Fashion: It's not over. It's a wrap

Those who like their fashion hot say the pashmina is OUT. The rest of us can form a queue outside M&S. By Rebecca Lowthorpe; Photographer: Robert Fairer Stylist: Lucie Kearney
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THIS PASHMINA craze... Is it over with or not? The August issue of Vogue rings the death knell for the 36-inch-wide shawls made from the ultra-downy hair of Himalayan mountain goats, saying that "like Pret a Manger, it's everywhere - the pashmina has lost its credibility". Yet at the recent Paris couture shows, the darn things were out in force, gracing the shoulders of the fashionista milieu and Voguettes alike - if nothing else, it remains the world's most glamorous security blanket.

Trend junkies who like to maintain their presence on the cutting-edge will feel that now, as the high street picks up the pashmina shawl, it's high time they moved on to the next status symbol... pash pillows, bedthrows, even underwear. But for those of you who won't be swayed by the vagaries of fashion, the pash will induce cartwheels of euphoria.

What other cover-up feels so scrumptiously luxurious, comes in a mind- blowing array of colours, is light enough to throw on in summer and warm enough to keep out the winter chills? A pash is huge yet folds away into nothing and, frankly, there's nothing so chic as travelling light on your hols. Reason enough to convince even the least trend-conscious of the pashmina's potential as this summer's best investment buy.

The genuine article, known as "diamond fibre", is hand spun from "pasham", which is plucked from the Himalayan mountain-goat's belly. In Kashmir, pure pashmina is said to be worth its weight in gold. Not surprisingly then, a plain shawl costs around pounds 300 and is only to be found in exclusive boutiques like Pickett's, the pashmina specialist in London's Burlington Arcade, or uptown stores like Harvey Nichols. The high street version is made from less rarefied cashmere and silk - far easier to knock up quickly and sell out fast. In fact, department stores and fashion chains are locked into a price war and battling to be first to stock sugared almond-coloured shawls.

So where should you start hunting? Marks & Spencer, famously criticised of late for its dowdy collections, will introduce its own pash in mid- August, in 16 colours, for pounds 99 a pop. Too late to wow the fashion pack, but just in time to woo back the classic brigade. The pash is, after all, set to become the new cashmere jumper - an expensive but versatile luxury. Initially only available in the flagship Marble Arch store, M&S is cannily aware that limited availability for its most fashionable pieces is no longer an option; the pash will be available in most stores by late September, or in selected colours through M&S's Direct catalogue .

Debenhams pashmina mysteriously bears top milliner and resident accessory consultant Philip Treacy's tag and is cunningly priced at pounds 95. Fashion chains gripped by pashmina fever include Oasis, with a shawl size at pounds 99 and a slimmer scarf version at pounds 75. Meanwhile, Jigsaw plans to undercut everyone with women's and children's, both at pounds 78. Children's? Oh please! Don't bother unless you're a dry-clean-only mum like Jerry Hall or Jemima Khan, who swaddled their little cherubs in pashminas for their first photocalls.

Come winter, we will be a nation blanketed by pashmina. Even men can join in. "It's a must-have for every fashion conscious UK male," says Shami Ahmed, chief executive of Joe Bloggs, who's knocking out coffee and charcoal colours at pounds 89.99.

Step into pashmania!

Clockwise from top left: Turquoise pashmina shawl, pounds 89.50, by Cashmere Company, mail order and enquiries 01525-280 888; bikini bottoms, pounds 25, from Whistles, 12 St.Christopher's Place, London W1, House of Fraser, 44 Buchanan Street, Glasgow, enquiries 0171-487 4485; Hawaian print vest, pounds 22, friendship bracelet, pounds 2.50, both from TopShop, Oxford Street, London W1, enquiries 0800-731 8284; yellow trainers, pounds 45, by Nike, from Offspring, 25 Duke Street, Brighton, 60 Neal Street, London WC2, enquiries 0181-838 4447.

Pink pashmina shawl, pounds 170, from Whistles, as before; turquoise silk top, pounds 30, from Warehouse, 19-21 Argyle Street, London W1, 30 King Street, Manchester, enquiries 0171-278 3491; lime green bikini bottoms, pounds 21.99, from La Redoute, mail order and enquiries 0500-777 777; blue trainers, pounds 39.99, by Puma, from Offspring, as before.

Grey pashmina, pounds 99, by Marks & Spencer, 458 Oxford Street, London W1, and 106 Market Street, Manchester, enquiries 0171-935 4422; yellow vest, pounds 12, by New Look, 309 Oxford Street, London W1, enquiries 0500-454 094; bikini bottoms, pounds 17, from Annies Antiques Clothing, 10 Camden Passage, London N1, enquiries 0171-359 0796

Model: Amy Wear at Select

Hair & Make-up: Glen Jackson at Rockit