Merry maids of Sherwood

Designers have forsaken sleek hi-tech fibres this winter in favour of natural materials and ragged hemlines. Tamsin Blanchar d reports
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Indy Lifestyle Online
If Robin Hood was a girl and living in Sherwood Forest today, she would probably look something like Felix in these pictures, dressed in moss-coloured suedes, shaggy knits and ragged-edged mohair.

As clothes for next spring become more structured and formal, this is a last chance for a bit of escapism. These earthy clothes are for dreamers and romantics, for would-be Robin Hoods who prefer walking in wintry woods than spending endless days doing their Christmas shopping.

But for those of us still out in the real world, struggling with Christmas presents, it is possible - even in chain stores - to find clothes with a look of the handcrafted, complete with all the imperfections that make hand-made clothes so charming. There is nothing like a ragged, uncut hem to take away that mass-manufactured, shop-bought finish.

The secret is rugged and highly textured fabrics, quite the opposite end of the spectrum from the smooth, shiny, synthetic materials that many designers now regard as the key to the future. But as long as there are sheep, there will be sheepskin. And un l ike the indentikit sheepskin coats of the 1970s, today's sheepskin comes in its rawest state, without carefully turned hems or unnecessary cutting.

As well as man-made fibres, natural materials such as leather and suede are in plentiful supply this winter. Rifat Ozbek, who uses only modern, high-tech fabrics for his spring/summer 1995 collection, has used age-old fabrics for winter. Miniskirts, wai s tcoats and ankle-length coats are all made out of sheepskin, with seams sewn together roughly with wool. There are even hats to match, made by Philip Treacy.

Alison Lloyd of Ally Capellino has used such fabrics as blanket-thick herringbone tweeds and shaggy mohair knits. "There is definitely a new approach to texture," she says. "It is important to have an element of control. Rough or outdoor fabrics should contrast with smooth finishes, matt with shine and so on.''

The Ally Capellino collection is not the only one to use mohair. The wild, furry knits are available at almost any price. The best are those that have been washed and felted to resemble thick blankets rather than fluff balls.

No doubt Robin Hood would have heartily disapproved of spending £699 on a felted top that some would say could be whisked up in a trice from a couple of dishcloths. But a sheepskin bag, costing a more affordable £50 from Warehouse, might at least have been useful for redistributing riches to the poor.