From Ralph Lauren to Caroline Charles, the design world has come out from under the duvet. Tamsin Blanchard reports on what all the best dressed beds are wearing - and you can bet your bolster it isn't poly- cotton
When the aspirational lifestyle and fashion magazine, Wallpaper*, was bought by Time Inc in June, it was a sure sign that designer labels have gone beyond the shirts on our backs to the sheets on our beds. Wearing the clothes is not enough any more; serious fashion consumers are investing in the look of the season for their homes as well. Who said the designer crazed Eighties were dead?

Clothes, glasses, chairs, or duvet covers: if there is a market for it, someone somewhere will license a fashion name to design it. John Rocha launches his first range of glasses and bowls for Waterford Crystal in the autumn and British label Ghost has just begun selling quilts and pillows in any colour you like to match your favourite Ghost dress. Anybody who thinks fashion is confined to shirts, socks and underwear is very much mistaken. As the asterisk denotes in the Wallpaper* logo, fashion is the stuff that surrounds you. You can even buy the Ralph Lauren or Donna Karan CD and listen to compilations of the sounds of your favourite fashion guru.

It was Ralph Lauren who first exploited the homewares and bed linen market. He launched what the company describes as "an all encompassing programme for the home" in 1983. Two years ago, he added the Ralph Lauren Paint Collection. Now, not only are his sheets and pillowcases sold successfully around the world, so too are his wall papers, floor coverings, furniture, bath towels, dinnerware and napkin rings. In sympathy with his fashion collections, the homeware ranges have had themes ranging from safari, Santa Fe, and of course New and Old England. The highland family mansion is a favourite hunting ground for Mr Lauren, who takes his whole lifestyle concept from his own homes to his shop fittings.

For the Ralph Lauren bed, there are bed pillows (the only shape of pillow to be seen sleeping on is square), duvet covers, blankets, nightspreads and covered quilts. He even sells the bed to put it all on. And this is not just a big PR and marketing exercise. Ralph's homewares really do sell. And just like his clothing collections, there is a new look each season. For this autumn, every fashionable bed should be wearing "shearling upholstery and hearty knit woollens". It should have blankets with cream, oatmeal and brown geometric patterns, cable knit blankets, and on top of all that, in case it gets cold in the night, it should have a distressed shearling throw. It's not a bed, it's a whole winter wardrobe.

Following the instant success of Ralph Lauren's home collection, bed linen manufactures spent much of the eighties looking for designers who could capture a similar market. One such name was Caroline Charles who was approached eight years ago to design her own range of linens which now sells around the world.

"I like being in bed so much, I have real trouble getting out of it," says Ms Charles. "I have my breakfast there and do lots of work there at the weekends." Her ideal bed has to be white and tranquil or "jolly, like a gypsy caravan". Right now, her bed is sporting her new paisley duvet cover with big fluffy pillows - square of course. "I think people in Britain spoil themselves on their beds more than they do on their clothes," she says. "They know they're going to have their bedlinen for a long time."

The men's shirt label Gallagher has also seen a niche in the market and has brought out a single contemporary design of bedlinen in Damien Hirst- style multi-coloured spots. It is available by mail order only and seems a logical move for a label known for it's quality cotton shirts to make.

Other designers who have gone into bed linen include Kenzo, Christian Dior, Missoni, Christian Lacroix, Calvin Klein - whose zen-like sheets and pillowcases are coming to the UK soon - and Versace. At the Versace shop on Bond Street, there is a class of clientele who will spend up to pounds 20,000 a go on their bed linens and accessories. A duvet alone from the Home Signature collection will set you back pounds 1,900. For that price, it will boast the finely printed baroque Versace pattern with no expenses spared. It is a couture duvet.

Heena Keegel, the shop's manager, says the majority of Versace homeware buyers are Arab, Japanese, German or Dutch. They are the sort of people who are loyal to the brand to the end from their underwear to the cup they drink their Earl Grey tea out of. Ms Keegel offers an interior design service to serious clients and will help them co-ordinate their entire bedroom if they will let her. She will even try and sell you a bed, a snip at pounds 9,000 a go. "It's a whole bed," she stresses. "Very solid, on a baroque velvet base and made of beech wood." For younger, slightly less affluent customers, Versace has just launched the new Home Jeans collection, starting at pounds 185 for a sheet. The feel is not quite so overpoweringly Versace - there are polka dot and ivy leaf prints.

How you dress your bed is a serious matter for those in the know. "I think the rule is never poly-cotton, never, never in your life," instructs Hilary Robertson, an interiors stylist who works for magazines like Country Homes & Interiors. She has a thing about bed linen, although she says you don't have to spend hundreds of pounds for your bed to be in vogue. Her idea of a perfect bed is a mix 'n' match affair with clashing colours, stripes and florals. Her recent find was a patchwork duvet made by a stall holder in Spitalfields Market who sells fifties dresses and uses any dresses that are past their prime to patch into quilts. White is far too boring. "You have to have square pillows - they make the bed look better. The best ones are at The Source on Kensington High Street [in London]. At the moment, I'm in lime green summer mode, but I'm looking forward to winceyette candy stripes available from old fashioned draper's stores in the winter."

Simon Wilson, half of Butler & Wilson, the jewellers, also considers his bed linen to be so important he has to employ a cleaner to iron it, while Gay Mill of the Design Net, an interiors consultancy, bought her first designer sheets from The Conran Shop by Cerruti for pounds 200 in 1988 and is still sleeping in them. "They're Egyptian cotton and are a dream to sleep in," she says. She also sells her own label sheets in 100 per cent untreated calico which is like linen but doesn't crease as much and doesn't require a home help every time you want to wash them. Her other favourite designer sheets are by Kenzo in blue and white.

Meanwhile, back at Wallpaper* HQ, Suzy Hoodless, Interiors Editor, has not quite got over the number of calls the magazine got with enquiries about some embroidered lacy sheets by Tocca, featured last spring. Those sheets, as slept in by Helena Christensen no less, have taken on near mythical status. I am told they can be ordered through Browns of South Molton Street, which was the first shop to sell the New York label's hip, lacy dresses a few years ago. Browns have been inundated with requests and tell me they are only available at the moment from a shop in Tokyo. I wouldn't be surprised if some desperate designer bed linen victim hasn't booked a flight and made the trip to the Far East in search of them.

"People don't just want their wardrobes to be in fashion that season," Ms Hoodless says. "They want their homes to be too. Eventually there will be summer and winter trends for bed linen just as for clothes. There's a definite market for it." Her tip for the ultimate in bed linen is by a French designer, Catherine Memmi, sold exclusively through Selfridges. At pounds 900 for a single throw, however, these are sheets with limited appeal. Hoodless herself confesses to merely lusting after the sheets and her own bed is dressed by Habitat, all in white applique sheets.

So who on earth can afford such prices? "It's people that have jobs in the city, who don't have kids yet. They've got the car, the job, the great pay packet, and they want the whole look." With sheets like those, it's a wonder they manage to get out of bed in the morning.

Splashing out on sleep - where to buy designer bedding

The Design Net, phone orders only, 0171 639 4950, complete set of natural calico bedwear costs pounds 79, includes king-size duvet cover, one sheet and four pillowcases.

Ralph Lauren Home Collection, from Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and Harrods, enquiries 0171 495 5499, sheets, pillow cases and duvet covers from pounds 35, throw cushions from pounds 59.

Kenzo, double duvet cover pounds 129, pillowcases pounds 19.95 from Harrods, SW1.

Christian Dior, "sleep-inducing" patterned duvet covers from pounds 149, pillowcases, pounds 34.95, (no matching sheets), Harrods.

Christian Lacroix, double duvet, pounds 139, flat sheet, pounds 89.95, pillowcases, pounds 49.95 from Harrods, as before.

Designer's Guild, 267-271 and 277 King's Road, London SW3. Printed Oxford pillow case from pounds 15, flat sheets from pounds 46, double duvet covers from pounds 65. Call 0171 243 7300 for stockist enquiries.

Ghost, 36 Ledbury Road, London W10, bed throws, from pounds 300-pounds 450 and large cushions, pounds 90; enquiries on 0171 229 1057.

Caroline Charles, (pictured left, below) printed double duvet pounds 79, pillowcases from pounds 14.95, flat sheets from pounds 45, available from Harrods and Caroline Charles.

Yves Saint Laurent, solid colour block print double duvet covers, from pounds 139, pillowcases from pounds 49.95, flat sheets from pounds 99.95 available from Harrods, as before.

J&M Davidson, 62 Ledbury Road, enquiries 0171 243 2089, double duvet pounds 75, king-size duvet pounds 165.

Missoni, (as pictured in main feature and left, above), Liberty, Regent Street, W1.

Above: white double duvet cover with multi-colour dot, with pillowcase set, pounds 65, by Gallagher, inquiries 0171-431 8880; grey chiffon dress with matching knickers, from a selection by Gianni Versace, 34 Old Bond St, London W1. Left from top: white double duvet cover with orange rose print, pounds 48, lilac pillowcase, pounds 9.50, both by Bedstock, 281 Portobello Rd, London W10; peach slip, pounds 295, by Stella McCartney, from Browns Focus, 38 South Molton St, London W1. Blue silk print king-size duvet, pounds 1,900, by Gianni Versace, as before; blue slip dress, pounds 125, by Dosa, from Browns, 23-27 South Molton St, London W1. Multi-coloured stripe blanket, pounds 189, by Missoni (details below); purple cotton trousers with sequins, pounds 700; matching top, pounds 785, both by Missoni, from Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, London SW1, Lisa Stirling, 3-4 St James House, St James St, Manchester