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Fashion: A simple dress is hard to beat: Scrunch it, roll it, crease it . . . this summer's essential dress combines easy fabrics with an enduring appeal, says Marion Hume

THE DRESS is the undisputed essential garment for this summer. The faded, floral dress, the chiffon, floaty dress, the nightdress worn layered over another nightdress in daylight hours and the second-hand dress worn with clumpy boots are already stamped as the fashion looks for summer 1993. For those who don't follow fashion slavishly, the other kind of dress - the one you love that comes out year after year the minute the temperature hints at rising - will be viewed as not just comfortable and easy this time around, but also as the height of fashion.

If that much-loved little dress has reached the stage when you can only wear it for gardening, this is the year to replace it. Fashion designers - from Donna Karan and Agnes B to John Rocha and the unnamed designers behind the offerings of the high-street giants - have dubbed this The Year of the Dress, so there is plenty of choice.

What to look for in a new 'favourite' dress is one that will work hard and demand nothing. Choose a dress you can mistreat horribly, that will never ask for care and attention.

One of the best fabrics to choose is linen, especially in this summer of 'New Mood' dressing, in which creases are seen not as something to be flattened into submission, but as interesting surface texture. Avant- garde designers including Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester and Comme des Garcons, are offering clothes that revel in their scrunched-up, crinkled and creased surfaces. John Rocha's white button-fronted dress wrinkles within minutes of putting it on and still looks fresh and pretty.

Washed silk is one of the great summer fabrics. It is cool and breezy, takes on lustrous colour but, because it has already been treated to a few tumbles in an industrial washing machine, it is far less demanding than straight silk.

But best of all in terms of wearability is viscose. It produces fluid, floppy, easy clothes that can be awesomely maltreated yet come out looking good. The British company Ghost has built its 10-year success story on viscose. The little white-eyelet viscose dress seen here on a desert road started off as 'grey cloth', which is unfinished and undyed. Ghost garments are made up huge, then washed and dyed - a process in which they shrink by 45 per cent, and gain density, texture and elasticity.

After that, you can throw them in the washing machine or beat them clean on a far- flung river bank - I know, I have. And, as they are so light and roll up so small, you can fit a lot of them in one small travelling bag - I know, I did. As Tanya Sarne, the design director and managing director of Ghost explains, 'We are very much a summer company. We always do well with our summer clothes, which are not designed by men dictating to women what they should wear but by a bunch of women who want to say, 'Here's a pile of clothes, wear them as you will and show your individuality'. They don't take you over or take your time.'

Designer Marina Avraam agrees. She included the black halter-neck dress in viscose crepe in her summer collection (seen here in the sparse shade of one of California's Joshua trees) because she wanted something 'easy, and cool that could be rolled up for travelling but had ample fabric to flow. Nothing folds or rolls up small quite like viscose.'

(Photographs omitted)