Fashion: Pure as the driven

The catwalks have been blinded by all things white for the season ahead. Very pretty, says Susannah Frankel, but no need to wear it like a big girl. Styling by Sophia Neophitou. Photographs by Kent Baker

White is the colour of the season - if you haven't realised that by now, then you're in big (fashion) trouble. Broderie anglaise, Airtex, lace, fine cotton - as well as the more crisp and starchy variety - cropped up here, there and everywhere are in the spring/summer collections in all shades from cream to, well, ivory. Although summer can always be relied on to bring out the sweet and pastoral in the world's more whimsical designers, this time round even the most rigorously austere names, and those committed to a resolutely sombre colour palette, have come over all pure-as-the-driven - virginal even, as if fashion could ever be such a thing.

Whenever white comes to the forefront - and this isn't the first time - fashion pundits resort to a spiritual analysis of the non-colour. Remember the dawning of the New Age way back at the end of the Eighties? White stood for purity, for fashion's new-found innocence, for Zen and inner peace, for heaven's sake.

This time round, matters millennial are on the tip of every fashion-conscious tongue (yawn). White is for the future, for bright new hopes and a brave new world. In reality, this is rather stretching the point. White does mean, however, that we are in the throes of quite the most unashamedly pretty moment we've experienced for quite some time.

Alexander McQueen's spring/summer collection was an ocean of white ruffles and lace, a far cry from the power-driven good looks we have come to know of the designer. Balenciaga sent out one fragile beauty after another, all dressed in the palest modern-day Victoriana. Clements Ribeiro sent out delicate white slip dresses with ebony lace thrown over the top, and Antonio Berardi's show was almost entirely white from start to finish. Think Little Bo-Peep with a hefty dose of sex and high-octane glamour thrown in.

And there's the key. Because although white - particularly in ultra-feminine fabrics - screams sweetness from the rooftops, there is by now, thankfully, a certain edge to the proceedings. This can only be a good thing. Fresh and pretty is one thing, after all, yet plain sickly quite another.

As these pictures show, if money is no object, there'll be plenty of white designer garments to choose from. Those who'd rather not break the bank, meanwhile, might find a trawl round the second-hand shops for that time-honoured stalwart, the white cotton slip dress, a little more manageable. White is, above all, high-maintenance, and there's always those dry-cleaning bills to consider.

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