Fashion has turned its back on body-conscious clothing to express a less conventional viewpoint, says Susannah Frankel

Spotted at Yves Saint Laurent in Bond Street one balmy morning last week: an immaculately dressed woman of a certain age, with chauffeur in tow, returning a grey felted cashmere tunic because it is "too big". Only it isn't. As the appropriately formidable shop assistant is quick to gently, but firmly, point out: "Madam, it is meant to be like that." At which point madam, clearly more easily appeased than some of her ilk, departs, instructing her driver to head straight for South Molton Street "to pick up my other alterations at Browns".

Apart from demonstrating the fact that some people continue to live gilded lives, the above also goes to prove that this season, in the hands of many of the world's more thoughtful designers at least, fashion has turned its back on body-conscious clothing to express a less conventional viewpoint. And so, instead of garments that cling to every curve, come more that stand away from the torso like protective cocoons, and whisper of a discreet glamour rather than screaming any credentials – physical or, indeed, financial – from the rooftops.

At Yves Saint Laurent, mainly black and grey wools envelope the body rather than parading it, sleeves are puffed up to cartoonish proportions, and coats look wonderfully roomy. At Alexander McQueen, an egg shape is as (if not more) prevalent than the modernised Victoriana that this designer is best known for. At Prada, the shaggy surface of clothing that resembles nothing more than the coat of a teddy bear – dyed in appropriately peculiar colours, naturally – is certainly not designed for those who consider fashion no more than a vehicle by which to flaunt a pencil-thin form. Then there's this season's preponderance of ultra-chunky knits to think of – at Giles, a single giant-sized stitch might well be enough to encircle a model's waist.

"I'm so connected with a Victorian silhouette and this was an attempt to move things on," explains McQueen, whose collection met with less unanimously favourable reviews than before. "I'm not surprised that people thought it was strange at first, but I think it's important to get away from everything being so fitted and to create something people haven't seen before."

Given modern society's obsession with slenderness, this was never going to be an obviously people-pleasing gesture. It is, however, considerably more emancipated than a continued fascination with what is, at heart, a bourgeois/Barbie Doll aesthetic. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that Victoria Beckham, surely the mother of all fashion victims, found herself distinctly off-trend last week in New York. Only spray-on clothing will do for this notoriously tiny woman, after all.