New York Fashion: The catwalk of extremes: super-straight or just weird

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It may bear a a famous label and a hot price-tag, but is it fit for the catwalk? Tamsin Blanchard reports from New York on brand-name knickers, cashmere Ts and `consumer product'.

Photographs by

Andrew Thomas

Only in America can a designer's "belief in track pants, sweatshirts, jerseys and warm-up gear" be the major influence on a collection. Only here could a designer present a collection entirely devoid of ideas or trends, and be proud of it.

Great designers in New York do not make fashion. The clothes are way down in the priority list. First comes volume of sales. Second comes corporate image. Third comes advertising. Somewhere at the bottom come the clothes. Ralph Lauren, whose underwear has only just been launched in the UK, reported profits up more than a third. But his $400m business is about "consumer product": a grey marl vest, a suede shirt, a satin slip that Marks & Spencer's lingerie designers would have given more thought to.

Unlike fashion in Paris, Milan and London, mainstream fashion in New York is about brand-name knickers, tights, and T-shirts for everyone. In this city you are applauded if you send a T-shirt down the runway. But not any old T. Only cashmere will do (or cashmink, if the label reads Marc Jacobs). If you hadn't paid pounds 1,000 for the suit, or pounds 300 for the silk jogging top, you would think them totally unremarkable.

Calvin Klein's "belief" in sportswear manifested itself in variations on a tracksuit in cashmere and parachute silk. For Calvin, the "all-American white shirt in crisp cotton" is enough of a statement on its own, and was about as formal as the easy-to-wear collection got. His silk dresses were so light, they threatened to carry the wearer away at the slightest gust of wind.

"Everything is looking the same," said Paul Smith, in town to show his womenswear collection. "It's all marketing led". Smith's Mediterranean de-luxe collection featured better tailoring than anything on the American catwalks. Many pieces are hand-finished for individuality.

"How can I compete when Jigsaw has a John Pawson shop in Bond Street? I want to make clothes that are hard to imitate."

Iris floral photo-prints, specially commissioned lace made by a Spanish curtain factory, and shirts with cuffs edged in piping, have sold well, proving that clothes do not have to be bland to be a commercial hit.

There were, however, a few novelty turns. Anna Sui showed her usual mad mix of prints, thrift and teen spirit.

Todd Oldham, who is also responsible for the German label Escada, uses his own label to show an aimless mishmash of glamour clothes more fit for drag queens than for real women. Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Julia Roberts seemed impressed, though. Sarandon mouthed the word "unbelievable" as a long, silver dress, beaded top to toe in a few hundredweight of metal splinters, worked its way down the runaway. She said it.