Fashion: Bright young threads

The style police: Grey is old news now, but it's too early to step into spring's colour. What's a fashion victim to do? James Sherwood provides the answers

Flu? What's all this fuss about it? All you need is a Lemsip, a whiskey chaser and a couple of days under the duvet with J G Ballard. Flu, Style Police can stand. But not the mid-season malaise.

All this month's mags are splashed with spring/summer fashion (need I remind you we are only half way through January?). The catwalk reports are tantalising us with titbits of colour but we're still stuck in the bleak mid-winter. Empress of the blues Bessie Smith probably sang about this mid-season trauma a million years ago: something along the lines of, "I got those 'everything's grey, I'm through with cashmere', low-down maxi blues".

By now, we've all got the season sorted. It's almost too easy to pull on that just-the-right-red John Smedley knit sweater and a pair of charcoal Nicole Farhi combat-cut pants. Even good fashion can get uniform after a few months. You stare miserably at your perfect winter capsule wardrobe and it might as well be prison overalls.

"It's the curse of the fashion editor passed on to the punters, isn't it?" says Susannah Frankel, fashon editor on the Independent. "Just when you've got your winter wardrobe sorted, you are bombarded with all the spring stuff in the fashion pages. You can buy it but you can't wear it and I find that deeply, profoundly upsetting."

You're leafing through February Marie Claire over a double latte and a fag. There's a model in an acid yellow MaxMara sundress pulling a donkey across a double-page spread. Face it, the donkey would look less conspicuous in Coffee Republic than you in canary yellow this time of year.

"We all need a bit of a lift in January," says Marie Claire fashion director Sarah Walter. "Realistically, girls can and do wear the strong coloured spring dresses under the great grey coat for a night out.

"I don't think there's a problem experimenting with new colours right now. Harvey Nichols has already taken delivery of spring Dolce & Gabbana. As a culture, we are holidaying all year round so spring/summer collections are necessary now. Even if you're buying for the UK climate, you can lift grey with one of the vibrant spring sweaters or scarves. Or you can be clever in the sales and look for winter stock - like Top Shop's paisley- print tops - which was a bit ahead of itself."

Fashion retail has a sense of timing to rival the White Rabbit. Unless we are the fabulous nobodies who jet off to Mustique for the month of February, what use is a backless fuchsia sun-dress? Little use, but it is a great psychological ornament. It says hold out for spring. It is begging to be worn somehow, some way.

Last week Style Police had the good fortune to stray into the Office sale shop on St Martin's Lane. What should be waiting there like a lost puppy in the pound but a pair of powder blue suede loafers that were discounted from pounds 59.99 to pounds 20.

It bears out the old Style Police adage that catwalk takes two seasons to make the change from sartorial flashing to street style acceptance. That pair of Hush Puppies wouldn't have worked for spring/summer '98. They would have inspired a few cheap Elvis jokes, maybe; but those shoes are going to kill 'em with nubuck pants and a white T when the world is ready for spring's pastel offensive.

Style writer and self-confessed fashion fox Angela Buttolph says, "Because colour is such a big thing for spring, there is no way you can do it half- heartedly. For people who live in black, like myself, the first time we wear colour will be a momentous occasion.

"People who know me will know I'm wearing colour as a fashion thing. You want to get it right and you cannot look ridiculous. So I need to get the timing right and it isn't time yet."

Ridicule is all too probable if you champion a spring colour and get it wrong. This time round the designers have gone for the scatter technique. Every conceivable colour, from pastels to neons via coffee and cream and nude, is out there. Murky mustard and dull turquoise - colours not seen since Janis Joplin was alive - are meant to be back in business.

"If you live and die in black, then chances are you can live with white," says Susannah Frankel. "I'm not even going near mustard and turquoise. It's very problematic. If you read a good word about them anywhere, ignore it. I once had to write a piece about lime green being a winner. Please! It's all down to your flesh tone, really. I'm sticking to black on top and using colour from the waist down which is going to work."

Style Police isn't going to brave the blue suedes quite yet. So how are we going to get over the mid-season malaise? We prescribe lightening up with one piece of white immediately, gradually rubbing out the grey and black with nudes, milks and creams. Ease into a colour block of pastel (a sweater, pencil skirt or closed-toe strappy kitten heel) well before spring has sprung. But wait until the sun shows its face before braving the hot neons.

Emergency clinic closed.

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