Imitation fabrics were once cheap and nasty, and championed only by cranks, usually vegetarians. Not any more. Fashion designers are giving these fabrics desirability, even a sense of luxury.

PVC is the trademark of the Belgian designer Jean Colonna, and he must take much of the credit for fake leather's higher profile. His streetwise designs do not simply use PVC in place of leather: he also puts the seams on the outside. His 'fakes' are also bargains compared with garments made of the real thing.

The French company Morgan offers PVC at high-street prices: its jeans, jackets and waistcoats start at pounds 69.99. 'We find that more and more of our younger customers don't want to wear real leather,' says Morgan's Julia Weisbaum. It does not even matter if the PVC item looks utterly fake - that makes it more of a statement.

The London-based designer Marina Avraam has used vinyl for the first time this season. 'I wouldn't normally use leather because it's so expensive. But I can buy this sort of fabric for pounds 3- pounds 4 per metre. It's a very good substitute, and easier to work on.' The full-length, tailored coat in her collection (in red, brown, green and black) sells for pounds 158, compared with a similar style in real leather by John Rocha at more than pounds 1,000. Avraam's coat is as soft as kidskin, fully lined, and could not feel more of a luxury garment if it were made of the best leather. The same coat also comes in a 'snakeskin' effect.

Wild Things, the retail and mail-order outlet for Respect, the anti-fur campaign, also sells non-leather clothing: jackets, jeans, shoes, waistcoats and belts. The range includes a simple, clean-cut, zip- front 'Paris' jacket made by OKO, priced at pounds 79; jeans start at pounds 36.50.

Wild Things' clothes come in heavy- and light-weight Lorica, a relatively new fabric to Britain. It has similar properties to leather - it breathes like natural leather, is water-repellent and abrasion- and tear-resistant. The manufacturers claim it is actually more hard-wearing than the real thing. Charlotte Pole of Wild Things says: 'The non-leather market is potentially very wide, and we are selling the Lorica range to vegetarians and non- vegetarians alike.'

The Natural Shoe Store caters for the rising demand in non-leather shoes, selling 20 to 25 pairs a week. Robert Lusk, a director of the company, says: 'We used to sell a lot to the Hare Krishna people, but the customer base has since expanded.'

As well as veggie Doc Martens, the Natural Shoe Store sells non-leather Birkenstocks made out of Birkoflor, a leather alternative invented by Karl Birkenstock. 'I don't know why more people don't go for it,' says Mr Lusk. 'It lasts as long as leather and costs half the price.'

Morgan, 7 Tottenham Court Road, London W1, and branches nationwide (071-351 7993); The Natural Shoe Store (071-602 2866); Wild Things (0603 765595); Vegetarian Shoes, 12 Gardner Street, Brighton (0273 691913); Marina Avraam (071-240 8234).

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