Fashion is wearing thin

If you take your fashion lead from Britain, this is what the stylish will be wearing in 1997, according to SUSANNAH FRANKEL

THIS year will go down in history as the year British fashion came into its own. John Galliano unveils his first couture collection for Christian Dior later this month; 27-year-old Alexander McQueen will show his debut collection for Givenchy, presided over by Galliano before him. American designers Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren will invade Bond Street en masse this spring, bringing to the capital an injection of commercial credibility, while glossy magazines from American Vogue to W and Vanity Fair are hailing London as the fashion capital of the world.

At London Fashion Week in February, we have the return of both Queen Viv and Jasper Conran to look forward to, as well as strong showings from bright lights Clements Ribeiro, Hussein Chalayan and Antonio Berardi. Showing for the first time will be Miuccia Prada who is unveiling her autumn/winter Miu Miu line here for the first time - a green light in the hip stakes if ever there were one.

For fashion editorials and shows the world over, meanwhile, British models (Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Stella Tennant, Iris Palmer, Honor Fraser), editors (Anna Wintour, Liz Tilberis, Tina Brown), photographers (Juergen Teller, David Sims, Mark Borthwick) and stylists (Katy England, Camilla Nicholson, Alex White) continue to reign supreme.

Yes, but what will we actually be wearing? Good question and, presuming that Dior couture is not the answer, you’ll be pleased to know that, these days, pretty much anything goes. Because when Giorgio Armani said that fashion was dead, then said that actually he didn’t mean it - sparking off a battle between himself and arch-rival Gianni Versace of unprecedented proportions - his reasoning was that the days when fashion designers dictated what we wear are over.

These days, the logic goes, designers are there to provide the inspiration for what we might choose to wear, rather than to be followed slavishly.

Which is a jolly good thing, particularly when you consider that perhaps this summer’s major trend will be sheer. While for some, frolicking about in big knickers (cashmere preferably, horrible though it may seem) and not much else might be an option, most of us would rather not walk around starkers, preferring both to keep a modicum of modesty intact and to avoid frightening unsuspecting passers-by.

Still, if only the most up-to-date of wardrobes will do, Prada (sheer worn with large linen undergarments), Alberta Ferretti (sheer worn in pretty feminine layers so it ends up not so sheer) and Dolce & Gabbana (sheer worn over flesh corsetry) will be the most sought-after designer treatments of the theme.

Next in line: frills. Fine if you happen to be 17 and weigh 50kg. Otherwise, unless handled with the utmost care, you’re likely to look plain blousy. Then there are empire lines to look forward to. And a plethora of nighties (sorry, slip dresses), floral and not, layered and not. Also fine, if you happen to be 17, weigh 50kg and be flat- chested.

Exactly. So what will we actually be wearing? The two designers who are likely to influence our day-to-day wardrobes most significantly are Helmut Lang and Ann Demeulemeester. Lang’s narrow trousers and skinny layers of jersey and Demeulemeester’s slouchy black trouser suits are modern dressing at its finest and most wearable. We will also be wearing the colour blue (from palest turquoise to lapis lazuli), stripes (from Pearce Fionda’s black and white computer barcode to Nicole Farhi’s rainbow knits), one-shouldered tops and asymmetric hems (think Cinderella goes disco dolly) and, if we should come over all whimsical, Romany designs as inspired by John Galliano.

Shoes, meanwhile, are higher than they have been for seasons (practically enough) or flat as pancakes in the form of Japanese- style thongs.

More than a few fashion pundits are also predicting an Eighties revival. Designer restaurants, designer clothes, designer lifestyles, they say, are all back in fashion. Tom Ford at Gucci certainly thinks one’s due. His forthcoming collection is more The Embassy Club circa 1984 than Halston.

But do any of these people actually remember the Eighties? Or think that revisiting this most ostentatious (in fashion terms) and pernicious (in other terms) decade might be a good idea?

There is one good thing to be said for it, however, which is that in 1997 we will finally be able to banish all our brown clothes to the bottom drawer, safe in the happy knowledge that black will, without question, be the new black.

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