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Fashion: Hippie chick horror

The boho bandwagon is one to be missed, says James Sherwood. Keep the kaftans in Morocco where they belong
BY NOW none of you could have possibly avoided the stills of Kate Winslet from her new movie Hideous Kinky. Adapted from Esther Freud's novel, Hideous Kinky presents Winslet as a paisley-clad haute hippie finding herself - and way too much ethnic jewellery - in Morocco. With plaits in her hair and paisley on her kaftan, Winslet has put fashion back on the well-trodden road to Marrakesh.

Frankly, Style Police saw it coming when Hussein Chalayan showed djellabas, Islamic veils and Berber hooded cloaks for autumn/winter 98. The fashion fundamentalist didn't even bother to lift the veil and put a modern spin on ethnic as Jean-Paul Gaultier is wont to do. No, these pieces wouldn't rock the kasbah if worn by the most devout Islamic matron.

The spring/summer '99 catwalk shows suggest Hideous Kinky and Hussein were just the tip of the ethnic zeitgeist. Young Matthew Williamson took the Moroccan slipper, dyed it white and painted pretty flowers all over it. In Milan, Ferragamo showed loose linen that wouldn't have looked out of place at one of Paul Bowles' gayest parties in Tangier circa 1960.

But if we really go back to source and find the root of this trend it is not in the Derb-Llalouj in Marrakesh, lurking in a dope den in Casablanca or lounging in the Villa Maroc in Essaouira.

Look no further than London's Portobello Road. You may have thought hippie chic died around about the same time as Stevie Nicks' recording career. Well, there's a certain breed of Portobello people called Trustafarians: rich kids with sufficient funds to opt out of the capitalist system and spend their summers in Goa.

They swapped the Sloane Ranger headband for lank plaits and the Chanel jacket for a Voyage ribbon-trimmed cardigan. Stand-up Jemima Khan, Patsy Kensit, Jade Jagger and Meg Matthews. Hideous? Yes. Kinky? Please!

I'm afraid it takes more than a set of love beads and a bit of old sari wrapped round your Prada pedal pushers to be truly ethnic, hippie or chic. Sadly, the release of Hideous Kinky will only encourage them. The whole point of fashion's current fascination with all things ethnic, tribal and mystical is escaping obvious cultural references.

Like style vultures, fashion designers pick over the bones of every culture on the planet. They furiously mix many ingredients from as many cultures. It is only the truly sad who will totally embrace Morocco for a season because a couple of fashion editors take a trend too literally. Go to Momo and get it out of your system.

The influence of film on fashion designers is unquestionable. The influence of film on street fashion is wildly overestimated. Of course we all went down with Leonardo and Kate in Titanic but it didn't prompt a revival in Edwardian corsets and picture hats. To suggest Kate Winslet will single- handedly bring back the kaftan is stretching it a bit.

Granted, Madonna's earth mother incarnation has revived the ancient art of henna hand painting. She has hooked into a need for a softer, more idiosyncratic approach to fashion. But the lady still wears this season's Dolce & Gabbana and Joseph Thimister.

The bottom line on boho chic is not to be brainwashed. What looked lovely in Tangier won't work back in London. You won't look exotic or interesting swathed in saris with three dozen Indian silver bangles up your arm. You will look pretentious. Style Police was fortunate enough to spend a week in Morocco and cringed every time a bunch of wannabe-Jemima Khans from Cheltenham Ladies' College wafted past with rings on their fingers and bells in their noses. This is not a look for anyone with less cool than Kate Moss.

Any takers?