The circumstances weren't always ideal, but despite the drawbacks, fashions for next fall and winter, shown here recently, have come through with top honors. They are among the finest that United States designers have turned out in several seasons.
The catch was the difficulty in actually getting to see the clothes. High-fashion openings are turning into superspectaculars costing anywhere from $ 35,000 to $100,000. For many of the 1,500 retailers and news people who raced from one distant location to another, the elaborately staged productions, held in huge sound sets or in mammoth-size hotel ballrooms, were a waste of money.
''Just show us the clothes'' was a common refrain, especially from store executives who found themselves seated on balconies so far from the runway they needed field glasses to distinguish a cashmere from a suede.
As it happened, there was plenty of both in the course of the two-week presentations. High-quality materials are a first priority for fall - cashmere being at the head of the list. So much of it appeared it was often remarked that the goat population of Mongolia must have been completely sheared.
Besides quality, the latest New York offerings are high on variety and wearability, two attributes the clothes-buying customer welcomes.
The fashions of Perry Ellis and Geoffrey Beene are, for example, at opposite ends in concept. That Ellis can do a new ankle-length silhouette and that Beene can showcase legs by way of an innovative knee-baring shift says a lot for American versatility and ingenuity, since both designers are suggesting new directions that will appeal to different types of modern-day women.
The Ellis idea, a brief flared spencer over a high-rise skirt that spins out into a circle below the hipline, looks in motion like a bird in flight. Pipestem trousers, shown with short litle topcoats over batwing-sleeved charmeuse blouses of rich colorings, have the same high midriffs.
In this year of the sweater, Ellis might be expected to come up with some great handknits, a field in which he has traditionally excelled. He does not disappoint. Fair Isles in deep tones of plum, garnet, rust, brown, and dark green are totally fresh interpretations of a style that has become a cliche. His gray middy ''Shuffleboard'' pullovers, part of a group that includes superb Navy officers' greatcoats and pea jackets, have stripes of color around the hips.
Best of all, though, is the series of trompe l'oeil animal print handknits - zebra, tiger, and leopard. These will probably be copied by sweater manufacturers who specialize in knockoffs and know a good thing when they see it.
Although Beene's collection has a number of pants outfits (otherwise made up of loose wool overblouses with drapey cowl necks and outer wraps with deep armholes), his main theme is the straight chemise dress with wide, rounded shoulders.
Everything is above the knee and shows off an expanse of patterned or colored opaque stockings. Everything is also worn with high heels. These shoes were a regulation item on most runways, with pants as well as with slim-skirted suits - and most especially with short dinner dresses. The ballerina short dress, which Beene includes in his selection, has, along with lean, long evening styles, completely replaced the pretentious bouffant ball gown for gala-occasion wear next season.
Quilted yokes and T-square kimono cuts give breadth to the tops of Beene's willowy silhouette. His fabrics - mohairs, nubby wools, cires, supple panne velvets, and lames so fluid they look like molten metal - are uniformly special. So are his juxtapositions of textures and smoky colorings. He really works at artistry in clothes.
Oscar de la Renta is equally adept at the luxurious look for moderns. His copious collection began with a series of black and white tweeds, moved on to red and black checks, then into enough cashmere dresses to make him the cashmere champ of the year. Reversible poplin-to-tweed coats of ample proportions went over some day clothes. Ponchos, sweater jackets, and capacious plaid fleece wraps are other warming possibilities.
The suit of twill or tweed vies with Hapsburg inspirations composed of embroidered cashmere (again) jackets with ruff-neck blouses and black velvet skirts or trousers. Black velvet with antiqued gold lace is a feature for late day. As an expensive joke, de la Renta has embellished two ankle-length black velvet body dresses with fake jeweled medals and across-the-shoulder jeweled sashes. One of these is blue, like the Order of the Garter. We'll bet the dress wouldn't go over if you wore it to Buckingham Palace.
Other evening regalia is even more splendiferous. Sumptuous silk prints are embroidered with wide bibs and borders of imitation and other sorts of impressive sparkle. Having your jewelry sewed on like this, you don't have to worry. It's obviously fake, you won't lose it, no one will be tempted to swipe it, and your real stuff is safe in the vault.