Tommy Hilfiger must be stopped. Judging from the extravaganza he mounted Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, his ego is fast approaching the size of his own blimp.

The marketer extraordinaire presented a multimedia event that may have set a new standard for hubris in the fashion industry, and rest assured there already had been measurements registering off the charts. Hilfiger enlisted the aid of the band Bush to perform a live soundtrack as models traipsed around the catwalk in red, white and blue cowboy boots adorned with the words "Tommy Rocks." And in case anyone missed the message, it was repeated on the backs of Western-style jackets and on vanity belt buckles the size of Hilfiger's head.

Certainly Hilfiger is no stranger to logo-driven fashion. Nor is he alone in enjoying the sight of his own name emblazoned on someone's back. But Tuesday's show seemed garishly excessive not simply because of the size of the nameplates but because the show prattled on self-indulgently about how fabulous the man--not the clothes--really is.

Perhaps if Hilfiger had shown clothes that department stores might actually sell, the whole circus would not have reeked of a vanity event. The clothes--Western-inspired leather separates, micro-miniskirts and suits--will turn up almost exclusively in Hilfiger's Beverly Hills flagship store. They will undoubtedly be prominently featured in music videos. But they will not make it much beyond that.

So, in effect, the runway presentation was a farce. It was a promotional tool for Hilfiger the concert promoter. It was marketing spiraling out of control, as one couldn't really figure out what was being sold: Bush, Hilfiger as rock patron, Hilfiger as costumer to rock stars or, as model Naomi Campbell pulled him away from the cameras and the stage, Hilfiger the star-struck man.

Hilfiger has every right to brag. He has made a success of his company, which regularly exceeds Wall Street growth predictions, and has made a name for himself through philanthropic deeds. But one can't help but sense that, as Hilfiger splashes his name around and loudly proclaims his greatness, he soon will have to lay down his fabric swatches and accept what is deservedly his: the mantle of another ringmaster, P.T. Barnum.

After the Hilfiger circus, it was reassuring to see the work of designers Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors today. It may sound like a party pooper to say so, but one can't help but be suspicious of designers who make such an effort creating special effects and all manner of runway distractions. Are they fearful of allowing eyes to linger on the clothes?

Neither Lauren nor Kors have such worries. For spring 2000, both designers further mined what they have always done best.

Lauren's collection was dominated by silk taffeta cropped pants in fanciful red or black gingham. His crocheted halters and camisoles were artfully stitched and modestly lined. What's the point of showing them sheer when they'll be sold opaque? His linen trousers in creamy white have navy ribbon stripes along the hem or down the sides. His evening gowns come in white linen eyelet or are adorned with tiny budding blossoms sprinkled with pearl beading.

Some of what was on the runway had been seen before, such as Lauren's full gingham evening skirt paired with a simple white blouse, or his black pencil skirt and cap-sleeve shirt. But there is something enticing about a familiar frock perfectly executed.

His black leather jacket, cropped at the waist and with three-quarter-length sleeves, was exquisitely proportioned --evoking this moment in fashion but reassuringly classic at the same time. His floral-print day dresses with their flirtatious ruffled hemlines conjured the current mood for rumba, but they also spoke of garden parties and daytime weddings. Nothing in the collection was marked as trendy, yet nothing in it felt stale or stuffy.

It is tempting to say that this is a collection for the shareholders of this publicly held company. But that would be too narrow. This was a collection for all women who believe fashion is first and foremost about the clothes and whether they can be worn.

Kors approached his collection with a similar respect for the role of the runway: Show the merchandise, create enthusiasm for it and leave a lasting impression. His collection was inspired by the glamour girls of Palm Beach. His colors evoked languid days at the pool: pale peach, delicate yellow, sea blue.

His rugby-stripe knit dresses clung to the body, creating a sexy but sporty look. Cabana jackets in abstract floral prints topped tiny string bikinis. Slim floral-print jeans were worn with metallic gold thong sandals. And there were plenty of thick cotton turtlenecks for when the ocean breezes turn cool. He also topped his cropped jeans with ribbed cashmere sweaters in pale pastels.

The collection lacked the depth of ideas that made Kors's fall collection so breathtaking. But for the fashion industry, spring is always a season that entices on the strength of what it cautiously unveils--a shapely thigh here, a bit of cleavage there--rather than on the cover it provides.

The collection presented by John Bartlett on Tuesday also felt breezy and low key. While Bartlett provided his usual program notes alerting the audience to his inspiration--Charo, art deco, Federico Garcia Lorca--the collection seemed less fraught with meaning and innuendo than past collections.

This one was filled with silk georgette glistening with beads, metallic trousers, mocha-colored leather jackets paired with golden art deco dresses and leather trousers and shorts with intricate lacing along the derriere or the hips. There was poetry implicit as the models walked a broad runway against a backdrop of white sails that slowly swayed with each entrance and exit. The image called to mind the grand Frank Gehry Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the jewel-dusted clothes sparkled against the black runway strewn with sand.

Designers Daryl Kerrigan and Cynthia Rowley seemed burdened by their own images Tuesday. Kerrigan, who has made a name for herself as the downtown hipster behind the Daryl K line, presented her collection uptown on Park Avenue. It was a studied departure from her usual Lower East Side locations.

While the collection had its highlights with her blouson halters and use of vintage cotton in rustic dresses and simple tanks, much of her work seemed to flounder between the sleek urban gear that is her signature and more experimental frocks that, unfortunately, evoked the look of suburban yard sale finds. Curiously, both Kerrigan and Rowley are enamored of matronly dresses with winglike sleeves and no discernible silhouette. These garments have a housedress quality that transforms them into camouflage dressing that doesn't just hide the body but obliterates it.

Perhaps this is an addendum to the now defunct trend of ugly chic--clothes that were so unflattering that only the most attractive souls would dare wear them, as if their beauty was a burden that could be relieved only by dressing extraordinarily badly. Now these clothes seem aimed at the kind of woman who has such a fabulous body that she must hide it under a frumpy mess of gathered fabric so she can walk down the street safely.

Rowley, known for her whimsy and wit, presented a collection dominated by dresses and skirts in patchwork prints of flowers and embellishments of metallic gold rick-rack. But she continued to have problems with the quality of her samples, which often looked as if they might disintegrate if a model walked too briskly through the New Yorker Hotel ballroom. And the finale, a group of dresses lit from within by strands of Christmas lights, was shoddily executed. Strands of the lights began to fall from the dresses, leaving a trail of twisted wire spiraling along the floor.

If a lesson can be learned from the most recent shows here, it is that simplicity speaks more eloquently than flashy tricks, ear-splitting bands or logo-emblazoned clothes.

CAPTION: High contrast: "Tommy Rocks," proclaims a Tommy Hilfiger waistcoat and boots, while Michael Kors's body-skimming minidress evokes fun in the sun.

CAPTION: An English-garden floral ensemble by Cynthia Rowley, from left, flirty wedding gown from Daryl K and a white shawl with lace-up pants by John Bartlett.

CAPTION: Michael Kors's pastel collection includes a rugby-stripe knit dress, while Lawrence Steele pairs a feathery top with a see-through mesh skirt.

CAPTION: Ralph Lauren opts for ease with a crewneck top and taffeta gingham pants.