Fashion: Now that's what I call a mix

From the catwalk to the second-hand market, remixing trends, pop- music style, is the order of the day.
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The Independent Culture
Leaf through any of this month's glossy fashion magazines and it is highly likely that fashion fatigue will set in. Catwalk supplements, trend predictions, the ubiquitous "must-have" purchase, and page upon page of clothes categorised into themed sections are - while inspiring - a bit like information overload. If only there was an algebraic equation, care of Carol Vorderman, that could solve the what-shall-I-wear equation.

There isn't, but the looks for spring/summer 1999 can be honed down into four easy-to-understand sections, by way of the high-street stores and a bit of pop-music style remixing.

For Lucinda Lee, the head of design for Warehouse, remixing trends for popular consumption is the order of the day. "We go to street markets, nightclubs, restaurants, train stations and on trips abroad while researching our collections. We are always looking around. We do look at new trends from the catwalk," she says, "but what people are wearing on the street, and what our customers want is just as, if not more important to us."

It's the same story at Oasis. "Our spring range was ready before the catwalk shows even began," says Margaret Shiel, the company's creative co-ordinator. "But if we do see a strong trend coming through, such as certain colours, we will incorporate it later in the season."

The key to good fashion remixing lies, of course, with sampling the important trends, and making sure they hang together in a coherent way.

For this season (clothes in-store during the next couple of weeks) the high street has picked up on the best of the catwalk collections, ignored the worst of them, (sheer puffball skirts and big shoulders, for example) and continued with their best-selling core items, such as white shirts, black polo necks and basic shift dresses.

The winning catwalk trends include late Seventies Cher in hippy mode; peasant (all puff sleeves, flouncy skirts and broderie anglaise); sporty (drawstrings, hoods, funnel necks, neon colours); military (combat pants, khaki); modern (clean shapes, block colours, innovative fabrics); and liberal doses of the perpetually popular feminine looks. Colour has also cropped up across the board, from dusky lavender and blue pastels and neutrals to neon bright.

But how have the stores put it all together? And which store has gone for which look? Take the Utility Chic look, for example. Utility Chic is a cross between the trends for military, sporty and urban that were invented in east London, worn by All Saints and remixed by Prada via army surplus shops and Camden market. Warehouse, French Connection, Oasis and Top Shop have included it as a strong element in their spring collections - even Marks & Spencer, Principles and George at Asda have included hooded tops, drawstring trousers and khaki in their lines.

The most important items for Utility Chic are baggy, combat-style drawstring pants or skirts, sporty tank tops, and kagoules or macs. These are invariably worn with trainers, or the more fashionable moulded-sole trainer/shoe.

The essential accessory for this look, however, is the hands-free, body- friendly bag - one which is worn around the body rather than being hand- held. Top Shop, Warehouse, French Connection, Benetton and Oasis have all done at least one hands-free bag, inspired by expensive designer versions from Miu Miu, Mandarina Duck, Prada and Louis Vuitton.

While Utility Chic is the ultimate remixed fashion trend for spring/summer, Hippy Bohemian comes in a close second. It has its roots with labels such as Voyage (the very expensive shop in Fulham Road, London that requires membership), who specialise in hand-dyed, hand-embroidered dresses and ribbon-edged cardigans - and has branched out via the peasant look from Ghost, Clements Ribeiro, Valentino and Anna Sui.

Hippy Deluxe has found true focus through Tom Ford at Gucci. His late Seventies homage to Cher, complete with embroidered denim skirts, diamante- encrusted baggy jeans and loud tropical prints, defined the look, and gave it "legs". This gave Warehouse, French Connection and Top Shop the confidence to incorporate similar elements into their ranges.

Sarah Mower, the fashion director of Arcadia, which owns Top Shop, puts the emergence of bright, happy, laid-back clothes down to a new fashion mood. "The collection is very upbeat, like mentally being on holiday," she says. "It's a major reaction to the grey season. This is fashion not taking itself too seriously."

But where clothing stores in Britain earn their bread and butter is with clothes that don't shout "fashion fan", garments that work on a day- to-day basis for work and play. Marks & Spencer has traditionally been the place to shop for these clothes, but French Connection, Jigsaw, Gap and Oasis are doing it far better these days.

The two remaining categories for spring and summer are Modern and Pretty, both of which have been around for a couple of years, and continue season- on-season to be updated by designers such as Nicole Farhi, Elspeth Gibson and Ghost. It is likely that both categories will - in the 21st century - be seen as definitive Nineties fashion movements.

Modern is essentially an update of the Fifties Riviera shapes, with a touch of futurism thrown in by using Velcro fastenings, coated fabrics and padding. Three- quarter-sleeve shirts and cardigans, cropped pants, capri pants, shift dresses, sailor trousers, prom dresses and slash-neck T-shirts are the mainstays of the look. Margaret Shiel at Oasis says that this is the most popular theme for their customer, and to update it for spring the design team has brought in elements of the hippy look, such as tropical and kitsch prints.

Pretty is, as the name suggests, very womanly. Silk bias-cut floral skirts, ribbon edging, puff sleeves, frills, ruffles, broderie anglaise, pastel colours - basically, if it's feminine and sexy, it's in.

Fashion is not a science, but the powers that be on the high street treat it as such, which is probably why the UK has the best selection of high- street fashion in the world. This, in turn, gives the average British woman ample opportunity to look fabulous, even if she can't afford the real thing. And that certainly can't be bad.


Hippy Deluxe: French Connection, Warehouse and Pied a Terre, see above

Utility Chic: Owen Gaster for Bhs, at 17 selected stores (0171-262 3288). French Connection, branches nationwide (0171-399 7200). Pied a Terre, branches nationwide (0171-629 0686)

Pretty: Oasis, branches nationwide (01865 881986). Faith, branches nationwide, (0800 289 297)

Modern: Warehouse, branches nationwide (0171-278 3491). Press and Bastayan, London W1 and branches (01622 763 211)

Photographer: Anna Stevenson

Stylist: Holly Wood

Hair: Craig Mason for Toni & Guy

Make-up: Michelle Marsh for Clinique

Model: Kate Mahoney at Select