Morgan shows its collection with the trendsetters, but what it sells in the shops is remade for the woman in the street, says Melanie Rickey
AMONG the sack-load of show invitations that landed at our lodgings during Paris fashion week, one stood out like a sore thumb. It was for Morgan, the sexy, French, high-street chain that's big over here - an opportunity not to be missed.

It is widely assumed that the high street waits for the international catwalk shows to take place and then faithfully picks the key trends, waters them down, and serves them to their customer at an affordable price. Not Morgan. It showed its autumn/winter '98 collection on the catwalk alongside the key trendsetters.

What Morgan showed was a good representation of what is happening in fashion on street level (ie: a couple of seasons behind the catwalk), something most avid fashion-watchers could pin-point - and all done in "cheap" fabrics.

There were the key skirt shapes - the knee-length dirndl (in microfibre), the fan-pleated umbrella (in fake leather), tutus (in wool/acrylic), wraps, and split pencil skirts (in nylon). Trousers were boyish, with no front pleats, and figure-hugging yet slouchy. Beading, prints, delicate abstract embroideries, crochet and lacework were also in abundance on sexy, figure- hugging dresses and skimpy tops.

The assembled journalists and Morgan executives nodded approvingly and Jocelyn Bismouth, part-owner and chief creative designer, who has designed the collection since 1972, when she was 18, cried as she accepted the congratulations.

But, come September, very few of the clothes seen on the catwalk will make it into Morgan's shops. Instead, they will be adapted to appeal to as many women as possible. "We see the show and then we have to think about how it will to work on the Morgan Girl," says Debbie Winstanley, Morgan's buying director for the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Winstanley has intimate knowledge of the Morgan Girl: she likes to be in fashion, is aged between 20 and 30 and works because she wants to be independent, although she probably has a man in her life. She reads Elle, likes going out and wears a lot of black, and animal prints (60 per cent of clothes sold from Morgan are black, 30 per cent are animal prints). Colour scares her.

When grey came in last year, she didn't take to it straight away. Similarly with pink, shorter-length trousers and longer-length skirts, which have taken two years to make it from the catwalk to the shops. "Morgan Girl is ready for grey now," says Winstanley.

Last October, Morgan presented the catwalk collection show, featured here. It is hitting the shops now, although it won't look like the originals. After the show, Winstanley and her assistant, Rachel Hall, sat down and decided what Morgan Girl would understand - and reinvented the clothes for popular consumption.

It was decided that the red, blue and black flamenco dress would only sell in nude and black, and that it should have a vest, T-shirt and skirt in the same fabric. The Alexander McQueen-inspired tan suedette top with rough-edged sheer panel also got the nod, but it was decided Morgan Girl would only wear it in black.

Once adapted to suit customers - or "Morganised" - each garment will sell and sell. High fashion may have the edge, but high street has got the cash and the customers. Morgan won't be selling the microfibre dirndl for autumn/winter as shown on the catwalk. It will be Morganised to be worn in any UK town or city without provoking laughter.

Shelley Hunt, fashion director of Company magazine, was disappointed to find that the press samples which could be photographed for the pages of her magazine will not necessarily make it into the shops. "I love their shows," she says, "and want to photograph it all, but it's frustrating when half the stuff won't be available."

Hunt wishes they would take a few risks, but Morganising takes no chances and it works. The company has doubled its output year-on-year since launching here in 1992, and there are 38 Morgan stores across the UK and Ireland, 500 stores world-wide.

The idea behind launching Morgan in the UK was to bring French style to the British high street. Prices are reasonable: tops under pounds 35, jackets no more than pounds 100 and dresses costing pounds 80 maximum.

So, what's the point of showing on the catwalk? "The shows are our drawing board," says Winstanley. "We take a shape, a colour, an embellishment and convert it. It might make a fab photo in a magazine, but we have to sell it, we can't let our customers down."