FASHION / Berlin

HOW SELECTIVE the collective fashion memory is, how limited its inspiration. Despite the fact that Berlin - not to say Germany - has undergone one or two minor upheavals since the Thirties, it is to that over-used and idealised era that the fashionable imagination has turned once more for autumn.

The dropping of skirt-lengths to well below the knee has pushed a kind of automatic-recall button in designers' memories. Some, admittedly, have gone back only as far as the Seventies (possibly those who didn't live through them), hence the rash of maxi-skirts and skinny-rib tops and platform shoes already clumping up and down the high streets in the heat. But the more serious have happily retreated to the familiar territory of Sally Bowles,

Louise Brooks and - what a timely death for fashion - Marlene Dietrich.

Not surprisingly, this retreat into Cabaret-land, which began last year, is headed by the grand American pasticheur Ralph Lauren. His autumn collection has already been acknowledged as the most appealing, not least because it's posible to put together a cheaper version most easily: pin-striped jackets and high-collared white shirts, tuxedos with leggings and little laced boots, long chalk-striped skirts with waistcoats and plenty of black leather. Strictly, it's a hybrid that owes as much to the Prince Regent as it does to the nightclubs of Berlin. What both styles share, at a time of confusion and boredom in fashion, is a reliance on a few seminal garments already encoded with an accepted sensibility: the tuxedo, pin-stripes, black leather - on a woman - all come with the sexual ambiguity which Dietrich exploited openly on the streets of Berlin and women have enjoyed periodically ever since.

This up-all-night, bar-room glamour demands the usual vampish accoutrements - heavy black eye make-up, red lipstick, fishnet stockings, wicked shoes. Companion pieces are the skinny vest dresses and long slit skirts which have already been filtering into the shops. It's a look that translates easily down the shopping chain so cheap versions can be put together without losing the essentials.

PREVIOUS PAGES: Silver and leopard buttoned shoes, from the Valentino autumn/winter collection: Valentino, 160 New Bond Street, W1 and 174 Sloane Street, London SW1; chalk-striped jackets, waistcoats and white shirts based on the Ralph Lauren autumn/winter collection available from Polo Ralph Lauren, 143 New Bond Street, London W1.

THIS PAGE: long skinny cabaret dresses in shimmering Klimt-style prints with fringing and beading from Katharine Hamnett, 20 Sloane Street, London SW1; tuxedo from Ralph Lauren as before.

CHEAPER ALTERNATIVES

Pinstripe jacket: Next, pounds 89.99; French Connection, pounds 130 double-breasted or longer riding jacket, pounds 160; Warehouse, pounds 79.99; Whistles, pounds 225, from 12 St Christopher's Place, W1 and branches.

Pinstripe waistcoat: pounds 135, by Tom Gilbey at the Waistcoat Gallery, 2 New Burlington Place, W1; French Connection, pounds 50; Warehouse, pounds 39.99; Whistles, long frock waistcoat, pounds 115; Miss Selfridge, pounds 27.99.

Tuxedo: Next, in ivory or black, pounds 89.99; French Connection, pounds 140; Whistles, pounds 225; Marcel Marongiu, pounds 200, from Jones, Floral Street, WC2; Name, 2 Ganton Street, W1; Liberty, Regent Street, W1

Long pinstripe skirt: Next, pounds 49.99, French Connection, pounds 70; Miss Selfridge, pounds 27.99, Oasis, pounds 39.99, branches nationwide

Long skinny dress: Next, crepe evening dress, pounds 69.99; French Connection, crepe long wrap dress, pounds 69.99; Warehouse, pounds 49.99; Whistles, cotton skinny-rib dress, pounds 80; Miss Selfridge, shiny ribbed dress, pounds 34.99

All available from approx end of August

BERLIN, from page 44

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