Fashion: Corduroy - the new velvet

Geography teachers were ahead of their time. Cord is the fabric this winter, and it's coming to a store near you.
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Corduroy. Not a fabric that conjures up high fashion. Geography teachers, yes. Style aficionados, no. It was big in the Seventies, along with alpaca, mohair and patchwork leather; in fact, cord has been big in the casual-wear department ever since it was first invented in the late 18th century, but it has never captured the imagination of designers. At least, that was the case until trendy types started cutting it into groovy shapes - skinny, zip-front jackets, streamlined coats and jumpsuits - and giving it a whirl on the catwalk.

"Everyone's tired of hi-tech fabrics," says Wakako Kishimoto, half of the print designer team Eley Kishimoto, which put low-tech cord into production for its autumn/ winter collection. "There's a certain nostalgia for cord," she explains, "because we all wore it in the Seventies."

Ah yes, those purple cord flares were just the ticket with knitted tank tops and chunky platforms. Most of us owned a pair of cords then, just as most of us own a pair today - without the bellbottoms, of course. Cords always have been and always will be a classic for everyone, whether you're six or 60, boy or girl, man or woman, rich or poor. And the fact that this humble fabric has become king in 1999 signals a change in the bigger fashion picture.

Glossy magazines may be crammed with teaser pages featuring celebrities in seductive creations straight off the catwalk, in a bid to make glamour the new every-day fashion, but few of us have our eyes on Gucci or Dolce & Gabbana for a pair of the latest crystal-encrusted leather trousers or a zebra-print corset. Even fewer of us are prepared to spend that kind of money. "Ah," the glossies will tell you, "but we're selling dreams. If our readers want the look, they can head off to the high street for their Gucci and D&G renditions."

This theory works on 16-year-olds who relish disposable fashion trends, but when was the last time the person sitting next to you at work walked in wearing Kookai's piebald pony-skin miniskirt? Or Top Shop's gold- trimmed sari dress? If the answer's yesterday, you obviously work in the fashion business.

In reality, those of us who aren't surrounded by paparazzi flashbulbs want low-fi clothes - the sort that don't rely on much thought or effort. And the same goes for a night out - dinner, party, club, you name it, low-impact glamour is the order of the day. We're all for individuality and self-expression, but we place more value on comfort than on glitz.

Thankfully, then, cord, the most unassuming of fabrics, is back on the clothes rails in a big way this winter, whether it's of Queen, needle, pin or jumbo variation. It's no longer limited to a classic pair of drainpipes; these days cord comes in everything from jeans-style jackets to pencil skirts, and all the cool modern shapes featured here.

"Cord is a great alternative to shiny, high-impact velvet, which has been overkilled as a winter fabric," says Clare Corrigan, designer of Liberty Collection. "Cord can be just as rich-looking, but it's got a low-key feel to it."

So, if you don't want to be dolled-up like a Christmas-tree decoration this winter, remember: cosy and familiar rules OK.

Pale blue jumpsuit, pounds 215, by Luella Bartley, from Whistles, 303 Brompton Road, London SW3

(0171-487 4484); white leather collar, pounds 197.50, by Jacqueline Rabun (0171- 402 7101)

Red jacket, pounds 45, Benetton, stores nationwide; polo neck, pounds 185, Harvey Nichols (0171-235 5000); black cords, pounds 70, French Connection (0171- 399 7200)

V-neck top, pounds 90, scarf, pounds 48, both by Eley Kishimoto, from Liberty, London W1 (0171-734 1234); grey culottes, pounds 87, by Paul and Joe from Selfridges (0171-629 1234)

Green corduroy coat, pounds 295, by Liberty, London W1 (0171-734 1234)