Real Style: Blown away by New York

Hurricane Floyd raged, but it was the Collections that swept Elle's FIONA MCINTOSH off her feet

SUNDAY 12 SEPTEMBER

Madonna is picking at her sushi at the next table. Minnie Driver and her sister Kate are knocking back champagne. You've just bumped into someone very small and bearded and realised with a shock it's Sylvester Stallone.

Barely has New York fashion week opened when Donatella Versace breezes in from Milan and throws a post-show Versus party so starry it's impossible not to stare in a very uncool way. Before the show season starts - and this time New York is first off before London, Paris and Milan - you ask yourself which show/trend/girl/ party is going to knock you sideways. Well, that's one down, three to go. Madonna's appearance with a team of designer bodyguards, her NBF Rupert Everett and her daughter Lourdes (who at three-years-old already has a wardrobe of junior Versace couture and a passion for catwalk shows) puts a smile on the face of even the grumpiest fashion editor. It's just so glam.

Crash into my bed that night vowing that I'm going to shed a stone, take up Pilates and do something about the shameful state of my nails. There's something about New York women that makes you feel like a scruff. Parties just make it worse.

MONDAY, 13 SEPTEMBER

Haven't shed a stone, have forgotten about Pilates but do get my nails sorted at a Greenwich nail bar (surely one of the best American inventions ever). Dash in between shows and told to "choose colour please" from a library of nail varnish bottles in every shade from shell pink to whore's scarlet and my nails are filed, buffed, creamed, slapped about and blow dried. Fifteen minutes later I'm hailing a cab with sparkling new hands.

Highlight of the day is definitely Marc Jacobs - very downtown New York chic. Adored by fashionistas on both sides of the Atlantic, he is the man behind Louis Vuitton's funky new look. Jacobs' show is polished, clever and wearable. We love the sunburst stitching on his jeans and trails of sequins on cotton jackets and trousers. The show is bursting with the new league of bombshell girls - Estonian goddess Carmen Kass and breathtaking Brazilian Giselle who appears to have landed on earth from Planet Perfect. Lots of deep, honey suntans on the runway. Does this mean pale and interesting is over?

Absolutely everyone is talking about model Maggie Rizer's short blonde crop. "It's so Essex," sniffs one fashion editor. "It's so modern," snaps another. That's fashion for you.

TUESDAY, 14 SEPTEMBER

Wake up to news there's a hurricane lashing the East Coast and it's heading right for us. Visions of being sucked out of my pink bed sheets and swirled down Fifth Avenue. "Hurricane Floyd is four times more powerful than the twister which killed 40 people in '92," drolls the NBC newscaster. Yikes. Some poor guy files a TV report from inside a wind tunnel at the National Hurricane Center. "This is what it's like to stand in wind so strong it takes your breath away." His eyes are streaming, his jowls flapping. Not a good look.

For now Manhattan is hot, sticky and eerily quiet. Sit in a courtyard squeezed between skyscrapers to watch hip Irish designer Daryl K's collection of fun, rock chick fashion. Very sweet shirt dresses. Very tiny shorts. The soundtrack is "Birdsong, Wind and Thunder". How ominous. Spotty boys peer from the windows of the offices around us, not quite believing their luck that the world's most beautiful girls are parading beneath them. The Elle team (fashion director Iain R Webb, executive fashion editor Flo Torrens and myself) have a non-stop gossip lunch with Robert Forrest from Ungaro. He takes us to one of New York's best kept restaurant secrets - Sette at the Museum of Modern Art. The white truffle risotto is so good we order seconds. On the way out Iain spots Robert Redford dining with a young blonde woman. So excited I double-back to get a better look - he's craggy, gorgeous and clearly a man of taste (Robert was eating the risotto).

That afternoon, John Bartlett gets everyone purring with pleasure. His show is very grown up: sexy, claret cashmere, exquisitely beaded silk tanks, a ton of sexy leather. Julianne Moore is sitting with the American editors. We stare across the style abyss - the Americans with their hurricane- proof hairdos and Manolos with ice-pick heels, the Brits with our quirky clothes, loud laughter and straggly hair. "The Americans can't sit next to each other, let alone talk to each other," a recent defector to the Other Side tells me. "It's beyond competitive."

WEDNESDAY, 15 SEPTEMBER

Ralph Lauren's show has the gorgeous whiff of money about it. Final set of slinky fringed and punched black leather trousers triumphantly manage to be both classy and funky. We want.

Radio in the cab tells us entire townships are now being evacuated in North Carolina. "Tune into our website to track the twister." Someone works out it should hit Manhattan just as Alexander McQueen does on Thursday night. "Typical," she says. Between shows the Brit pack storm Club Monaco stores - a cult favourite, particularly for this season's perfect stretch cotton shirts - and Banana Republic "for the best seamless knickers in the world". Can't argue with that.

Michael Kors' sexy, preppy glamour makes us smile, particularly his retro take on poolwear - lime and turquoise caftans, and tiny shorts (again) are very The Graduate. Tap our feet in time to the Abba medley. "Money, Money, Money" is so appropriate for this VIP crowd of understated blondes with their ponytails, bare legs and super-fine cashmere slung across lean, tanned shoulders. The Miller sisters sit next to Aerin Lauder. You get the picture.

Drop into fabulous new DKNY "lifestyle" store on Madison. Just opened with its own juice bar, resident DJ, book store and vintage clothing corner. A look into the future of retailing? By the time Nicole Farhi's show starts we've been skidding in puddles and hurtling through driving rain so we try to appear composed with our frizzy hair, shiny noses and spattered clothes. The style abyss widens. Oh, f--- it. Nicole Farhi, who's being billed here as the British Donna Karan, throws a hugely successful show. We all want her sequinned wrapped skirts (in white and chocolate). The after show party is crammed with nostalgic ex-pats and hip young New York - a fab night, apart from the cigarette police who even follow you into the loos.

THURSDAY, 16 SEPTEMBER

Wake to find New York in a state of emergency. Hurricane Floyd snuck in overnight. Peek through the window at vertical rain, straining, flattened trees and very wet people fighting with inverted umbrellas. The phone rings. It's Flo who says all the shows have been cancelled. What? Even McQueen? Rumours whip around. McQueen was to use pools of black oil and stunt women (because the models won't be insured against what he wants them to do). Ever the master of hype and intrigue, we're devastated we'll miss his show. Venture cautiously into Fifth Avenue for some retail therapy at Bergdorfs or Bendalls, but Floyd has closed the lot. Now, that really is a disaster. The Elle fashion team finds $5 plastic ponchos (and we thought the trend would never take off, quips Iain). Then joy! Word gets around that McQueen is going to show after all. Head off to a huge warehouse on the piers, gingerly clamber up the steps of a steel platform where a huge pool of inky black water spreads out before us. The anticipation before a McQueen show always makes you feel both excited and uncomfortable, what on earth is he up to this time? Boom. The show starts. Girls with liquid black wigs stomp through the shallow pool of water sending drops flying into the air. The effect is stunning. Exquisite black and silver embroidered coats and corsets are followed by chain mail yashmaks, Moorish white and blue prints and blouson chiffon shirts. At one point the stage looks like a Turkish torture chamber - leather bondage marks and huge spikes rising from the water. And for the finale girls in black, white and red yashmaks are sent flying through the air, twisting and twirling over the spikes. What a spectacle. McQueen has managed to upstage Hurricane Floyd.

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