Was it time for the Academy Awards? It could have been considering all the luminaries who showed up. But this glittering and glamorous occasion had nothing to do with films. This was fashion's big night.

The Cutty Sark Awards program was staged at the Rye Town Hilton on the opening evening of the Men's Fashion Association fall and winter press preview. In the spotlight: some of menswear's most outstanding stars. In the audience: more than 600 fashion editors and industry executives who came from all across the country to attend the gala black-tie ceremony. (Proceeds went to the AIDS Resource Center and the Living with Aids Fund.)The Cutty Sark Awards program was established in 1979 - a joint effort of the Buckingham Wile Company and the MFA. The objective is to recognize achievements and creativity in the world of contemporary clothing design. It is the only such program created exclusively for the men's apparel industry and voted on by the media. Nominees are determined by a 50-member committee of editors and broadcasters from throughout the United States, and the committee is rotated annually.

After nominees are selected, voting is then conducted among the nation's entire fashion press to determine winners and results are tallied by an independent accounting firm.

The results of this year's vote were eagerly awaited by the nominees

- many of whom were seated in the front rows and dressed to the nines for the occasion. (Flamboyant nominee E.G. Smith, noted for his innovative hosiery designs, wore a fitted white satin evening jacket embroidered with multicolored sequined socks.)

Actress Celeste Holm, in much more sedate evening attire, opened this year's festivities - the ninth annual presentation of the awards - and introduced master of ceremonies Peter Allen, who was taking time out from rehearsals for his upcoming Broadway musical, "Legs Diamond." Among the celebrity presenters handing out sterling silver clipper ship trophies to the winners were Lauren Bacall (in elegant evening pajamas) and Kathleen Turner (in a stunning and sophisticated Nino Cerruti suit).

Others recognizing winners were Barbara Jo Howard and Ciaran Coakley, representing Cutty Sark; Norman Karr, MFA exectutive director; Kenneth Cole, last year's Outstanding Accessories Designer; and Jeffrey Banks, Outstanding U.S. Designer in 1987.

Honored as Outstanding U.S. Designer this time around was Bill Robinson. Gianni Versace received the vote for Outstanding International Designer; E.G. Smith was named best in the accessories field; Tony Lambert took honors as sportswear designer; and the title of Most Promising U.S. Designer went to Joseph Abboud.

A number of special awards also were presented during the evening.

Designer Alexander Julian was recognized with the Career Achievement Award for his"outstanding leadership and continuing contributions to men's fashion."

Bryant Gumbel was spotlighted as "the television personality exemplifying the best of men's fashion."

Designer Nino Cerruti received an award for his business wear on the popular TV show "L.A. Law."

Ellen Mirojnick was recognized for her costume design work in the film "Wall Street," and DuPont Co. was honored for the development of nylon (this is the miracle fiber's 50th anniversary).

An Outstanding Student Designer was selected from entries submitted by leading fashion schools, colleges and universities throughout the United States. This year's winner is Eden Daniels of Philadelphia's Moore College of Art, and a scholarship in her name will be presented to that school.

Just a few years ago, Joseph Abboud was a young design student like Daniels, longing to have his own line and pursue his dream. In 1986, he launched his label and first collection of elegantly tailored clothing and since that time has rapidly gained a loyal following.

Fashion colleagues admire Abboud for his attention to detail, his fine workmanship and his innovative approach to fashion. Many predict his star has just started to rise and are expecting lots of new excitement from his sketch pad.

Abboud, named Most Promising U.S. Designer, competed against nominees Cecilia Metheny, who is known for her beautiful tailoring and handsome loungewear, and Kermit Smith, a leader in creative knits for men.

Gianni Versace, who won the international designer award, has long been noted for his fashion-forward apparel for both men and women. A member of the Italian school of couturiers, who show their collections in Milan, Versace's touch is unmistakable in the fine fabrics he uses and the bold, clean-cut tailoring he favors. It is the second time he has won the coveted Cutty and has another sterling silver clipper ship dating from 1983 on the shelf in his workroom.

Others competing in the international category were Gianfranco Ferre, also of Italy; and Jean-Paul Gaultier and Claude Montana of France.

Outstanding U.S. Designer honors were taken by Bill Robinson, who once was an assistant to Calvin Klein and last year was named Cutty's Most Promising Designer.

Robinson, 39, designs everything from green spandex sportswear to updated classic business suits - "things a regular guy can wear." He has been designing under his own name since January 1986 and is backed by Bidermann Industries. He has already earned a reputation within the menswear industry as a creative force and often is mentioned when professionals in the field discuss the direction and future of the business. The wide-shouldered jacket tapering to narrow slacks is a suit proportion immediately associated with his name. He also is noted for his use of zippers as a decorative touch on clothing and his masterful work with leathers.

The other nominees in Robinson's category were Allyn St. George, whose practical American Couture collection has brought smart menswear styles to customers on a budget, and Ronaldus Shamask, whose minimalist styles, precisely cut and boldly executed, have charted brave new frontiers in male apparel.

When it comes to new frontiers, Tony Lambert, winner of the Outstanding Sportswear Designer Award, has conquered many of them. First, it was the cotton sweater. Lambert brought it to the forefront of fashion. Then it was domestic materials and domestic production. (He is credited with being one of the strongest proponents of the "Made in America" campaign.) Then it was the whimsy he dared to incorporate in his fashions - fun animal motifs being typical.

Today his line encompasses both menswear and women's clothing. Eye-catching sweaters still play an all-important role, but many other styles have been added as well. Sport jackets are softly constructed and full of texture and color. Slacks have been cut loose and easy for comfort. Shirts are woven with subtle plays of pattern.

The collection for fall also includes some wild animal print sport jackets that are definitely not for the mild-mannered creature but the male who envisions himself as king of the fashion jungle. Lambert continues to hunt for new ways to brighten the menswear industry.

Competing for the sportswear award (and this category, according to Cutty Sark spokespeople, drew a record number of names from the nominating committee) were Nancy Heller and Tommy Hilfiger. Sportswear, it would seem, is one of the fastest growing and most popular areas of menswear.

Accessories is another menswear area that's booming these days. From bolos to braces, from caps to cravats, designers are offering the customer dozens of creative ways to brighten his wardrobe and his fashion life.

E.G. Smith, who was named Outstanding Accessories Designer, has injected new excitement galore into an area that once was as boring and bland as a dry American cheese sandwich - socks. Today, thanks to E.G., "little sweaters for your feet" come in tie-dyes and bright colors; slouch designs and boot styles. And you can wear socks of different colors together . . . and crazy patterns are A-OK. This entrepreneur has opened up a whole new realm of hosiery for the fashion gourmet.

Once E.G. intended to become an attorney. But Attorney-at-Socks sounded more fun than Attorney-at-Law. And it has been.

It's generally agreed within the fashion industry that there isn't anybody who does more fun and unique things to promote a product. He has tossed "socktail" parties. He has conducted interviews in an old stretch limo. He's currently promoting election boot socks in colors of - what else - red white and blue.

Marla Buck, who designs jewelry for men and women, was one of the runners-up in the accessories category, as was Nicholas Graham for Joe Boxer.

But it's a cinch they couldn't have found a more clever way to display their Cuttys than E.G. - even if they'd won. He promptly had his clipper ship mounted on a plastic sea pedestal so it looked as though it was sailing. And he equipped the pedestal with wavelike sound effects.