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For the ultimate in Nineties glamour, all you have to do is put on your cardigan, says Tamsin Blanchard
In the eighties, there was tailoring. In the Nineties, there is knitwear. And if you are in search of a softer, more relaxed way of dressing, you need only slip on a neat little cardigan, because knitwear has gone from being a frump thing to a state-of-the-art, luxury, must-have thing. A whole new breed of knitwear designers have found the limelight. There is Brother Julien MacDonald, the ex-Royal College of Art student and protege of Karl Lagerfeld; Lainey Keogh, the Irish knitwear designer to the stars; and Martin Kidman, knitter of fine, simple pieces of cashmere that are just perfect but require serious spending power. The grandparents of the designer knit are Italians Tai and Rosita Missoni, now old enough (he is 76, she is 65) to be retired to their rocking chairs with the knitting needles clacking, but actually enjoying something of a revival. This is because nobody understands colour quite like the Missonis. Over almost half a century spent mastering the craft of knit and the art of fashion, they have produced something rarein f ashion: a product that is unique and worth every penny. There are imitations, plenty of them, since Missoni found a new lease of life a couple of seasons ago. Miss Selfridge, along with any other chain store with half an eye on catwalks, has paid homage to the signature Missoni zig-zag multi-coloured stripes. But the real thing is still unmistakable. Tai's patterns, worked out meticulously on graph paper, are something you just can't create on a computer. And a Missoni knit, be it a pair of knickers (now there's a novelty) or a T-shirt in earthy stripes, is a thing to treasure for ever. For much of the late Seventies and Eighties, Missoni was one of the shows in Milan that no fashion editor with anything more pressing to do would bother with. But since Angela Missoni, the couple's 39-year-old daughter, who has her own line mixing looser prints and knits in simple, modern shapes, came on board to inject a little modernity into the family style, the shows have been the hottest ticket of Milan Fashion Week. Last March, Andie MacDowell was the star attraction on the front row, and Jennifer Tilley, sister of Meg and herself a rising star in Hollywood, picked out a long, strappy sheath in watery stripes of blues and greens with a shimmer of sequins over the to p, to wear to the Missoni after-show party. The knitwear house had at last thrown off its fusty image and for evening, at least, become glamorous and sexy, a thinking person's Versace. If Angela can do all of that in just three seasons, just imagine what Margarita, Tai and Rosita's oldest grandchild at 14, and the future of the family business, could do with the label when she is old enough. Matches, the designer retailer with stores in Wimble-don and Richmond, bought the Missoni collection for the first time this summer. It flew out of the shops as soon as it hit the rails, and there are now only a few pieces remaining. "It has a broad appeal," explains Lina Basma, the buying assistant at Matches. "People love it because it's for all ages, from those in their twenties who are discovering it for the first time to men and women in their fifties who remember it from the Sixties and loved it then." Lina, who is 25, couldn't resist buying a vest top in shades of lilac and also a knee-length dress. "People are so bored of muted colours and black and brown," she says. But whatever your colouring, Missoni has something to make your skin glow and your eyes sparkle. And that, after all, is what fashion is all about. Above: yellow/red sequin halter dress, pounds 990; gold bangles by Detail, as before Left: green sequin bikini top; green sequin slash skirt, pounds 880 for set; bangles by Detail, as before

STOCKISTS All clothes by Missoni, available from A la Mode, 36 Hans Crescent, SW1; Browns, 27 South Molton Street, W1; Joseph, 77 Fulham Road, SW3, Bond Street, W1; Harrods, Knightsbridge, SW1; Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, SW1; Lisa Sterling, 3-4 St James House, St James Street, Manchester; Matches, 34/37A High Street, Wimbledon; Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, SW1