FASHION / Antique and old lace

AFTER austerity, opulence. In the season that has inflicted gamines and waifs on us, with their bony, boyish hips and tiny little chests, in the evening, at least, fashion is still celebrating the survival of a few womanly curves.

The emphasis is on fragile antique silk velvets and guipure lace; heavy beads dragging on the frailest of old cloth; antique-looking devore velvets, their patterns burnt in to show flesh through chiffon. One of the favourite combinations is a satin slip and georgette petticoat layered one on top of the other, as delicate as a pair of nightdresses (and possibly originally thus intended). These are not clothes for the romantic innocent; these are love-affair clothes, designed to slither down the body and on to the floor at the drop of a shoulder.

In place of the tailored black jacket so synonymous with boring business dinners, are the teeniest of cardigans, which are meant to look as if they are too tiny (and usually are because they're often second-hand and people were smaller then), or delicately embroidered waistcoats in beaded velvet or satin scattered with tiny seed pearls. Unfortunately, though many of the components of this rather louche look can be bought second-hand, that doesn't mean they're cheap. The unironed, army-surplus stuff everyone under 20 is wearing can be bought for a song. But exquisite pieces of evening-wear from the Twenties, Thirties and Forties are costly because so few have survived.

Other pieces here are from contemporary designers in romantic mood: Giorgio Armani's waistcoat looks second-hand but is, in fact, second-mortgage stuff. Ann Demeulemeester's white nightdresses, one in satin trimmed with a band of old lace, the other in chiffon with embroidery and pearls, work best layered upon each other and together cost more than pounds 500. But, as the older pieces here prove, these are not clothes to be worn once. This is the beautiful end of 'investment dressing' - something to make you feel like a woman again; something to pass on to your children.

(Photographs omitted)