Fashion: The Style Police - Leave streetwear to the street

A season too late, Prada and friends are in raptures over the `urban warrior' look. Let's hope they get over it soon, yawns James Sherwood

Inspired by Bill Clinton this week, Style Police would like to perform our very own State of the Nation address. If only we could share Bill's indomitable optimism as we review the state of the nation's dress. As we look out on this bleak January afternoon on the King's Road, frankly, my dears, what a state. On days like these your wardrobe just goes on the CD shuffle: press remote and any old thing comes out.

It is vital to see what we rely on in the dark days of January. This is the means test for mainstream street style in 1999. These are the trends we are already on top of.

In the days before Caprice was a blonde, London street style invented the urban guerrilla. Way before America renamed combats cargo pants, we'd all been to Lawrence Corner and bought the originals. We were into vintage trainers before Nike or Adidas even started an archive. In short, sport worked for us way before Gap diluted it and minor royals made tongue- piercing mainstream.

So when a designer like Miuccia Prada declares sport - specifically Prada Sport - the only way forward, we tend to wonder what took her so long. Call it sport, utility, easywear or practical chic, spring will be selling us London style repackaged for the millennium. The elements of designer sport are easy: Velcro fastening, man-made fibres like Jil Sander's trainer mesh top, drawstrings on every extremity and aerodynamic streamlined shapes.

Techno sportswear is as much a part of our lives today as PlayStation and South Park. It would be naive to think fashion would not reinterpret what it is seeing on the street. But it never pays to be too literal. If high fashion has a hope of survival past 2000, it will not pay to get too populist. A white sleeveless padded body-warmer is essentially the same be it from Jil Sander or Jigsaw. Ditto a clear yellow plastic parka from DKNY or K-Mart. The adage, "money for old rope", springs to mind.

Now here comes the science part. America always did understand the power of sport shapes in luxe fabrics. A shape can be minimal but the fabric must be exquisite: keep it simple but make it feel like couture. In those champagne-cocaine nights when Halston was King of New York, he'd produce the bias-cut slip dress in 10 tons of ultrasuede as soft as creme brulee. You wanted all of them. However cleverly cut, slippery man-made fibres still feel cheap.

When you try to crack fashion's own Enigma code, the pleasure principle is the key. We don't wear the urban guerrilla look as a pleasure. These are practical essentials. Sportswear is utility. It has been fashion when only a small clique wore it round Old Street. Now sportswear is mainstream. It is a very short walk from the shell suit to combat pants when the wrong people wear them. Naturally, combats will remain as ubiquitous as jeans, though we know from this season that they haven't replaced denim. But will we look to high fashion for basics? No. Do we look to them for the pleasure principle? Absolutely no.

When we all emerge from the mid-season depression, will we cast off our urban basics and buy designer utility? It's rather like choosing to watch a repeat of Ally McBeal when Sex in the City is on the other side. Sports shapes are here to stay. For real people they are a tried and tested element of street style. But we look to designers for inspiration and not imitation. There's all that retro, boho, second-hand gypsy stuff for spring, but what are second-hand shops for?

If there's one clear message from the catwalk to lead us out of the desperate weeks of January, then it's soft minimal and the serious reassessment of colour. For now, though, stick to the CD shuffle, and we can talk about wearing spring frocks when we're good and ready.

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