Off the catwalk and on to the high street

The mood of the top designers dictates the feel of the chain stores. By Tamsin Blanchard. Photographs by Jon Mortimer
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Indy Lifestyle Online
People often ask me, "how relevant is the catwalk to the clothes most people actually wear?" As the spring/summer '97 round of shows gets under way, with London officially starting tomorrow, Milan next, then Paris and New York, the answer is that without designer level fashion, high street fashion would have no impetus to move forward.

Designer fashion is relevant to clothes buyers everywhere, whether you know your Gucci from your Givenchy or not. You may never set foot inside a designer boutique, let alone buy a suit for pounds 500 plus. But at some point, you most certainly will shop at Miss Selfridge, Warehouse, or any of the other chain stores. Without high fashion, street fashion would have no direction.

The clothes you see here are all available at a shopping centre or street near you, at prices that most people can afford. Yet they all owe their origins to the catwalks. Occasionally, a dress or shirt will be shamelessly copied. But on the whole, the high street looks to the catwalk for inspiration - for a mood or a look, if not an exact pocket detail or neckline.

This autumn, the influence of the catwalks on the high street is as pronounced as ever. Walk into Miss Selfridge and you will be hit by a capsule collection of brightly coloured, zig-zag-patterned knitwear, a reflection of the Italian designer Missoni's resurgence as a label to die for. Missoni's knits are hand-crafted, life investment pieces with, of course, price tags to match. But if you want the look without the quality or the third mortgage, a cropped cotton/viscose Missoni-look sweater for pounds 25 is an effective one-season buy, guaranteed to update last winter's wardrobe.

Likewise, Gucci, the Italian label that has recently been resurrected from being synonymous with Eighties status dressing to the ultimate in high fashion. There is no suggestion that anyone would mistake the Gucci "look" for the real thing. A pure cashmere coat by the esteemed label is manufactured and tailored with absolute precision. To compare it with a coat of roughly similar design by Warehouse would be like comparing a Lamborghini to a Vauxhall Cavalier. Both are perfectly functional cars, but there the similarity ends. You get what you pay for. Gucci is in a league of its own; and the cream, pure wool, fake-fur-trimmed coat you see here is worth every one of its pounds 160.

Another strong look for this autumn comes from New York and Ralph Lauren. The designer, who opens a flagship store in London later this year, took his influence from a street in London: Savile Row. When Claudia Schiffer walked down the runway in a midnight blue velvet tailored suit with shirt and gold tie, scores of fashion editors imagined themselves in her place. Of course, Ralph Lauren does not hold a monopoly on velvet suits. And Next might just as easily taken their inspiration from the Row as well. While the designer version can be altered to look as though it was made for you, out of the most luxurious silk velvet, Next's suit costs a fraction of the price, at under pounds 150. And of course, good old mail order stalwart Racing Green has come up with the perfect fitted shirt, and it's as much of a classic as the Ralph Lauren de luxe original.

Back in Milan, Prada has been setting the pace, along with Gucci, for the past few seasons. The key look is minimal styling with quirky Seventies house-beautiful prints. For the Prada aficionado, there is no point if the label is not hand-sewn with the revered Milanese logo. But for anyone who just happens to like the abstract print look, there are numerous hommages on the high street. The best comes from Jane Norman, a family-run business owned by two sisters. They pride themselves on their awareness of catwalk trends. For them, the catwalk is extremely important. They respond to supplying and satisfying public demand, giving increasingly trend aware women catwalk looks at high street prices. The shirt dress pictured here hits just the right note.

The transition from catwalk to high street does not always happen within the same season. Some trends take a while to filter through. The tiger- print kaftans from Dolce e Gabbana's last collection are no longer available in their Sloane Street store, but they have only just made their mark on the shop floor at the French chain Kookai. And for evening, the cowl- necked tiger-print tunic is a good buy, and will make as much of a statement across a crowded bar as the designer version.

Cream floor-length coat in 100 per cent wool with fake fur collar, pounds 160, and trousers, pounds 35, both by Warehouse, 19-21 Argyll Street, W1; 92- 96 Argyle Street, Glasgow (inquiries, 0171-278 3491); viscose shirt, pounds 30, from selected branches of Marks & Spencer; pendant, pounds 4.99, from Accessories, 123A Kensington High Street, W8; 15 Eastgate Street, Chester (inquiries, 0171-313 3000)

Long-sleeved shirt dress with tortoiseshell-effect belt (bottom left), pounds 49.99, by Jane Norman, 59 Brompton Road, SW1 and 53 High Street, Meadow Hall Shopping Centre, Sheffield and branches nationwide. Inquiries, 0171- 437 0132.

Tiger-print, cowl-neck tunic (right), pounds 59 by Kookai, 123 Kensington High Street, W8; 57-59 Buchanan Street, Glasgow; inquiries, 0171-937-4411

Single-breasted navy velvet jacket (top left), pounds 89.99, with bootleg trousers, pounds 44.99, from Next directory (0345 100 500), and selected Next stores nationwide; lilac cotton shirt, pounds 24, from Racing Green, 193-197 Regent Street, W1; 33 King Street, Manchester, and 16 Buchanan Street, Glasgow (mail order, 0345 331177); 100 per cent silk gold tie, pounds 8.99, from the Tie Rack, 295 Oxford Street; Palisades, Birmingham; The Marland Centre, Southampton, and branches nationwide (inquiries, 0181-230 2333)

Stylist: Charlie Harrington

Make up: Alex Babsky

Hair: Steve Reina for Aveda Hair Products

Model: Laura Farrar