The clothes that will take you into the heat of summer are now on sale in a high street near you. The same looks are also filtering into the ivory palaces that sell the designer originals that were shown to the fashion world - and the canny high-street chains keen to spot the new trends - last October. The timespan between catwalk and high-street copy used to be smaller, with the mass market catching up to high fashion at least a season later. Now the chain stores are producing up to six collections a year, making it easier for them to soak up new influences and inspirations more immediately. Key trends on display in shop windows are the same the country over, whether you shop in Bond Street or the local Arndale Centre.
Britain undoubtedly has the best trend-led high street shops in the world. America has the Gap, great for khakis and pocket Ts but not the place to go for brand-new trends and the seasonal whims of fashion. France has boutiques for teenagers. But once they reach working age, the French have a choice of Kookai, Morgan, department store clothing, designer sale shops, or Chanel. And as for Germany, if shoulder pads and brass buttons are not your style, the high street is a desert.
Increasingly, our chain stores are expanding abroad. In downtown New York's fashionable art and shopping area, SoHo, there is now a very stark and modern looking French Connection alongside Anna Sui and other designer boutiques. The chain opens a new store in Los Angeles this month, making a total of fourteen shops in America.
Oasis holds this year's British Fashion Award for best retailer. One dress worthy of the catwalk is their ruffle wrap number, pictured here. Priced at less than pounds 50, it is the perfect summer dress, combining two of the main spring/summer trends - florals and frills. Another good choice would be at Dorothy Perkins, where the capsule collection designed for the chain by Clements Ribeiro includes a cherry-blossom-print chiffon dress with ruffle sleeves, for pounds 80. The designer duo produced some of the season's finest ruffles and florals for their own label, too, but at more than six times the price of the DP version.
If you think florals and frills are a little too much for a grown woman, there are unfussy clothes with overblown blooms in just about every high- street range - from poppies at Kookai, to roses at Warehouse. And if you feel feminine enough without the flowers, go for stripes, best knitted in the style of Italian knitwear maestros Missoni. On the catwalks, Italian designers Anna Molinari and Dolce & Gabbana went over the top with chintz, while Prada used minimal embroidered thorns and blossoms for a hint of the Orient, another trend that the high street has pounced on. There is also chinoiserie in store at Next, Warehouse, and French Connection, where the look is elegant and not too literal.
In 20 years' time, when we look back at the mid-Nineties, one of the defining looks will be asymmetric necklines and angularly slashed hems. For spring, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan have sliced fabric into fishtails and at 45-degree angles across one shoulder. Any chain store worth its name has followed suit, with Kookai's one-shouldered, hip-slash erogenous zone dress leading the way at pounds 59. Of course, a new pair of angular shoulders and a super-smooth hip line are not included in the pricen
Stylist: Charlie Harrington Hair and make-up: Denise Rabor at Mandy Coakley
Model: Claire Wilson at Models 1.
Asymmetric: purple dress, pounds 59, by Kookai, 123 Kensington High Street, London W8; 10 Bold Street, Liverpool; 1 County Arcade, Leeds (enquiries, 0171-937 4411)
Chinese: green spirit anemone dress, pounds 90 and matching trousers, pounds 80, both by French Connection, 99 Long Acre, London WC2; 14-16 St Annes Street, Manchester; 66 Market Hill, Cambridge; beige criss-cross leather wooden- soled sandals, pounds 49.95, by Bertie, 36 South Molton Street, London W1; Rackhams, Birmingham; Bentalls, Kingston
Stripes: knit dress, pounds 80, by Karen Millen, 46 South Molton Street, London W1; 6 The Burlington Arcade, 68 Queen's Road, Bristol; wicker wedge sandals, pounds 54.99, by Office, 57 Neal Street, London WC2; 10 South Molton Street, London W1 (enquiries and mail order, 0181-838 4447)
Frills: floral wraparound dress, pounds 49.99, by Oasis, 292 Regent Street, London W1; 50 Kings Street, Manchester; 1 The Burlington, 125-126 New Burlington Street, Birmingham (enquiries, 01865-881 986); floral hair slide, pounds 18.50, by Johnnie Loves Rosie, Fenwick, and Harvey Nichols; white flat leather sandals with floral decoration on toe, pounds 70, by Jones the Bootmaker, 15 Fouberts Place, London W1 and branches nationwide (enquiries, 0800-163 519)
Floral: ballet wrap-top, pounds 28, and long, rose-print skirt, pounds 45, both from Warehouse, 19-21 Argyll Street, London W1; 72-74 High Street, Guildford; 92-96 Argyle Street, Glasgow (enquiries, 0171-705 1957)