NEW YORK NEW YORK; as the V&A Devotes an Exhibition to New York Fashion Talent, Here We Showcase Some of the Best

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Byline: LIZ JONES

SAY the words New York fashion and what springs to mind (for me anyway) is one big yawn. New York design is wearable and well-made, classic, a bit sporty. But exciting? Oh dear me no.

You need only glance at the assembled members of the American fashion press in the front row of the shows - all super smooth blow dried hair, French manicures and kitten heels - to realise that while American women can do polished, they can't do funky.

The famous names in New York, from Calvin Klein to Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan, produce predictable clothes in various shades of taupe for women who like to look slick but safe. For anything remotely innovative you have to go to London. For impeccable craftsmanship, Paris. And for high-end luxury labels, Milan.

But all these preconceptions are about to be overturned with an exhibition, New York Fashion Now, opening at the V&A museum in London next month.

The work of 20 young designers has been gathered together over the course of two years by the curator, Sonnet Stanfill, who, when I met her for a sneak preview, told me that New York is enjoying a fashion moment not seen since London was swinging in the Sixties.

And the reason for this renaissance? The after-effects of 9/11.

'The terror attacks happened during New York Fashion Week,' she reminds me.

'It meant all the shows were cancelled and many young designers were hit hard.

Everyone was thinking: 'Who needs fashion?' It seemed irrelevant and frivolous. But it was also the best time to start a business: the only way was up.' New York designers have always risen to a challenge. For the first three decades of the 20th century, well-heeled women in America looked only to Paris. Two world wars changed that for good.

Unable to get hold of clothes from Europe, women had to look at home-grown designers, such as Geoffrey Beene (the first designer to appropriate men's tailoring for women), Clare Potter and Claire McCardell, who was among the first to dress women in slacks and unstructured, sporty clothes.

In the autumn of 2001, keen to shore up the economy, the press and fashion buyers were behind the new young designers who emerged out of the ashes and whose work we will be able to see next month.

Some names will already be familiar. There's Zac Posen, whose clever draping and supple fabrics are beloved by movie stars.

Proenza Schouler, who designs luxurious, feminine sportswear.

Behnaz Sarafpour, the Iranianborn designer who was inspired to start her business by the events of 2001 and has since become most famous for her miniskirts.

And finally Derek Lam, who has been hired to inject edge into the Italian luxury brand Tod's and is one of the very few designers to address the issue of very young, very thin models.

But while you may not be familiar with the rest of the names on show, rest assured many are bound to become the Marc Jacobs and Narciso Rodriguezes of the future. Surprisingly, there is even the occasional Alexander McQueen in the making, in a section entitled Avant Garde. …