N MAXFIELDS, West Hollywood's most exclusive designer-store, I was informed by Nicolas Cage's 'helper', a young man with the elegance of an Anglepoise lamp, that 'Mr Cage just loves these'. 'These' turned out to be baggy velvet Yohji Yamamoto suits that looked suspiciously more like the helper's kind of thing than Nic Cage's.

'I mean, celebs need this service,' says Dierdre Wheaton, who runs Maxfields. 'Obviously, if someone is determined to have hideous purple flares, there's nothing we can do. But we do try. They don't want to shop, let alone know how to. I mean, I'm sorry, honey, but I doubt that you'll see INXS working the malls.'

Imagine. You're a star. You never having to go shopping again. You never have to have your cellulite, your breast implants, your bald spots and tattoos discussed by indiscreet Los Angeles sales people in designer stores. You have discovered it is neither chic nor necessary to reveal to an adoring public your dwarfish stature or hydraulic underwear - secrets preserved by talented lighting people and genius cameramen for years. Instead, you have discovered the comforts of a serf arriving at your glorious Malibu home dragging multiple garment rails of clothing with her - and all for you. Well, that's the way Demi Moore goes shopping. And she's not alone.

It is greatly in the interests of certain key shops in Beverly Hills and Hollywood to allow designer clothing out on approval to celebrities, who despatch their personal stylists to return with limo-loads of gear through which they can desultorily pick. This is the town where it's possible to take-out everything (you can even get emergency condoms delivered 24-hours), so why not take-out fashion? And as all this finery is tax-deductible if you're in the public eye, why not stock up?

To complement your personal trainer, masseuse ('massooss'), dietician, manicurist and so on, it's now a status symbol to have your own stylist, and, educated to enjoy only the finest delicacies, most stars soon become incapable of life without designer labels.

Stephen Barbino's personal clients include Sandra Bernhard, Bobby Brown, Sophia Loren, Whitney Houston and Diana Ross. But the one who relies 100 per cent on his services is Sandra. 'Sandra and I are joined at the hip,' he says. 'She won't make a fashion move without me. The only thing she buys on her own are T-shirts from the Gap.'

The benefit of his services to the stars, he explains, 'is that they don't have to be seen physically to shop. It's as if they all just ooze that glamour naturally and don't have to schlep for it the way the rest of us do. Also, a really big star is likely to get mobbed, which is very inconvenient. Though Madonna will go shopping. God knows why. She can phone up any designer in the world and get anything she wants delivered free. I guess she just likes it.'

Others don't. Not one little bit. Most notably Demi Moore, who has lengthy four to five-hour fittings in her home and has been known to reject everything. Costume designer Dina Boykiw had the pleasure: 'I phoned every designer in the world - I had five dress rails full of clothes when I went in there, and she hated almost everything. She was rude, and I never want to work with her again.'

The person with the best explanation of the personal shopping phenomenon was Samantha McMillen of Tyler Trafficante, Hollywood's version of Antony Price. 'Well, it's a combination of no time and no taste, really. Occasionally we'll send a tailor to somebody's home. Arsenio Hall is just, well, really busy, I mean he hardly has time to get dressed, so we always send him things. Julia Roberts is pretty unusual in that she shops for herself, while Kim Basinger is very shy and hates shopping, so she gets home treatment, too.' (Well, I saw no sign of reticence in Kim Basinger as she shopped - or rather stood rooted to the spot - outside Browns of South Molton Street a year ago. She spent a full five minutes blocking the doorway as she apparently waited to be recognised, endlessly raking though her blonde tresses.)

MOST STARS, shy or not, learn to be very specific about what they want. They quickly become designer-friendly and will spend hours tearing pages out of foreign fashion magazines to give to their stylists, who set out, having been told the rules in advance: Jean-Claude Van Damme expressly does not wish to be shown designers he is not familiar with; Roseanne Arnold only wants glamorous items (no fat ladies' clothes, please). She was very taken with a designer jacket I found for her, and bought it, despite the fact that her husband Tom Arnold was allergic to it and was bellowing at her from behind a sodden Kleenex: 'Aw honey, please - I mean you're gonna have to store it in plastic or something.'

Dressing one star is bad enough, dressing several a kind of nightmare, as I discovered when I was given the permission to 'change the look' of funky divas En Vogue, for their recent 'Free Your Mind' video. En Vogue are billed as America's biggest girl soul group since the Supremes, but the difference between the two groups is particularly harrowing for a stylist: in En Vogue, every one is a Diana Ross. They have the fashion appetities of four great white sharks and possess designer shoes in quantities only Imelda Marcos could truly appreciate. For the video I'd got together a wardrobe from fashion's favourite glamour conceptualists, Thierry Mugler and Jean Paul Gaultier. But when the session began I felt like a plate spinner in a carnival: I would get one woman dressed, then move on to the next, who would be panicking that too much chest was being revealed, only to find by the time I got to the third member of the group that the first had taken everything off and was sitting in her underwear looking very glum. This in turn set off the fourth member, who wouldn't put anything on at all and stood there miserably fingering Paris's finest as if they were leprous rags.

Eventually, after much firm persuasion on my part, we reached a sort of agreement and the video was shot. Now, despite the fact that every person who's seen it said they loved it, and Thierry Mugler doesn't lend clothes to just anybody, the girls went on record in the New York Times last Sunday saying they weren't especially happy, and if they'd had more time they would have avoided Mugler - because everybody wears it.

This job can be no fun. 'Jody Watley was a nightmare,' says Stephen Barbino. 'I worked with her and, believe me, she doesn't have a good sense of fashion, so anything I did she didn't understand. We discussed in advance what she wanted, and by the time the day came I had, God knows, 10 racks of clothes, she'd changed all her ideas. I hated her. She hated me. End of story.'

Being mobbed along with your star is no fun, either. Dina Boykiw remembers shopping with Michael Jackson at Too Cute, a 'licensed designer apparel company' - which means 'clothes with Disney characters embroidered on them' to you and me. 'Michael arrived very discreetly in an old Honda Civic driven by Miko Brando; it was after hours and the store was closed, but within 10 minutes it was surrounded with fans and people stuffing T-shirts and bits of paper and CDs through the letter-box. It was insane. In the end, Michael had to hide in the changing room.'

As a result of this kind of frenzy, Michael Jackson prefers the opposite extreme on photo shoots and videos. People working around him are asked to sign a contract forbidding them from initiating conversation with him - or even looking at him - for longer than a few seconds.

There are fashions in fashion, like everything else, and where the famous lead, the rest will follow. So, presumably, soon everybody will be following Jackson's precedent and finding people to agree with their every whim, however preposterous they end up looking. And when they do, I, for one, will be on the first plane out of here.-

(Photograph omitted)