Designers are telling us black is out. But, asks Marion Hume, will we let them colour our world?
What do people wear on Planet Fashion? Black, of course. Why? Because it is practical and makes you look slimmer. Looking as slim as possible is of the utmost importance on Planet Fashion. So what if, on the distaff side, black makes you look as if you have died, particularly at the end of the gruelling Milan, Paris, London, New York fashion circuit? At least you look thin and dead.

Visualise Rei Kawakubo, the strict, uncompromising and stern designer behind the Comme des Garcons label. What does she wear? Black. What do you think her protege, Junya Watanabe, (who has been showing in Paris for four seasons), wears? Dark blue, from his throat to his shoes, which has pretty much the same effect. What does the Austrian minimalist, Helmut Lang wear? Sombre dark colours, of course. Ditto Karl Lagerfeld. Ditto Giorgio Armani. Ditto (surprisingly) Gianni Versace, who is rarely seen these days in anything but the most muted clothing of his own design.

But for spring/summer 1996 designers are preaching "Do as I say, not as I do". Although they, and many of those in fashion's front line, will continue to wear clothes suitable for funerals, they are urging the public to brighten up for goodness' sake, to think pink, and yellow and red and apple green. And for some curious reason, tangerine (last seen in groovy trouser suits on people dancing to "What's New, Pussycat?") has made a spectacular comeback.

Gianni Versace has never been afraid of colour, although there have been many who have trembled at the vulgar sight of what he has managed to do with it. For next spring, he's sticking to just one colour for a whole outfit, although that outfit is likely to be of the shape and tone to stop traffic. Hence a midriff-baring turtleneck, a matching, fitted jacket sliced off saucily at mid-buttock level and a fetching pair of loons all in lime green and with sunglasses to match. Lime green's not your colour? Try head-to-toe orange, or citrus lemon, instead.

Rifat Ozbek has shied away from colour only once, when he heralded in New Age fashion-thinking with his "White" collection at the dawn of the Nineties. Rifat is good with colour, particularly if you give him a bit of print to play with, too. For next summer, he'd like to see you in Miami poolside prints, Moroccan souk prints or multicoloured polka dots of various sizes. And if they aren't big enough, try Vivienne Westwood's. Her radiant polka-dot prints are so overblown you could liven things up by stripping to a Westwood crocheted bikini and spreading your coat out on the ground to play Twister.

Helmut Lang is a minimalist, which is to say he doesn't use much fabric for a frock, and doesn't tend to worry himself about mother-of-the-bride clothes or what you should wear to a country tea party. Lang makes hard- edged urban clothes. So it comes as a surprise to find apple-green shifts, fashioned out of what appear to be lacy net curtains, in his offering. Martine Sitbon is more rocker chick than minimalist, although in the past not greatly given to colour. Her options for next spring include fuchsia leather and orange suede.

But the biggest surprise of all at the recent rainbow-bright spring/summer 1996 shows in Milan, Paris and London was Comme des Garcons. Your average Comme des Garcons store is of concrete and steel, staffed by strange shop assistants in fashionable shrouds looking bog-eyed with boredom. Architects wear Comme des Garcons. Artsy people wear Comme des Garcons. Other fashion designers, including Karl Lagerfeld, wear Comme des Garcons. One looks forward next spring to seeing them in peach and puce, tangerine and turquoise.

For next spring, Rei Kawakubo is proposing that emerald, lemon and Yves Klein blue are what disciples of Japanese design will be wearing. She is proposing that sweaters should be scarlet and salmon, that baggy trousers should be in clown colours and that dresses should resemble Matisse abstractions. At her show, the Brit pack particularly liked sweaters striped in pale blue and burgundy reminiscent of football strips (although as Fashion and Football rarely mix, they argued over whether Rei had become a fan of the Hammers or Aston Villa).

And then there's Prada - where the black nylon bags with impossible price tags come from. Every fashion editor who doesn't have a crippling mortgage, a corker of an overdraft and/or children (which leaves the majority of this international breed) wears Prada; dark sweaters, to-the-knee skirts, black nylon and silver belted jerkins, black shoes, black shiny boots. For next spring, the Prada disciple is offered duck-egg blue skinny shirts, beige girl-guide skirts, apple- green petticoat dresses and sweaters, shirts and skirts in that sludgy green and murky purple last seen on wall hangings and tabards made in Women's Institute freestyle embroidery classes.

This week, the international fashion caravan is in Manhattan. In Europe, you can spot a fashion crowd from a hundred paces because it is a monochrome mass against the variety of shades worn by normal people. But in Manhattan everyone wears black. It is the monochrome capital of the world.

So will the big New York designers go for happy, clappy colours? Will they try to make us smile with nursery brights or will they treat us as usual, as sad grown-ups who are too busy to face the worrying quandary as to whether apple green goes with navy at 8am in the morning. The Americans are a practical bunch. In New York fashion alchemy, the weird trends from Europe and Japan are resmelted to come out looking like money. So will it be Calvin and his Technicolor dream coats, or business in black and white as usual?

Last season, Calvin Klein, now the leader among the big league American designers, showed white, then black, then black, then white. His new shop on Madison Avenue sells white clothes and black clothes with a few beige, greige and stone-coloured clothes for the faint hearted. If Calvin shows colour this Friday, will it mean that fashion's long, dreary relationship with clothes fit for undertakers could be coming to a close? Don't hold your breath.

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