Fashion: Four ages of woman, all of them young

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Indy Lifestyle Online
This autumn, designers have come clean on their fixation for youth. They have done little to disguise the fact that their dream customer is a precocious, 6ft-tall 13-year-old with strong ankles, used to wearing 4in heels and possessed of more dosh than sense. They have even taken their inspiration from the school playground, although think St Trinians and the Bash Street Kids rather than Cheltenham Ladies' College. John Galliano, for one, has designed the ultimate school uniform guaranteed to send mothers and headmistresses into a frenzy. Blazers are two sizes too small, skirts just about cover knickers and short socks are worn with stiletto heels.

In reality, of course, it is only the women who are old enough to have a child of school age who are likely to have earned enough money to be able to afford pounds 700 for a school blazer. And would such a woman really want to go into competition with her lithe and adolescent daughter? It's not just Galliano and a handful of other designers who think so. The high- street chains have joined the conspiracy too: At Jigsaw, (or Marks &Spencer, for that matter) you can buy a V-neck tank top just like the one your brother used to wear when he was in the fifth form, and at Hobbs, the chain you always thought was for serious women, there are flighty little grey miniskirts like the ones your brother used to chase when he was a sixth-former. Not all designers and chain stores are caught in the schoolgirl groove, however. Other ages of women have also caught their collective imagination, such as Bohemian student, working girl, and granny too. Perhaps the headmistress can get a look in after all.

The twentysomething student who shops at charity stores, car boot sales and flea markets is a perennial inspiration for design teams. They love her mismatched, make-do-and-mend style, from the Fifties embroidered cardigans she haggles over to the Thirties tea dresses and bits of underslips she finds in the pounds 5 box. For women who have never outgrown student days, but who don't like the smell of mothballs, designers such as the Italians Anna Molinari, and Dolce e Gabbana as well as London-based Clements Ribeiro, themselves not so long out of college to have forgotten, are for you. On the high street, Monsoon has a precious beaded shift dress, while Biba, reinvented for the Nineties, has embroidered cardigans that might just pass for second-hand.

If you're beyond the charm of student style, and looking for something a little more strong and strident, how about a dose of good, old-fashioned power dressing? As you may have heard, the Eighties are back in fashion. Hard-edged aggression has re-entered the fashion designer's lexicon by means of killer heels, pinstripe suits and knock 'em dead shoulder pads. If you're having problems being taken seriously at work, you needn't. Depending on your salary, go for Gucci spike heels, Pearce Fionda trouser suits, or Givenchy make-a-pass-at-me-and-I'll-show-you-what-a-stiletto- heel-in-your-foot-feels-like miniskirts. If you haven't quite reached those dizzy heights on the pay scale, Warehouse and Morgan have just the thing to help you on your way, including a grey flannel bustier and a sharply tailored suit. Oasis and Karen Millen can supply the leather skirt. Just add metallic spike shoes from Russell and Bromley and there will be no stopping you.

Any woman who donned her power suit and lip gloss and hit the glass ceiling in the Eighties and is still there, may be just about burnt-out enough to think about downshifting or retiring altogether. That does not mean fashion has forgotten her. The other extreme to the naughty schoolgirl look is that of granny chic, another look that has been hawked about the catwalks since Prada rediscovered square-toe shoes and retro patterns. Miss Jean Brodie tweeds, boucle wools, kick-pleat skirts and sensible heels form another key look for winter. Karen Millen has jumpers reminiscent of Sixties wallpaper; Jigsaw, French Connection, and Hobbs have enough checks, tweeds and kick-pleats to see you into early retirement.

Of course, if you don't fit into any of these stereotypes you can always do a bit of pick 'n' mix and wear your tweedy check skirt with a high- rise-shoulder jacket and a pair of cosy slippers. Take the fashion designer's advice: if you're young enough, you can get away with anything.

Stylist: Charlie Harrington

Make up: Alex Babsky

Model: Annica at Select

Photographer's assistant: Sarah Greenwood

Main picture: `student'

Black beaded shift with roses, pounds 125, by Monsoon (for your nearest branch, call 0171-313 3000); black cardigan with embroidered rose, pounds 69.95, by Biba, 15 Shorts Gardens, London WC2 (enquiries, 0171-226 0788); black leather shoes with strap and rose, pounds 44.99, by Ravel (enquiries, 0171-631 0224); black fishnet tights, pounds 3.99, by Jonathan Aston, from branches of Fenwick nationwide (for further information, call 0171-629 9161)

Top left: `schoolgirl'

Worsted wool crepe A-line wrap skirt in charcoal, pounds 49.99, by Hobbs (enquiries, 0171-586 5550); grey skinnyrib V-neck tank top, pounds 39.95, by Jigsaw (for your nearest branch, call 0171-491 4484); striped scarf, pounds 21.99, by Accessorise (for nearest branch, call 0171-313 3000); grey wool socks, pounds 4.30, by Wolsey, at Debenhams branches (enquiries, 0116 262 6755); black patent leather loafers, pounds 30, at selected branches of Marks & Spencer (call 0171-935 4422 for further information)

Top centre: `working girl'

Grey trousers with black piping, pounds 59.99, and grey fitted jacket, pounds 119.99, by Morgan (enquiries, 0171-383 2888); grey wool bustier, pounds 30, by Warehouse (enquiries, 0171-278 3491); metallic snakeskin shoes with metal heel, pounds 155, by Russell & Bromley (for stockists, call 0171-629 6903)

Top right: `granny'

Camel, brown checked V-neck jumper, pounds 69.95, by Karen Millen (01622 664 032); check tweed skirt with front kick-pleat, pounds 52, by Jigsaw (enquiries, 0171-491 4484); scarf, pounds 10.99, by Accessorise; rust lace-up boots, pounds 115, by Pied A Terre, 102 Kensington High Street, London W8; cotton velvet deluxe tights, pounds 20, by Wolford (for your nearest stockist, call 0171-935 9202)