps. Donna Karan's were jersey, slashed with one sleeve, or bias-cut, backless and body hugging. Hems were cut diagonally and for evening there were rich bronze and gold devores in satin.

Karan likes to accessorise with heavy amber necklaces or huge crystal rings in an attempt to make her collections a more spiritual and earthy experience than merely an exercise in selling great quantities of clothes, perfume and cosmetics n