Fashion cliché of the week: opposites attract. And so, as sure as eggs is eggs, what the latest issue of British Vogue describes as "the new pretty", duly identified as among the leading looks of the spring season, is inevitably rubbing shoulders with, er, the new utilitarianism.
Regular readers of this column will doubtless have little difficulty identifying what side of the sartorial fence this particular fashion follower will be sitting on for the next six months – if not, truth to tell, the rest of her days.
For the uninitiated: I would rather have my fingernails pulled out than wear anything a) pale and/or candy-coloured, b) diaphanous and c) floral or d) bearing even the slightest hint of a ruffle. All the aforementioned are, in my book, about as metropolitan as a cowpat. Nymphs and shepherdesses have never been my aesthetic role models.
So, who are the main protagonists – or should that be offenders – where a return to the notion of overtly feminine dress is concerned?
Valentino, obviously, is a frontrunner here (pictured below). This is arguably pretty's spiritual home and, suffice it to say, if it isn't diaphanous, pale and/or candy-coloured and frilly – often from head to toe – then it doesn't figure. Christopher Bailey's collection for Burberry Prorsum is also on the soft side, although there is a rigour here (to what might at first sight appear like big girl's blouse clothing) that is ultimately more pleated than ruffled and where colour is at least dusty, lending a certain realism to the overall effect.
Nothing much real about Chanel, where an unashamedly bucolic view – think everything from appliquéd meadow flowers to puffed sleeves – is only marginally undercut by the raw edges that are ubiquitous right now too.
In the blue corner – that'll be utility wear – Chloé is bringing back the sandy-hued, super-chic look of safari: ultra-relaxed tailoring worn with nothing more prissy than a paper-flat leather sandal. Celine's is a brilliantly minimal, no-frills view of womanhood that, with its short, sweet, A-line skirts in neutral colours worn with bodies or white shirts is more functional than tough (tough being very last season). Military and sportswear details, meanwhile, are everywhere from Comme des Garçons to Balenciaga, luckily for some.
Of course, it might be argued that the best way to view any such creative dichotomy is to mix and match. Why wear one trend when any fashion credentials may better be flaunted by piling on two? The truly modish, then, will no doubt already be channelling every English rose one might care to mention and wearing a (new?) pretty dress with nothing more girlish than, say, a Parka and, if you're Helena Bonham Carter/ Sienna Miller/Keira Knightley (pick any London girl), a pair of big, bad and preferably dirty boots.