The American translation: European designers left us open-mouthed; but in New York we wanted to open our wallets, says Marion Hume

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Indy Lifestyle Online
(Photographs omitted)

The New York shows come last. And that's significant. If a week is a long time in politics, then the month since Dolce e Gabbana and Gianni Versace first backed the buttock-skimming micro skirt in Milan is long enough in fashion to make sure of their appearance in the US collections.

This is not to say that the American big guns - Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren - stand ready, scissors in hand, to copy what has been seen in Europe. If it were that easy, we'd all be doing it - and we'd all have their billion-dollar businesses. A month is not long enough to design 120 outfits for a show, but it is plenty of time to introduce whatever is missing and knock out what no one else is offering in order to show how hip you are.

But the big difference is that the pervading themes from Europe emerge in America tempered with reality. The US version of the micro skirt is slightly longer because no affluent American woman is going to show her underwear at work. But nor can the skirts be too long: American women respond to what will make them look younger and, say the New York designers, a peppy, kicky, flirty little skirt will do the trick for spring.

There was a romantic mood in Europe; Joan of Arc in her fustian tunic, Grecian goddesses and wood nymphs, all flitted into view. In America, Joan wore the finest hopsack linen in a soft little dress, our goddess lost that train and the long white dress emerged as the alternative to the little black number. Wood nymphs gained a few more layers of satin and silk so they looked less insubstantial and more Seventh Avenue.

When Europe went tough, we saw hard-edged Ragga style in layers of trashy net with miniskirts and bras over the top. We saw Neo-punk, with its metallic fabrics, its rips and shreds. In America though, punk was cleaned up, spruced up, so that even Donna Karan's grown-ups could wear a hint of it.

But then, New York fashion isn't about the shock of the new and it isn't about fantasy. It is all about selling, and selling many times, worldwide.

Calvin Klein's honed-down simple vests, tunics and jackets of luscious silk mousseline, silk linen, cashmere and wool crpe will sell. His tiny, but not too tiny, double-layered tank dresses, his fluid printed-georgette dresses, his organza coats over elongated vests, were not shocking in the least and were desirable in the extreme. So, to those in a sporty mood, were Donna Karan's matt-grey anoraks and miniskirts that turned iridescent in the light of the torches she provided for us all.

As Coco Chanel once noted, 'Only those with no memory insist on their originality.' It's the timing and the spin you put on an idea that makes for a successful fashion collection, as Donna, Calvin and Ralph understand to perfection. But with lesser designers, the interpretation is sometimes so literal, it's cheeky. Such is the case of Liza Bruce, whose show looked as if the collections of Helmut Lang, Ann Demeulemeester and Katharine Hamnett had been put in the blender.

Alas, there is no easily enforceable copyright on a fashionable idea. There are no royalties. If there were, the cutting-edge innovators - including Lang, Galliano and Westwood - could start to plan for the beach house or the penthouse.

Instead, there is only one fast rule in fashion. If you sell, you win - and the Americans are winners. In Paris, in London, the excitement at the best shows is sometimes so tremendous it makes the heart race. But I rarely feel the urge to open my wallet. The opposite is the case for many of us at the New York shows: the heartbeats are regular and we feel like going shopping.