MODERN ART and high fashion are two of the most elitist art forms. The former is familiar mainly to the handful of insiders who patronise the smarter dealers and galleries; the latter is rarely seen beyond the catwalks on which it is displayed twice a year to the top rank of frock- watchers. Yet both can sometimes catch the spirit of the day. There are differences: one strives for immortality, the other thrives on ephemerality. But, increasingly, both occupy the same esoteric territory: the posed, quick-witted, mischievously ironic world of avant-garde chic. And nowhere is this truer than in Britain, where a generation of fashionable young designers and a generation of sought-after young artists have come to prominence - "maturity" would be too strong a word - at more or less the same time. There is thus a certain inevitability about the pictures on these pages, in which Italian photographer Nicola Ancona has tried to marry fashion with art by photographing young British des-igns against a backdrop of young British artworks (produced by studio-mates of that most fashionable of artists, Damien Hirst). But few would have expected the marriage to seem quite so heaven-made.

"For me, fashion is art, and art is fashion," says Ancona. "But art is sacred - you're expected to look at it, but not touch it. The shoot was designed to show live human beings interacting with art."

Not all those involved saw the project in such simple terms. "Fashion isn't art, and to pretend that it is loses the point of fashion," says Bella Freud, Lucian Freud's daughter, whose provocative knitwear is shown (above) in front of a symbolic backdrop by the Tasmanian-born British artist, Helen Hopcroft.

Helen Hopcroft plays down the difference. "Artists, like fashion des- igners, draw on universal themes like the end of the millennium. The problem for an artist now is being too fashionable; some themes can date a picture, so the artist has to reflect a broader range of ideas."

Richard Elliott, whose Elevator (right) explores one of the more mundane spaces of urban life - in contrast to Vivienne Westwood's flamboyant trenchcoat in the foreground - agrees. "Fashion doesn't make statements; it says nothing about what we are about," he says. "Fashion dates a picture like nothing else." Manet had the same problem around the turn of the century, when his portraits depicting the fashions of the day were criticised by his contemporaries. The verdict of history has been less harsh.

Like the other two artists whose work is shown here, Elliott and Hopcroft both work - along with Damien Hirst - from a decaying warehouse in Brixton. All four seem to share Hirst's creative joie de vivre. For the main picture on page 48, Richard Clegg created a collage of fluorescent light-strips and salvage architecture - in front of which a mock glamour-girl wears Ozbek.

The model on the left, meanwhile, wears Katharine Hamnett designs in front of a canvas by Peter Ashton Jones, in which "a silhouette of a man in a tailored coat seems to be stepping out of the picture..." And who should be stepping out of Ancona's photograph? A model of fashion's absurdity, holding a picture frame, wearing knickers over tights, like a modern-day designer Batman.

The London fashion and art scenes are currently regarded as being at their highest creative peak since the Sixties; and now, as then, the two artforms are crossing into each other's territory. Young artists such as Jenny Saville put their pictures on album covers; Damien Hirst directs a pop video for Blur; young designer Hussein Chalayan presents catwalk shows that are as much to do with performance art as fashion; and a collection of haute couture designs was recently the subject of a show at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Not since Elsa Schiaparelli commissioned Salvador Dali to design on fabric for her in the Thirties has art been so fashionable, or fashion so artful. It can only be a matter of time before we see the effects in the high street. ( Pictures omitted)

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