GEORGE C SCOTT played it tough as General Patton in a check-lined trenchcoat from Burberrys. A bleary- eyed Meryl Streep played for tears in Kramer vs Kramer, as her check-lined coat flapped in the breeze. Michael Jackson muffled up against British weather in a distinctive black and tan plaid scarf. Celebrities definitely not on the cutting edge of style, as well as hordes of tourists from Omaha and Osaka, wear Burberrys.

But these days, so do night clubbers at Subterrania, Quiet Storm and - the hippest London club of this summer - Club UK, staged in a warehouse in Wandsworth. The Burberry check has turned from traditional to trendy - just as 'trendy' itself has turned from an 'out' term to a 'so- out-it's-in' term.

Burberry checked trousers, especially slightly flared, second-hand versions from the Seventies; checked mufflers, seen tied round waists in sweaty clubs; and plaid shirts, have become super-stylish. Meanwhile, Burberry-inspired prints are turning up in other designers' collections.

The check once worn by Rudyard Kipling and Winston Churchill made its comeback in The Face in June. A fortnight later, a pair of classic Burberry trews that would not have been out of place in a gentlemen's club made the cover of Fashion Weekly, the trade title that keeps a close eye on street trends as well as on clothing manufacturing. Adrian Clark, Fashion Weekly's fashion editor, who also styled The Face picture, describes his Burberrys trousers as 'pedigree classics which work well as part of the current reaction against the gloss and glamour of the late Eighties'.

'Life is mixed up. The feeling now is that clothes should be, too, so suddenly odd things go together,' Clark explains. 'Burberrys trousers, with a pair of plimsolls and a white shirt, or steel toe-capped trainers and a shrunken sweater, started to look right,' he says.

Jo Barker, who styled the pictures on this page, thinks the return to fashion of the Burberry check, as well as the club check of fellow traditionalist Aquascutum, is part of an international fashion feeling for things British: 'London is 'in' again - the English Eccentric look is back, London girls are modelling everywhere and Scottish tartans are really big for autumn,' she says. 'These checks are part of a return to traditional pieces, which can be mixed in a stark, modern way.'

It is not the first time that the check Burberrys now weaves 2.5 million metres of every year has found itself re- cast as part of a youth cult. In the mid- Seventies the skinheads wore sharp, three-quarter length Burberry macs, lined in black and tan plaid, with Ben Sherman shirts and narrow, pressed jeans to administer their V-sign to the Establishment. Then in the mid- Eighties, the label-conscious 'casuals' added the distinctive Burberry check over their Pringle sweaters. Now, the instantly recognisable check signals the 'new mood' - that one is part of the current movement to mix old with new, trad with cutting edge and status pieces with clothes from the shopping mall or supermarket.

Burberrys, which also now offers its signature check in lime, fuchsia and baby blue versions, is not the only one with hip checks, however. The designers Paul Smith and Nicholas Knightly have plaid pieces in their collections that are equally English gentleman (whether for men or women), while the mass-market label Komodo, which supplies Top Shop and Miss Selfridge as well as independent fashion shops, has a Burberry-inspired check printed on a 501-style jean and on beanie hats.

Another 'old' pattern central to current fashion is tartan. Child-size kilts from established stockists such as The Scotch House are in demand and new punks who are not quite skinny enough to fit into non- VATable kids' clothes are opting for tartan wraps worn as skirts instead. Tartan shift dresses (100 per cent synthetic, in a vast range of sizes) are starting to make the journey south from the vast Gretna Green Old Smithy souvenir shop. At pounds 29.99 for a tartan frock, new mood dressers have joined your auntie on a just-north-of- the-border shopping spree in judging these a bargain.

Plaids, particularly those based on traditional tartans, will turn up all over the place as summer turns to autumn. Vivienne Westwood's autumn collection is a highland fling, while the most controversial use of Queen Victoria's favourite pattern comes from fashion's other great avant- gardist, Jean Paul Gaultier.

His latest collection, mixing tartan with clothing that takes inspiration from traditional Hasidic attire, has provoked accusations - which the designer denies - of anti-semitism. The Scots, whose traditional dress has also been whipped up in Gaultier's cross-cultural blender, have not protested, however.

Tartan is perennial and has never gone in and out of fashion the way the Burberry check has. But that black and tan plaid will get hipper yet. Over in the States, Fabien Baron, the creative director of Harper's Bazaar, (currently judged the chicest fashion magazine on the planet), is to design the Burberry campaign for the American market for spring 1994. Then everybody will want to wear it.

(Photograph omitted)

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