"It is time to return to the classics," designer Perry Ellis said last week. "Clothes are too expensive and everything is too difficult for anything else. That's just the way I feel."

And that's just the way his fall collection looked as he presented it yesterday to an audience seated hip to hip on bleachers set up in his showroom, once a bank lobby. Classic, but special in the hands of this designer, who has brightened the familiar cuts with a strong palette of pastels, deftly adjusted proportions of lapels and hem lengths, and skillfully used patterns and trims to set his sweaters apart from others.

Imagine a pink wool wrap coat over a black turtleneck and ankle-cropped pants, or the same baby pink in a one-button blazer with wide lapels, or a pink satin trench coat. Banana yellow and sky blue are used much the same way. Even the menswear gets a heavy dose of color. And so do some of the furs.

Ellis is a specialist in knits -- he introduced the cable-stitched and patterned sweaters that have influenced fashion everywhere -- so his sweaters are always particularly important. His new fall sweaters often stretch into one- or two-piece dresses, and some of his sweater sets are pairings of crocodile-pattern sweaters and matching mufflers.

The reptile pattern shows up on silk and wool, but looks best of all in real crocodile, as in a cardigan jacket or the luxe detail of a belt or shoe. (You will always be able to tell a Perry Ellis crocodile belt from the many others shown here this week. His version is a bit wider, and the buckle is always worn to the side rather than center of the waist.)

Ellis' evening clothes are just as classic, but with his own touch. He revives the fur-trimmed sweater, this time collared or cuffed in chinchilla and paired with gray and Lurex trousers. See-through black shirts are trimmed with bugle beads at neck and cuff and worn with black velvet skirts. Several checkerboard-patterned hand-knit cashmere sweaters are glossed with clear sequins for evening and paired with long, black, pleated georgette skirts. ("If you are poor you call that fabric georgette. If you are rich you call it chiffon," said American Merchandise Corp. Vice President Bernie Ozer as he applauded this group.)

Ellis often bounds down the runway with the models when his shows are over, but that was not the case yesterday. The designer, who has not been well for some time, made a brief appearance at the top of the runway, apparently supported by two assistants. The audience rose to give him an ovation, and he disappeared in the back.

Classics with some variation have been a common theme in this week's showings, and yesterday Louis Dell'Olio for Anne Klein and Gloria Sachs offered refreshing variations on their own established classics.

At Anne Klein there is some dabbling with color, but for the most part a monochromatic play of dark tones in long and swinging coats, long and lean or dirndl skirts, and trousers. Colors appear in the injection of henna brown in a blazer or in a plaid, the fuchsia cashmere of a fingertip-length, kimono-shaped coat, or the teal cashmere of a double-breasted jacket. Bright colors are used effectively, too, in a group of short dance dresses with fitted black velvet tops trimmed in bugle beads and short, full, jewel-toned skirts underlined in crinolines.

Yesterday was a good day for sweaters not only at Perry Ellis but at Anne Klein, where the foundation of many daytime costumes is a black cashmere hooded turtleneck, and at Gloria Sachs, where cashmere twin sets have been a signature since the beginning.

Just as there are fine details that mark a Chanel each season, there are refinements that those who trace such things can use to date Sachs' cashmere sweater sets. This year it is the flat gold metal buttons.

But it is not the buttons that distinguish Sachs' sweaters -- rather, what she does with them. Her heraldic-print wool skirts, her paisley silks and the cashmere plaids (woven in her own factories in Ireland) are worthy partners for her sweaters. Sachs, too, has extended some into long jersey dresses, best when done in separates, such as the long, lean gray cashmere sweater set with slim, floor-length cashmere knit skirt.

And like many others, particularly Anne Klein, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, Sachs shows huge cashmere blanket shawls, so big that they're bound to sweep the floor as well as keep the wearer very warm.

With all the cashmere being used in sweaters, shawls and the like, it makes one worry about all the cashmere goats going naked these days.