The sales may be in full swing and there's rather more than a nip in the air but spring has already sprung, if not in our back gardens, then in fashion at least.
The new year brings with it the dawn of a light, bright and determinedly optimistic mood that isa million miles away from autumn's more formalised attire. Naturalfabrics, floral prints and rainbow coloursare all the future of fashion, best seen against a backdrop of clear blue skies and warm sunshine and worn by the most carefree modern-day nymphs and shepherdesses imaginable, if only in their dreams.
Theysay that opposites attract, however, and with this in mind, for every frilly pinafore scattered with bright blooms there is a more knowing - and indeed urban - hard-edged alternative.Voluminous ruffled tunics rub shoulders with skin-tight bandage dresses;lightweight, pale andinteresting designs with fearsome futuristic ones in inky hues, and chunky platform-heeled sandals with glass slippers. Lurking somewhere in between is a less self-conscious, more minimal aesthetic that owes more than a little to the American sportsweartradition and is essentially timeless.
Something for everyone? Well, it would be churlish - not to mention ill-advised - not to cater to as broad a church as possible, given the competition. And this is, of course, very good news for the fashion follower who now, more than ever, will be spoilt for choice.
True, fashion decrees that colour is back as regularly as the tide turns, but spring 2007's palette is truly the most vivid for years. Fo r Raf Simons, designer at Jil Sander, the density of colour in the work of Anish Kapoor provides some inspiration, brightening up that label's classic trouser suit and making it seem energetic and modern.
At Prada, satins in acid green, violet, raspberry and turquoise take centre stage. Elsewhere, it's all about primary shades. Red (atComme des Garçons, as it appears on the Japanese flag), red, white and blue at Martin Margiela (no political statement intended, apparently).
Finally, neon colour is also high up on the fashion agenda, usedto breakup more dark and distressed shades as it was by early Eighties photographers, most famously Paolo Roversi. Christopher Kane, London fashion's Bright Young Thing dujour, sent out an entire collection of bandage dresses in dazzling hues that might bring out the Bird of Paradise in even the most otherwise understated of souls.
Skintight bandage dresses
Anyone who would dare to wear a skintight bandage dress will be happy to know that thisgarment - first givento the world by Hervé Léger but then reinterpreted by A zzedine Alaia at the height of his fame - is back once more. Such body-conscious fashion, itwas said in the 1980s, made everything else seem simply too big.
It's small wonder, then, that no supermodelworth her credentialswas ever seen without one tucked away in her suitcase. While those of us old enough to have experienced this wholly uncompromising aesthetic the first time round might be justified in rolling our eyes in pain at the mere thought of it, the younger generation might find a playful joie de vivre in clothing that is about as far from politically correct as it is possible to be. And they'll be spoilt for choice. D&G and Marios Schwab both included them in their collections and the effect, fashion friends, is not unlike plastic surgery but with none of the mess.
Florals and frills
Violets, peonies and roses in every shade of pink and lilac imaginable appear scattered across clothing this season. At Alexander McQueen, fresh flowers were frozen and melted, falling to theground as models walked,at Peter Jensen, skirts, hats and collars came dense with brightly coloured blooms. The look is, overall, a sweetly uplifting one, simply because spring is in the air - or soon will be - and the for-malised attire of autumn/winter seems tired, even dated. A more bucolic mood decrees that as well as florals, frills are also de rigueur - think Marie Antoinette frolicking with her handmaiden through the gardens of Versailles, inmood if not in silhouette (panniers are thankfully not, in this instance, a requirement).
Unsurprisingly, more than a few interpretations have their roots in the Seventies and the Peace Movement. But no, that does not mean it's even remotely modish to step abouttown dressed like an out-and-out hippie. A little bohemian charm, however, is certainly to be smiled upon.
It may seem like the archetypal laundry bag but look closer and the stamp on the side of it gives the game away. Ye s, this hails from the Louis Vuitton stable and is, therefore, the 'it' bag of the season. The message is loud and clear: the status handbag is no more.
After years of ever more oversized, attention-grabbing totes, weighed down by ever more oversized, attention-grabbing gleaming metal hardware to match, accessories have nowbecome so low-profile they are positively downbeat. We l l, that's as far as LV designer Marc Jacobs is concerned, at least. And given that this is the designer who brought grunge to the catwalk in the first place.... In theend, the statement is extreme but will no doubt filter down in a positive way. A handbag that doesn't weigh as much as a small car, say, or scream 'mug me - because I'm worthit', for example, is both infinitely desirable and unusually pragmatic given that this is an industry that prides itself in being anything but.
The White Shirt
Seen as a symbol of purity and renewal, the white shirt is a palate cleanser, as they say in fashion circles, a brilliant touch of minimalism in an over-embellished world. Tao- the newest addition to the Comme des Garçons stable - has focused her collection on the juxtaposition between a white shirt and a wedding dress, two fashion statements that couldn't be more disparate.
Elsewhere,this garment's appearance is less complex: shirtwaisters at Peter Jensen whisper of the American sportswear tradition; at Junya Watanabe they make for the lightest, crispest summer dresses imaginable. It would be a mistake to think that this classic garment can be snapped up here, there and everywhere on the high street or, indeed, that the white shirt is easy for everyone to wear. Far from it. Just like a fine pair of jeans, it is very much a case of trial and error and finding the right design to suit one's personal style, not to mention size and budget.
Fashion likes nothing more than a challenge and,with this in mind, news that long, lean legs should be paraded for all to see from henceforward is not entirely surprising. Miuccia Prada declared backstage after her Milan catwalk show that the reasoning behind her spring/summer limb-fest was simply that she didn't like anything she'd designed 'from the waist down'. And although the lady is clearly on more mischievous form than ever, where Miuccia Prada leads....
There's nothingas merciful as a pair of opaque tights on the agenda either.Instead, the mood is one that declares strength and vitality are the order of the day - the get-up-and-go, short, sharp, futuristic mindset spearheaded by André Courrèges springs to mind, as does that of the American minimalist Claire Mc-Cardell. The best legs are shapely,then, not simply skinny, with we l l -defined muscles. They also stride about town rather than teeter.You'd best start working out now.
Does your bum look big in this? Oh yes, most definitely. Alexander McQueen's inspiration for a dress with exaggerated hips is taken from a Goya painting. This designe r sees it as an ideali-sation of the feminine form. Dolce & Gabbana's rounded p ewt e r hips appear to come from a less haute, rather more sci-fi source.
Elsewhere, the balloon skirt - as originally seen at Balenciaga two years ago now and inspired by that house's late founder in the first place - is still very much in evidence, if tweaked and tucked in myriad ways to ensure that it doesn't look dated.Given that the general view is that the more narrow the girth the better,it is unlikely that this particular movewill be embraced by all.
The trick, in any case, is that if the hipsare broad the torso should be willowy, in which case the silhouette is indeed unashamedly romantic and even flattering.
Does fashion love the mighty Balenciaga label enough to step out in (full)metal leggings? Quite probably. The designer, Nicolas Ghesquière,puts them forward as an ultra-contemporary, urban alternative to the red-carpet gown and they look, as our Ameri c a n cousins might say, truly awesome. This particular designer has long embraced a sci-fi aesthetic,the future seen through the past and filtered through the eyes of the 1980s in particular. Tron and The Terminator are both re fe rences here, the generation of films i nspired by Fritz Lang's Metropolis. At Lanvin, Alber Elbaz more than dabbled with the future also, turning to dark high-shine, hi-tech fabrics, as too did Dolce& Gabbana, whose gleaming plastic corsets look fit for a modern-day Barbarella. Quite how they'll fare come the heat-wave remains to be seen.
Metallics, meanwhile, are everywhere - from Jil Sander to B u rberry Prorsum.
Finally, Hussein Chalayan's mechanical dresses, which actually morphed from one decade to another via computer technology buried in the bodices of dresses, were truly a sight for soreeyes. By the time this viewpoint reaches the high street it will no doubt reflect a rather more pragmatic mindset. Meani n g? Gold, silver and bronze fabrics aplenty, baubles, studs and chains and sunglasses so huge that they look like protective visors.
The Tunic Dress
If wearing clothingso tight that it brings about an attack of the vapours is not everyone's idea of a walk in the park, the alternative - and indeed polar opposite -to the bandage dress isalso on offer. The tunic dress, so successful with the consumer this autumn - the high street was positively awash with the things - is still very much in evidence in 2007.
Chloé is the label where itfirst made the headlines and the brains behind that label are clearlymilking the fact, as well they might do.
There's a Seventies 1 vintage feel to these dresses inparticular, not least because of the colour, but they also look lovely in white. Betty Jackson, Marni and more are all happy to oblige.
Egg-shaped dresses, meanwhile, looked good enough to, er, eat at Versace. And more good news: these are actually summery. A minor point given the global nature of the fashion industry, perhaps, but a little volume goes a long way during the summer months.
For those sick of the arguably ungainly sight of towering, platform-heeled wedges (outside fashion circles one could be forgiven for labelling these plain ugly), spring 2007 offers up the barely there Cinderella shoe, seen at its most spectacular at Viktor& Rolf, where the heel is carved in crystal, no less. Lanvin, Martin Margiela, Marc Jacobs and Alexander McQueen all also played with transparency in footwear, which pretty much guarantees the look will catch on before long.
Fo r the time being at least, nothing can banish more obviously user-friendly heavy-duty designs entirely from the fashion-follower's life but from here on in there will also be a more typically feminine alternative to choose from. You shall all go to the ball.
And talking of balls, ballroom 1 dancing, cabaret and ballet references are also de rigueur next year. Bring out any flesh panelling and rest safe in the knowledge that many, many fashion Brownie points will certainly ensue.