Fashion: Down beat

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The Independent Culture
ALCHEMY used to take place on fashion shoots. A scruffy, unpromising model would emerge in splendour after hours of hair and make-up. Clothes would be pressed and primped and bulldog-clipped into place for an exact fit. The sun of a far-flung country would illuminate outifts that were never designed to be worn in such a climate. Then the photographer and a troop of assistants would move in and feverishly get to work.

In contrast, models are now turning up for shoots looking pretty much as they do in front of the lens. Posing is boring, hair and make-up unnecessary - so why not forget it, and lie around on the carpet looking for fluff down the back of the radiator?

Of course, even in this studiedly downbeat kind of shoot, the artifice remains. There are pictures to be taken and clothes to be displayed. But our model Cecilia Chancellor has been friends with the photographer Nigel Shafran for long enough to feel quite at home sitting down in his kitchen with a cup of tea. The only difference is that he has a camera in his hand rather than a mug of Earl Grey.

As for the clothes, they revel in their lack of prissiness. They are thrown on straight from the washing-line. They look like someone else's because some of them once were, and they are teamed with hefty, practical, classic shoes, originally designed for men. But other pieces are new - and they are just as costly as the glossy, uptight fashions they are a reaction against.

The trousers Cecilia is wearing look like on old pair of her father's, pulled on without thought or contact with a steam iron. In fact they are the work of fashion's 'deconstructivist' Martin Margiela, the most influential designer of the moment, who spends as much creative angst on his poor- look clothes as Gianni Versace probably does on his rich-kitsch.

Almost 20 years ago, Shirley Conran preached in Superwoman that the solution to juggling home and job lay in ironing only the bits that showed. Now - risible or not - crumples and wrinkles are deemed a part of the intrinsic beauty of clothing, something to appreciate and enjoy. So the hip and the busy can rest their consciences while avoiding the ironing board - until fashion reacts again.-

(Photograph omitted)

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