true romance

This spring, women will be wearing frills, flounces and florals. So enjoy being a girl

Pretty floral prints, wispy layers of light chiffon, and enough ruffles and frills to keep a Stepford Wife baking blueberry muffins for months --- that's what the world's fashion designers are presenting us for the season ahead. Already, fashionable women are growing their hair and shopping around for the best frothy blouses to go with their re-discovered femininity.

But wearing florals and flounces doesn't make you a zombie wheeling a hostess-trolley. The dresses on offer from Italian labels Istante, Anna Molinari and Dolce e Gabbana are anything but sugary. Last October, Kate Moss seemed far from insipid, smouldering down the Istante catwalk in the pink rose- printed number you see here. Dolce e Gabbana's long chiffons with built-in corsetry are more Hollywood siren than Stepford Wife. And Anna Molinari, a designer who believes in the cleavage, has given her florals a raunchiness that would cause Laura Ashley nightmares. You can buy the dress, but you can't always buy the attitude to wear with it, although a pair of big, no-nonsense knickers visible under your sheer chiffon will help.

For anyone whose wardrobe includes more trousers than skirts, and whose clothes are pared down to a minimum of fuss and bother, the prospect of frilly edges and pastel flowers, with underwear to match, might be just too much of a shock. But fashion must always take a few steps back in order to leap forward again. Reaction is its driving force, and designs have been too plain for too long. Just as we are all settling down to the comfort of our minimalist, mid-Nineties clothing of trousers, cardigans, tunic dresses and easy jerseys, along comes the startling spectre of girly Lolita dresses. Humbert Humbert would not be the only man to rub his hands in glee.

In reality, though, women are not about to start swapping their business suits for fripperies at the drop of some Italian designer's hat. There are long, floaty dresses perfect for warmer evenings, sprouting Fifties-style rosebuds, overblown poppies, spirals of creeping ivy and jewel-coloured if fragile devores of daffodils and pansies. On the high street, Kookai has a poppy-print dress that will give designer versions a run for their money at a fifth of the price. And, if you can't quite get your head around the idea of overripe prints, Pucci is making a comeback with a new collection of floral abstractions which are acid-coloured, psychedelic even. Not everything is coming up roses

Pink floral, tie-front baby-doll dress with matching knickers, pounds 615, by Istante, from the Istante Boutique, 183-184 Sloane Street, London, SW1

Scent: Antonia's Flowers

Full length, leaf print chiffon corseted Empire-line dress with spaghetti straps, pounds 1098, by Dolce & Gabbana, available from 175 Sloane Street, London SW3; Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, London SW1; Lisa Stirling, Unit 3-4 St James Square, Manchester; Scent: Tentation, by Paloma Picasso

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Full-length chiffon poppy print dress pounds 79, by Kookai, 23 Kensington High Street, London W8; 64 Queen Street, Cardiff; 57-59 Buchanan Street, Glasgow; 66 King Street, Manchester; 35 East Street, Brighton, and branches nationwide, Scent: Innocence, by Chloe

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Sleeveless rose-printed silk chiffon knee-length dress with lace print hem, pounds 500, by Anna Molinari, from a selection at Anna Molinari/Blumarine, 11 Old Bond Street, London W1; (enquiries, 0171-493 4872; gold strappy stack sandals, pounds 350, by Miu Miu, from Pellicano, 63 South Molton Street, London W1; Liberty, Regent Street, London W1; Scent: L'eau d'Issey, by Issey Miyake

Abstract print yellow and pink slim line long dress, pounds 470, by Pucci, from Browns, 23-27 South Molton Street, London W1 Scent: Envy, by Gucci Parfums

Hair Bruno Silvani

Make-up Brigitte Hymans at Marie France Thavonekham

Model Jade Parfitt at Models 1

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