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Susannah Frankel: 'The kaftan is more windbreaker than style-setter'


It is important, in fashion as in all other areas of life, to know your own strengths. With this in mind, and if I have to say so myself, I have it nailed where classics are concerned. I know precisely where to find the perfect sweater, T-shirt, pair of jeans, tailored jacket/trousers, little black dress and coat. I know, too, that the only bag I'm ever likely to carry is a large and relatively simple one and that I'm wedded, perhaps improbably, given my chosen career, to flat shoes. Even poolside, I understand only too well that a pared-down black bikini and/or one-piece suits me best; no itsy-bitsy polka dot malarkey for me.

Less successful has been my selection of what to wear over the latter, however. In fashion parlance, the garment in question is known somewhat vaguely as a 'cover-up' and, for those who like their wardrobe understated, it is an unlikely bedfellow.

Because top of most people's list for the past 40 years – and that in itself is saying quite something – is the kaftan. And kaftans, particularly those destined for the beach, are rarely shy. Think Pucci's bold fondant bright prints, Versace's Baroque curls and swirls and Missoni's fine-knit zig-zag stripes (below). Think light-as-a-feather animal print satins and silks. And then why not scatter sequins/crystal/feathers/embroideries or whatever across the surface just to ensure maximum impact? Images of Talitha Getty (great) and modern-day rich hippies including Mischa Barton (not so good) spring to mind.

While this particular garment is often described as forgiving, it is, in fact, anything but. For all but those in position of extremely long necks and fine bones, the effect may be more walking wind-breaker than style-setter – don't be surprised then, when small dogs and children shelter in your folds.

Instead, though, my cover-up of choice this season is a knee-length indigo shift dress courtesy of Margaret Howell. It's simple, effective and as quietly lovely as a deserted beach at dawn.

Susannah Frankel is Fashion Editor of 'The Independent'