Fashion: They call me mellow yellow

Avoid the sulphurous and wear it washed out - and you, too, can carry off the season's hottest colour.
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The Independent Culture
If you don't like colour, you have a fashion crisis on your hands this season. Sorry to cause alarm, but this is not one of those insignificant trends aimed at fashion's underground movers and shakers. This is a surging, all-encompassing movement that targets everyone, whether you shop at Westwood or Warehouse, Marks & Spencer or MaxMara.

Designers have fallen head over heels for colour - vivid, eye-popping colour, that is. Fuchsia, emerald, aquamarine, coral, turquoise, melon, ruby, lilac, crimson... you get the picture.

Call it a fashionable whim, an inevitable backlash to the interminable seasons of grey, or a last-minute surge of optimism at the end of the century. For whatever reason, sludge is out, colour is in - and with a vengeance.

Alarm bells started to ring when the triumvirate masters of monochrome - Calvin Klein, Helmut Lang and Tom Ford at Gucci - smattered their usual slick but sober catwalks with throbbing shades of neon pink, electric blue and splashy tropical flower prints. The fashion editors blinked hard behind their black shades, quivered with excitement in their black uniforms and promptly started buying up the world's stock of brightly coloured pashminas.

But for even the most colour-friendly fashion editor, there is one spectrum that is causing widespread panic - yellow. From Marni's egg-yolk felt skirts to Martine Sitbon's sulphurous sunflower shell tops, to banana silks at John Rocha and Byblos, yellows are regarded with deep suspicion. Is there any wonder? Yellow seems to endow most complexions with a deathly pallor. It's the difference between the bilious look of the Norwich City Canaries and the Brazilian national football team who, in their dynamic yellow kit, look the picture of health.

Still, if there's any time to try out yellow, it's now. After all, this is the season of fluffy chicks, daffodils and, of course, Easter eggs. "It's a great colour for Easter, especially if you want to be recognised in a crowd," says Caroline Bennett of Color Me Beautiful. "And it's good for cheering yourself up, too." What's more, it doesn't have to be a violent strain of yellow. As the pictures on this page prove, yellow - of the pale and interesting variety - can look, well, pale and interesting.

Paul Smith, never a designer to put anything on the catwalk that won't work in real life, tried out a shade he calls "washed-out lemon", which he says illuminates even the milkiest of skin tones. "It's a warm shade that gives a fresh and optimistic feel after so much deadening black, which now looks so dated." His advice is to keep sharper shades away from your face and wear softer tones with pure white or dusty pastels. (Check out his custard-cream duster coat dappled with pink roses, above.)

Owen Gaster may hail from the other side of the design tracks to Smith, but even he refused to inflict us with a searing yellow at his spring/summer show. "I know yellow can look dodgy on white skin, but this milky lemon shade gave a softer spin to my collection," he says thoughtfully. But does this 29-year-old designer wear yellow himself? "Yeah. One of my favourite jumpers is a yellow Pringle, but I only wear it on Sundays.

"You've got to be brave to wear yellow," says Gaster, who adds that the key to wearing bright yellow is to match it with an equally strong red. His tip is simply to "wear it with confidence".

Where designers lead, the high street follows, in this case cautiously. "Don't wear it from head to toe!" laughs Lucinda Lee, head of design at Warehouse. "It's not a difficult colour to wear if you mix it with others - black, denim or white. Whatever you do," she warns, "wear it in moderation." Warehouse's range includes strappy vests, fitted cotton shirts and knitted twinsets in the softest primrose.

Karen Millen, the mistress of sharp tailoring on the high street, is never one to shirk from the hottest vibrant colour trend. She says the way to make yellow look fresh and modern is to wear it with pale greys (see, last season's wardrobe will still come in handy) and sporty blacks but it "looks sharpest and strongest as an accent to clean, stark white".

So, the experts say it's possible. If you follow their advice you won't end up resembling a big chicken or looking jaundiced. And looking on the (bright) side of things, next season's big colour trend is orange. Now there's a tricky colour...

Dress, pounds 90, by French Connection, 249 Regent Street, London W1 (enquiries 0171-399 7200); floral coat, pounds 1,420, by Paul Smith Women (enquiries 0171-379 7133)

Left Gingham shirt, pounds 140, by Paul Smith Women, 41 Floral Street, London WC2

Right Jumper, pounds 69.95, by Karen Millen, 262-264 Regent Street, London W1 (enquiries 01622-664 032); check skirt, pounds 35, by Warehouse (enquiries 0171-278 3491)

Top, pounds 495, by Owen Gaster, from Selfridges, Oxford Street, London W1 (enquiries 0171-580 9984); satin sunray pleat skirt, pounds 165, by The Scotch House, 84 Regent Street, London W1 (enquiries 0171-495 5767). Photographer: Anna Stevenson. Stylist: Holly Wood. Hair: James Mooney at Paul Windle, using Bumble and Bumble. Make-up: Firyal Arneil, using Lancome. Model: Mairead Mchugh at take two