From rebellious realists to the royally romantic. Susannah Frankel identifies the key looks

It's midsummer - nearly time to buy a winter coat then. As the new collections make their way into stores, it's safe to say that this is the most diverse season for many years. Over and above anything as banal as a trend, a study of different aspects of modern - and, indeed, not so modern - femininity appears to be the order of the day.

In a similar vein, the fundamentals of design are now being addressed, more than attention to styling or surface detail. The only thing that unites the look for autumn/winter 2007 is that it is aimed at a far from passive creature. It should come as no surprise, then, that cut is authoritative, volume is pro-nounced, texture is discreetly opulent, and colour is more violently beautiful than even a bird of paradise might wish for.

The Rebel

It says quite something when the Chloé label - today among the most emulated of designer brands - casts aside its girlish and even frothy aesthetic for something much harder and, indeed, more pared down in flavour. But Chloé's new designer, Paolo Melim Andersson, has done just that, ensuring that women the world over move on from whimsical layers of pale and interesting fabric, and opt for a rather more assertive look, although it is still one with its roots in short tunics and thick tights, which is ultimately far from aggressive.

Colour is strong - predominantly red and black - and footwear is less dolly shoe and more hobnail boot, indebted to Dr Martens rather than Betty Boop. The similarly influential Christopher Bailey at Burberry is following a similar path, having sharpened up his thoroughly British heroine's act, and even thrown the odd punk reference into the mix.

The Grande Dame

This is a woman whose feet are rarely likely to touch anything as pedestrian as the pavement. And that, as Miss Jean Brodie might once have said, is a good thing given the height of her shoes (and please note the manner in which the heel curves inwards, just to make walking that little bit more challenging). Autumn/winter sees the return of a nostalgically romantic, curvaceous silhouette - it is most prevalent at Dior, which is apt, this being the house that launched the New Look in 1947 and is celebrating its Sixtieth anniversary this year.

In the designer John Galliano's hands, the shape of a woman is celebrated, and even the most apparently light garments are underpinned - just as they were in the days of Monsieur Dior himself - to ensure that her assets are seen at their best. She's modern-day eye candy, and proud to be, and such a mindset is only added to by the most vibrant colour imaginable - fuchsia pink, papal purple, cobalt blue and poison green.

Whichever way one chooses to look at it, messing with this impeccable and resolutely haute creature is clearly not on the agenda. Resistance is futile. She could, quite simply, have anyone she likes for breakfast.

The Lady

Just when it seemed that that hoary old fashion cliché, 'the lady', had finally made her exit from the runway, the much-copied Marc Jacobs brought her back. This autumn/winter, she is rather different to the pussy-bow blouse-wearing being of yesteryear, although she remains indebted to Yves Saint Laurent. She is, of course, dressed to the nines, from the crown of her wide-brimmed hat - yes, hats are the height of fashion - to the tips of her leather-clad fingers - canary yellow and cobalt blue are good shades for gloves. The silhouette is narrow. The colours are primary. This is a woman who commands attention as she saunters down the world's well-heeled thoroughfares, safe in the knowledge that she is immaculate, authoritative and radical only in her conservatism. If Mr Jacobs decrees her modish, she will be everywhere before too long, although such discreet luxury is none too easy to copy, which is, presumably, part of the point.

The Jackdaw

Balenciaga's Nicolas Ghesquiÿre says that he was thinking of a young campus girl when he sent out his autumn/winter collection. It is doubtless his most eclectic to date, and more indebted to street culture than the esteemed house's haute-couture archive. Drawing inspiration from everywhere from Savile Row to Shanghai, the designer also underlines the normality of the clothes (as compared to the very worked silhouettes that he has produced in the past): a pair of chinos, a blazer, a scarf dress. This is good news for those wishing to emulate the look, and there will be many. But appearances are deceptive. These clothes may seem easy and cleverly commercial, but they are also more overworked and 'over-designed', by Ghesquiÿre's own admission, than anything else he has produced to date. Hand-painted porcelain buttons, metallic fringing and embroidered linings all point to a level of craftsmanship that would be near-impossible to turn out cheaply. Still, for those wishing to try this look at home, mixing print from myriad cultures, beading any fringing that may be in evidence, and being unafraid to wear bright turquoise tights will all help.

The Outsider

Mutation. It's an overriding message this season, and one that can actually be witnessed in the Jil Sander outfit pictured - is it a jacket or a cape? It is most fully explored at Prada, however, where the First Lady of Italian fashion continues to react to a body-conscious flesh-revealing aesthetic on a level that appears almost subconscious, it now comes so naturally. Nothing in this collection is what it seems. Mohair is treated to look like plastic; plastic is treated to look like wool.

Colour is startling - even violent. One shade bleeds into another, and the combinations are just as potentially jarring as might be expected. Shoes become socks, socks become skirts, and a generally bulky silhouette is surely a comment on our generally far from bulky preferences as far as body image is concerned.

Although there was no fur in this bizarrely beautiful collection, that is only because the designer is 'bored of it'. Nothing cute and animal-loving going on here, thank you very much. It is perhaps worth noting that, where this in particular is concerned, Prada is not the only one. At Alexander McQueen, chiffon is tufted to look like fur. Even at Fendi, the cuffs of jackets are more reminiscent of patchwork carpet than anything more sauvage in flavour.

The Minimalist

Although the designer Raf Simons doesn't like the term minimalist, there is a distinctly uncluttered, graphic feel to the collection that he designs for Jil Sander. That mood may be prevalent across the board this season, but no one does it better than Simons. The apparent simplicity here belies the complex technology that goes into the design of each piece. Perhaps for this reason, styling is kept simple, and the accessories are miles removed from those unwieldy, hardware-laden status symbols that the world has come to know, if not always to love. Instead, the emphasis is on the garments themselves. The look is for the ultra-discerning and design-literate female, who would rather not announce her fashionable credentials from the rooftops, whispering them instead to the select few who are members of the same club.

The (Pseudo) Realist

There is something extremely satisfying about the fact that the Yves Saint Laurent autumn/winter collection, designed by Stefano Pilati, looks so, well, wintry. The colours are uniformly neutral or dark: predominantly black and grey, but also featuring deep-sea blues and greens. And the fabrics are soft, warm and reassuringly woolly. Pilati is even offering up knitted tights to the world, and you can't say fairer than that.

If all of these things sound obvious, it's worth noting that fashion is not known for such unadulterated displays of pragmatism. And neither are such unadulterated displays of pragmatism often so very lovely. There's nothing even remotely downbeat about this approach. Instead, it is luxe to the core, yet understated in a manner acknowledging that ostentatious displays of wealth are less than tasteful for the time being. As Coco Chanel once said: 'Luxury is the opposite of vulgarity.' Stick with this grand mantra, and the spirit of the season will be yours.