McCartney minimalism reflects new austerity

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Stella McCartney opened the proceedings at the Paris collections yesterday with a show that went to prove that the return of minimalism to the international catwalks is the story of the autumn/winter 2010 season.

With their cashmere sweaters, stovepipe trousers, and polished sling-backs with the new mid-heel – not to mention a prevalence of androgynous tailoring cut short and worn with legs bared – models brought the upscale, impeccably groomed New York uptown girl of the mid-Nineties to mind.

Nude make-up and sleek ponytails tied low at the nape of the neck only added to this impression which, after seasons and even years of high-octane glamour and an overload of surface embellishment, will doubtless be well-received by women the world over.

Ms McCartney is by no means the most pioneering of designers. Instead, her aim is – and always has been – to create clothing that she and her friends might like to wear. This, however, was a far cry from the vintage-inspired, quintessentially English – and specifically west London – aesthetic with which she made her name, and therefore a sign of changing times if ever there was one.

There were shades of Michael Kors in clean, linear, ultra-luxurious, double-faced cashmere jackets and tunics in oversized stripes of camel and black, all with barely a fastening in sight. Over and above that, though, the handwriting of the great Austrian designer, Helmut Lang, was very much in evidence in the form of tunic dresses with fluttering trains that trapped oversized sequins in diaphanous layers of organza, thereby ensuring that they appeared matt – far, then, from flash. Fisherman rib knits – also seen on the Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto's catwalk earlier in the week – were more relaxed still: think Blue Peter although, admittedly, somewhat more upscale than that.

The jury is still out as to whether so-called "real" clothes – roughly speaking, the type most women, as opposed to just the celebrity A to Z-lister, might covet – will be a good thing for fashion in challenging economic times. This was, after all, classic clothing that may therefore be worn season after season, threatening to make the need for an endless reinvention of wardrobe redundant. Whichever way one chooses to look at it, McCartney's intentions rang out loud and clear: no-frills fashion is the order of the day once more, and she is by no means alone in believing that.

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