Fashion: Tonight I'm gonna party like it's pounds 19.99

High-street stores may have taken a battering of late, but they'll be every 21st-century girl's destination.

It's no secret that 1999 hasn't been the best of years for the Great British high street. In January, in a blaze of negative publicity, Marks & Spencer, this country's largest clothing chain, announced a 41 per cent slump in pre-tax profits. Around that time everyone from Arcadia (owners of Top Shop, Top Man, Principles, Evans, Dorothy Perkins, and, more recently, Warehouse and Richards) to Storehouse (Mothercare, BhS) issued their own profit warnings. But although this is clearly bad news for the retailer, as far as the consumer is concerned, the immediate future doesn't look anything like as grim.

It doesn't take a genius to work out that when times are tough, competition between rival companies is at its most fierce. And our high street has more than just home-grown competition to contend with these days. If the presence of French clothing companies Kookai and Morgan, Italian-born Benetton and Sisley and the hugely successful Spanish chain Zara isn't enough to be going along with, there's also the omnipresent American retail giant and fashion favourite Gap, soon to be joined by its younger sister brand Old Navy as well as Banana Republic and Club Monaco. It's a jungle out there, as they say, which means that, this autumn/winter, the consumer is likely to be spoilt for affordable choice.

Perversely enough, while retailers struggle to make ends meet, the biggest high street fashion story for the early part of this season is understated luxury: think butter-soft leather in indulgently pale colours, finest suede, sumptuous velvets and knitwear so fluffy that - in a highly pleasing Comfort moment - you can barely fit it in to the top drawer. Equally extravagant is all the subtle beading, sequins and embroidery a bright young West London girl could wish for. Come October/November, be warned that this is likely to become rather less subtle. As the new millennium looms, there isn't a big-name store on the planet that that has not been busy putting the finishing touches to collections aimed specifically at That Party which, in terms of fashion, looks unlikely to be one for the shrinking violets.

In the meantime, the overall consensus appears to be that there is not a lot of point in picking up on the catwalk's more flighty trends - certain designers' predilection for dressing us from head to toe in vivid orange, say, or swathing us in lightly padded garments that make us look, well, as fat as a house. With matters financial at the forefront of each and every outlet's consciousness, this would be taking rather too great a risk. Instead, the emphasis is on desirable separates that are likely to look as at home one season as they are the next with the emphasis on quality rather than just passing trends.

Gucci and Prada remain the designer labels with the most influence over the high street. In terms of style, it's not insignificant that the two could hardly be more different. Gucci is, after all, purveyor of hugely glamorous, in-your-face sexy clothing which veers perilously close to flashy - ironically flashy, of course. Prada, meanwhile, is a rather less obvious affair: slightly dowdy silhouettes, obscure colour and print, and a futuristic sportswear vent that Gucci steers well clear of.

It is only fitting that the jacket of the season - New Look, pounds 60, pictured - is a Gucci spin-off. Anyone wishing to get hold of one of these might be well advised to join the waiting list now. If that seems rather too troublesome (it isn't actually Gucci after all), Top Shop's skinny leather jacket costs only pounds 90 and Oasis's version of the look clocks in at pounds 150. Also at New Look, those with a yearning to pick up on fashion's current love affair with dweeby knits will be more than happy with a Fair Isle sweater that wouldn't look out of place on a geography teacher.

With its feet firmly in the Prada camp, is Marks & Spencer's cream leather funnel-necked coat which looks suitably English Rose, not to mention suitably now, teamed with plain blue Oxford shirt (French Connection - basics Nirvana) and tartan skirt. But its back to Gucci again for the inspiration behind Warehouse's panne velvet skirts. Panne velvet, in case you haven't noticed, is one of the fabrics of the season. Wear it during the day mixed with less shiny happy fabrics for that vintage clothing junkie/chic bag lady effect. Also large in the fabric department at the moment is felted wool. To this end, a box-pleated embroidered felted wool skirt (Warehouse again, a Prada derivative) won't disappoint even the most fashion-conscious consumer.

And neither will Top Shop's bright lilac cute fluffy poncho, for that matter. The rest of the high street, quite sensibly, has been less than quick off the mark to pick up on this particular trend which was first spotted for spring/summer at Louis Vuitton, then everywhere from Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs (again) to Anna Sui and Michael Kors this season. It's not the easiest of looks but it is one of the most screamingly fashionable. This means, of course, that come next season no one concerned with keeping their finger on fashion's ever-quickening pulse will want to be seen dead in it. Under such circumstances there are not many of us who would be prepared to fork out many hundreds and even thousands for the designer prototype. The high street version, however, costs a mere pounds 25. At that price, you wouldn't even be too upset if your cat made a bed out of it. And can you blame him?

PHOTOGRAPHER: ANNA STEVENSON

STYLIST: HOLLY WOOD

HAIR AND MAKE-UP: KIM BROWN USING COSMETICS A LA CARTE

MODEL: NAT AT SELECT

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam