Queen Victoria meets Alexander McQueen as Anglomania takes New York by storm

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Anyone planning a trip to New York who is concerned about becoming homesick should pencil in a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue.

Once inside, they should head to the Annie Laurie Aitken Galleries and prepare for cucumber sandwiches in an English garden and the reassuring toot of a hunting horn.

That might be taking things a bit far but when you know that the title of an exhibit that opens today is AngloMania, you will get the picture. Specifically, you will be asked to marvel at Britain's heritage of fashion design, traditional and modern.

Except that the Britain on show here is not what you are used to at home. Rather the Met is offering a cross between Gosford Park, with references to a romanticised version of upper-crust Britannia long since departed, and the Bond Street window displays of designers who are beyond the reach of most people's pockets.

How else to explain the choice of themes for the series of set-piece displays each with a cast of impeccably costumed mannequins? From the ersatz garden, with apple boughs, visitors will proceed to the other areas of the exhibition, with names such as Upstairs Downstairs, The Hunt, and Empire and Monarchy. There is even a Gentleman's Club, although museum-goers of both genders are welcome.

The Costume Institute, which curated AngloMania and kicked it off with a celebrity-studded ball at the museum on Monday night, wants to convey good old British whimsy.

It is a strategy that relies on the juxtaposition of clichés of class and gentry with the rebellious spirit of UK designers from the days of punk to the present. In other words, Queen Victoria meets Alexander McQueen. The latter is one of several stars of the contemporary British fashion scene whose work is heavily featured.

At the entrance to the exhibitions stands John Bull. His familiar frock coat, however, is one made by McQueen for David Bowie.

Many of the show's stars were on hand for yesterday's party, including Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo. Mingling among them in dresses and tuxedos fit for Oscar night was a galaxy of headline names, Anglos by birth or anglophiles for the night. The actor Rupert Everett was there and so were the singer Bryan Ferry, the actor Richard Gere, the model Kate Moss and the actress Liz Hurley.

The co-hosts for the night were Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine - the Met's annual Costume Institute Ball would be inconceivable without her - and the actress Sienna Miller. The air was filled with declarations of a fresh British invasion of New York. "Britain rules," was the conclusion of the model Jacquetta Wheeler.

Having her native land so heavily promoted this year is a personal triumph for Ms Wintour. "London," she declared to reporters, "has always had the most creative, most entertaining and most humour in its fashion."

With a heavy focus on punk, the exhibition avoids being just about "posh" and elitism. John Lydon of the Sex Pistols was also on hand on Monday and even provided the Met with an AngloMania podcast. A wool tartan jacket made for him by Westwood is among the costumes on display. But the question now is whether a summer of King's Road in Manhattan will trigger a new love affair for British frocks among American shoppers.

The New York Post did its part with a consumers' guide to British fashion and a battle cry to its readers to start buying. "So pour yourself a pint, grab a deep-fried Mars bar, and pick up these hot imports," the paper declared.