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The BBC's Jane Hughes reports
"There are suggestions that the influence of designers is on the wane"
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Saturday, 19 February, 2000, 16:30 GMT
Catwalk on the wane?

Has the catwalk had its day? Has the catwalk had its day?

By Jane Hughes in New York

This is the time of year when the fashion world shows off its wares at shows in New York, London, Paris and Milan.

However, there are growing questions about the real relevance of the shows and the haute couture designers.

In the United States at least, women seem to be taking their fashion inspiration more from television, advertising and magazines than from the catwalks.

Street fashion: Shades Street fashion: Shades
The Big Apple is the self-appointed fashion capital of the world, where black and stylish rules.

To leave the house without your designer shades in place can be social death.

It has always been a golden rule here that the cutting edge of the catwalk shows is where looks begin. However, that wisdom is now under attack.

There are suggestions - seen as heresy in some quarters - that the influence of the haute couture designer is on the wane.

Teri Agins still makes sure she sees the shows for herself, but she believes that there are other far more powerful influences on what women choose to wear.

"People are no longer being dictated to, and it's clear that the big fashion magazines can no longer make or break a designer. You have companies like Banana Republic which are not even participating in the fashion shows - and they have got very, very big businesses," she says.

Blazing the trail

Chain stores that used to follow the lead set by designers are beginning to lead the way themselves.

Cargo pants: Fashion turning point Cargo pants: Fashion turning point
Their hugely successful promotion of leather is credited with bringing leather back onto the catwalks.

It was only after cargo pants appeared on the street that designers began to incorporate them into their collections.

Patricia and Rebecca Fields are helping turn the fashion orthodoxy on its head.

From their small East Village boutique, they have become trend-setters so influential that they advise on the outfits for some of the best dressed and most influential TV series in the United States.

"People want to be influenced. People want what's high fashion and what's out there, but they want it at a price they can afford. I think the vehicle of television and film makes it more obtainable, because they see it on people who are more real in their lives."

There is a lot of money at stake here. The American high street fashion industry is worth billions of dollars, so who decides what the woman on the high street wears each season is obviously crucial.

Haute couture under pressure

Traditional designers - who are feeling the heat - are very much on the defensive.

Vivienne Westwood: Sceptical Vivienne Westwood: Sceptical
Vivienne Westwood's new look is a million miles from what most women actually wear. But she vigorously defends her place in the fashion hierarchy.

"People just have to decide what they think fashion is," the designer says.

"If they think fashion is a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and a little dress - just a tube with two straps - I don't call that fashion."

The catwalk undoubtedly still has its place. It is part of a designer's coming of age. However, a host of other more diverse influences are coming into greater play. This makes it harder than ever for trend watchers to keep up.
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