Center-stage names in the world of fashion - names like Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein or Oscar de la Renta - today share the headlines with an innovative group of new designers.

These are eager young designers with little to lose, yet pumped up with creative ambition. And they are making names for themselves around the country.- When Christian Francis Roth accepted the Perry Ellis award for new fashion talent, he acknowledged the influence of his second-grade teacher.

"My favorite place in New York City is my second-grade classroom. I remember the pencil shavings rolling off the sharpener in all their shapes. I remember the feel of new crayons. When I was ready to introduce my first collection, we went back to that school for the photo shoot," Roth explained.

Simple, childlike themes, broken kaleidoscope pieces, tic-tac-toe motifs and paint tubes inspired Roth's inaugural collection, a grouping tagged "Rothola," for its pencil suits and crayon dresses.

Roth's uncanny discipline for construction is displayed with an unusual applique-type technique.

"The technique is not really applique. All the pieces are sewn in seams, like inserts. I'm always doing things crazier than the last time, but my work team is very good and dedicated and patient. We don't follow the idea that Americans mass produce; the idea and the beauty of the garment is more important than how many we make," Roth said.

Roth's ideas are revolutionary, especially considering his age, 22, and his limited formal training.

Beginning at age 14, Roth took "down hour" odd jobs with designer Andre von Pierre. At 16, he signed as an apprentice with Koos Van den Akker, whom Roth credits for teaching him "everything I know, especially what is real quality in life."

His original collection in 1988 was limited to two pieces, but the retail response catapulted Roth to a full line by fall of 1990.

Roth takes his international acclaim in stride, discounting his recent celebrity status. "I knew I always wanted to be a designer; I was hoping that was what I could do, but I don't think I'm a big designer. I don't think I'm a star. I like fabrics. That's what I'm into - creating the garment."

He added, "I'm really learning all the time; I'm just getting started. Interview me again in 20 years and maybe things will be different. Maybe I will be a star. It means everything to be a successful designer in New York City. The only places where people are creative are New York, Paris and Milan, and to me, New York is the greatest."

- Creating a spare and simple sportswear shape is the focus of Lauren Sara's first spring collection this season. Sportswear that functions as a suit, and dresses that function as sportswear are highlights of the collection.

Sara, with design credits from Calvin Klein and Cathy Hardwick, launched her own line two years ago. Based on an innovative philosophy, Sara incorporated criteria for creation: Keep the line wearable, use the finest fabrics and tailoring and keep the price realistic.

"As a designer, I have to be realistic about my customers' lives," noted Sara. "My customers don't live in gilded cages, and their clothes have to work effortlessly for them."

Sara's found a following in specialty shops where customers build on the line from season to season. Department stores, too, found the clothes filled a void in the young designer area, offering sophisticated taste at competitive prices.

- Creative-oriented sportswear featuring liberal use of a wildlife theme is the trademark of San Diego-based designer, Wallace Muroya.

Muroya's contemporary menswear lines feature items like a "shark coat."

"I got the idea of making the pocket of the coat integrate with the sleeves so it looks like a shark gill," Muroya explained.

The Californian's newest line, in partnership with Raymond Pagno, is marketed as the "Eisaku by Pagno" label. Identified by vibrant colors and clean, crisp detailing, the "e" line focuses on young men.

- Capturing the focus of the fashion press is a highly competitive process, but John Scher, New York designer, surprised Seventh Avenue with his childhood sketches at age nine.

The aspiring designer submitted his work to "Women's Wear Daily," the Bible of the fashion world, when he was a schoolboy. WWD published a double-page story featuring a letter Scher wrote to the paper along with a few of his sketches.

"I was ecstatic. I always wanted to become a designer and this was my dream come true," said Scher. Overnight, he became the darling of the fashion press.

The fame was fleeting and Scher paid his dues at the Pratt Institute, as an intern at Anne Klein and as a design assistant at Chetta B.

Scher's own collection debuted in the fall of 1990 and included a limited showing of 12 pieces. The grouping consisted of striking evening looks in silk chiffon; simple draped tops, a high-waisted skirt and a strapless empire dress.

Success in fashion design is fleeting, a fact readily acknowledged by Scher.

"I can't live off my past. I'll have to work even harder this time around to make it work."

- Meanwhile, other young lions of Seventh Avenue and beyond compute orders and capture more design awards, challenging the established houses with their precedent-setting ideas.