Intelligent Consumer: The fashion month

It may not have been a great year for fashion but 1997 was a bumper year for fashion celebrities. The power of personality spotlit the meteoric rise of Stella McCartney and the deaths of big-time buyer of haute couture Princess Diana and couturier Gianni Versace. Meanwhile, this fashion month, Donatella's been keeping the Versace flag flying in style - and whatever happened to Fergie the frump?

the big story+ The Big Story+ The Big Story

Sod the frock - what's the model up to?

In fashion terms, 1997 will not be remembered as a year of stunning creativity. Instead, it was a year when celebrities rather than clothes dominated the headlines. The question "who?" was asked more readily than "what, where and why?", and fashion's famous - either through tragedy, scandal or success - spilled onto news and features pages at an unprecedented rate.

Stella McCartney burst into the headlines in April when it was announced that she was the new captain of the good ship Chloe. The appointment proved that fashion was steering a course away from innovative design towards high-profile personalities. After all, rich ladies who can afford Chloe would swap well-cut, classy clothes any day for something flimsy from the daughter of an ageing pop god. Such is the headway made by style over substance.

Bill Clinton, the president of pizazz himself, stepped into the fashion fray in May, decrying "heroin chic". "This is not about art," he said, "it is about life and death," proving that the most powerful man in politics can only get advisors who are a year and a half out of date. For the time was ripe for hearty models and in stepped the mighty Sophie Dahl. But what one hoped would be an in-road into the cult of the protruding rib has become rather a dead end. Apart from a few novelty appearances during London Fashion Week, when did you last see Sophie Dahl in a fashion spread?

The same goes for Beryl Cook-caricature Sarah Morrison (the size 16 model discovered by Vogue photographer Nick Knight), who, apart from modelling outsize party frocks for the Daily Telegraph this month, has disappeared from the face of the earth.

Naomi turned up trumps in June, with the juiciest fashion story of the year so far. Everyone likes a pretty rich girl who can't buy love, and Campbell turned up in a suspected suicide attempt over lover Joaquin Cortes's shenanigans. Acres of newsprint were devoted to reports and analysis. The Times's Nigella Lawson put Naomi's overdose scare down to a publicity stunt, and the Guardian described the fracas as "the most famous tummy upset since the Borgias' last supper."

And on the subject of scurrilous noble families, the monarchy lost its greatest fashion figurehead since Queen Alexandra. Princess Diana's demise was a tragedy, not least for the news pages (who loved to put her posh 'n' pretty picture on the front page, especially when she discovered cleavage) and the style pundits (who regarded her every frock as a fashion moment).

If 1997 was a year that proclaimed the death of the little black dress, then celebrity funerals proved otherwise. Versace's murder in July prompted the kind of post-mortem commentary most believed would be reserved for the Queen Mother. The funeral in Milan was a testament on how to wear black. Fashion celebs looked elegantly grief-stricken, delicately dabbing their tears and making sure the camera got their best side behind the black veils.

Even Tatler caught onto the cult of celebrity as dull debs with no chins were replaced by modern beauties. Posh girls were pushed off the cover by Posh Spice and pop star Louise, done up in all her Eliza Doolittle glory.

In terms of creativity, Galliano and McQueen had a clear run for stardom in a mediocre world: Galliano because of the charm and beauty of his creations, McQueen for his dark and primitive vision. American corporate designers kept coming at us and i-D decided that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em - and declared that the hippest street people were wearing fake designer T-shirts.

New magazines for the year included Frank (the jury is still out), The Passion (funny and provocative, but has anyone seen a copy yet?) and the re-launch of The Modern Review (targets women more concerned with the size of their brain than the size of their bum).

It's clear that 1997 was a sad, bad year for fashion. It's a wild thought, but maybe 1998 could give us some much-needed excitement. Perhaps we will see a revival of anti-fit fashion and an end to heaving bosoms, micro- minis and stilettoes. Perhaps we will rejoice at vintage Yamamoto black shrouds and Islamic style a la Hussein Chalayan. I can see it now: the New Yashmak, and how to wear it.

+ Oxygen +

'My curtains nearly got transformed into a dress but, in the end, I didn't have time...'

Turner Prize nominee, Cornelia Parker, on what to wear on the night, Independent

'Those who try and keep cool run up a head of steam in endless figure- eight coded dances, each nuance closely watched by other eager bees, seeking out the honey at the cutting edge.'

i-D on how fashion has confused us all

'If there had been one of us, no one would have noticed, but because we were two, suddenly we were like an army or something.'

Yohji Yamamoto on how he and Issey Miyake changed Eighties fashion, Frank

'Transparency. Please let's not talk about it.'

Josephine Turner from boutique A La Mode on the worst trends of 1997, Vogue

'A discount on lambswool jumpers and the fee.'

Peter Sansom, M&S's first poet-in-residence, on how he is paid, Daily Telegraph

'The problem is, staring at page upon page of these kookie princesses reduces their quirkiness to banality.'

Elle reader on how models look the same

'We also had people spit on the window whilst ranting Christian ethics at us.'

Joe Corre on public reaction to his lingerie shop, Agent Provocateur, Independent

'On any designer floor you've got to have a good attack, midfield and defence. And a strong, expensive Italian player - sorry, designer - helps the game along, too.'

Chris Lee, buying director, explaining how shop floors are like football pitches, Vogue

Royal spice

There was a time when Sarah Ferguson and Mr Blobby were the nation's favourite colour-blind tubbies. Mr Blobby still does not disappoint, but something has happened to Fergie. Where are the diaphanous floral skirts? Where are the comedy facial expressions? What's happened to the worst dress-sense since the Nolan Sisters?

It seems that Sarah has finally realised that it wasn't just Diana's campaign against landmines that made us love her: it was her skinny thighs, glamorous frocks and tanned beauty. Fergie did more than her bit for charitable works (all that baby-hugging in Hello!), but with her typical English pear shape and Nora Batty's taste, nobody gave a toss.

Perhaps all that exercise and celery nibbling is paying off (not to mention de-frizzing her hair and listening to her style consultants), for it seems the ginger one is not the figure of fun she once was.

This month, the Evening Standard ran a feature on the end of Tang jackets which featured two rather fetching pics of Fergie. Although Mimi Spencer did attempt to blame their demise on the former royal's predilection, she decided in the end to blame it on something else, which was telling enough.

The same publication ran a feature under the headline "Fergie: The day I was mistaken for a Spice Girl", where she was reported, most uncharacteristically, as "looking trim in a long black dress with side splits" and being delighted to be thought a Ginger-Spice-alike.

Who Shot What Who Shot What Who Shot What+

Ice queens: It was all fake fur and embroidery as "ethnic warmth" was the order of the day in the Times and Harpers & Queen, while Vogue ran a dragged-through-a-hedge-backwards shoot, complete with thick socks, overcoats and back-combed hair.

Suits you, Madam: The Guardian gave us the three best suit shapes for winter and the Independent advised beaded tops and accessories as the perfect way to party up those nasty work suits.

And the winner is... : FHM, the men's magazine, had their own style award, which made more sense than the British Fashion Awards (Red or Dead for best street fashion, indeed). Reiss won retailer of the year, while Jack Davenport (Miles in This Life) scooped man of style.

Christmas conundrums: The Times advised a little beaded frock for the festive season, the Daily Telegraph went for velvet, this newspaper shot the high-street, high-glitter alternatives. The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph showed what real working girls were wearing, and the Evening Standard advised "whatever you do, don't be minimal". If it's all too much, the Sunday Times offered a novel solution: hire a Christmas-tree costume for the night and be done with it.

Far out east: The Evening Standard's Mimi Spencer advised boyfriends to buy their women a silk kimono for Christmas, while magazines Elle, Frank and the Face went all Oriental.

It's creative, are you?: The Independent on Sunday went out on its own for inspiration. PJ Harvey was the inspiration for a rock chic fashion shoot one week, while a model posed for close circuit TV the next.

Profiles: She visited Ines de la Fressange's country retreat; Elle showed us how to dress like Carmen Diaz; Dai Rees starred in Vogue; Stephen Sprouse appeared in i-D; Elle went on a bender with Helena Christensen; Frank interviewed Yohji Yamamoto while this newspaper and the Independent spoke to Joe Corre, the man behind Agent Provocateur.

Oh what sport: Fleeces are still the strongest casual-wear story for winter, as seen in She; Marie Claire advises us to put sportswear with suits and stilettoes. And why not, indeed.

Cover girls: Naomi on Vogue and i-D (starring in a sort of backstage- at-the-Palladium shoot), Sophie Ellis Bexter on Dazed & Confused and Annie Morton on Elle (left).

Colours: Forget grey or black. White, gold and blonde are the colours chosen by Vogue and Harpers & Queen, while the Daily Telegraph claims that "shoppers are going for gold".

If you're not on the list, you can't come in: FHM decided that bouncer cool was the height of fashion (three-quarter-length coats, sunglasses, everything black) and that velvet shirts created a rock-star look.

Bearing up: According to Vogue and Frank, the latest thing is bare legs, although both are rather sceptical. Well, now that beef on the bone is banned, maybe corned beef legs are the next best thing.

Klein clone: Kelly Klein, Calvin's former wife, photographed Georgina Grenville for Vogue, and, it appears, she has the same obsession for self- publicity as her ex. Rather than receiving the usual one-line credit, her name is in capitals at the bottom of each spread.

C'est vrai: Vogue's favourite phrase of the moment is "ne plus ultra", as in "consider [Hussein's] clothes the ne plus ultra of creativity..." and "...the ne plus ultra of chic is an awe-inspiring expanse of gleaming, waxed, tanned and very naked leg". Awe-inspiring indeed in mid-winter.

Business News

Elizabeth Emanuel (above), the designer who co-created Princess Di's wedding dress, is on the brink of bankruptcy again. Her relationship with Shami Ahmed, the man who tried to save her business, has turned sour. Ms Emanuel is considering taking legal action against the 35-year-old entrepreneur, claiming he shut down her studio in central London and moved it to a Wembley office.

(Source: Times)

Gucci said that sales and profits could be hit by the economic crisis in Asia. Around 40 per cent of the Italian luxury goods manufacturer's profits come from the Far East. "Third-quarter sales were affected by two of our key markets, Hawaii and Hong Kong," said Domenico De Sole, chairman and chief executive.

(Source: Daily Telegraph)

The depressed Asian economies also affected Burberrys. Turnover fell four per cent to pounds 126.5 million in the six months to 30 September.

(Source: Evening Standard)

Harvey Nichols shares slumped 23p to 193p as sales growth slowed to only three per cent, 48 per cent down on last year's high. The strong pound has been partly blamed for keeping overseas spenders away.

(Sources: Independent and Times)

charitable chic

Donatella Versace may not have the design ability of her brother, but she's sure got his talent for hob-nobbing with the stars.

They all came out this month for a Versace tribute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Annual Costume Institute Ball in New York, where tickets cost pounds 1,250 and the frocks a whole lot more.

Donatella wore a jewel-encrusted dress complete with fur throw, and then grabbed more photo-opportunities than John Prescott in a soup kitchen. She smiled from the pages of the Evening Standard, hugging Cher and Madonna, grinned away alongside Elton John for the Daily Telegraph and appeared on her own (but surrounded by papparazzi) in the Times.

"It was a party for the world's richest and most celebrated clothes-horses," said the Daily Mirror, many of whom seemed to have fallen at the first hurdle. Madonna "looked like America's answer to Mystic Meg", while Kate Moss seemed to be wearing a bin-bag which had slipped off her shoulders.

The party, organised by American Vogue editor, Anna Wintour, launched an exhibition of 90 Versace outfits and raised nearly pounds 1.5 million for charity.

+ Bits 'n' Bobs + Bits 'n' Bobs + Bits 'n' Bobs + + Bits 'n' Bobs

According to the Independent, Christie's is to auction a Cerruti suit worn by Harrison Ford in Airforce One - complete with two bullet holes and imitation blood - for between pounds 1,800 and pounds 2,200.

On the subject of suave film stars, the Independent also reported that the new Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, features suits by Brioni for Pierce Brosnan (right), Kenzo for baddie Jonathan Pryce and Ozwald Boateng knife-edge tailoring for his henchman, Gotz Otto.

Supermodel Kate Moss and super-DJ Jeremy Healy have started a (not-so) secret romance, said the Daily Mirror. According to the tabloid, the pair often worked together for John Galliano, where she treads the catwalk and he provides the music.

A 17-year-old model from Norfolk is the new face of shampoo Pantene in the US, reported the Evening Standard, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph. Sarah Thomas has won the pounds 250,000-a-year contract which is likely to make her a millionairess by the time she turns 20. The fortunate girl is already the face of Cover Girl. She will star in a television commercial for the shampoo, which will be shown to more than 250 million viewers.

Californian Michael Mischler, 29, has been sentenced to a minimum six years imprisonment for attempting to extort pounds 53,000 from supermodel Elle Macpherson. According to the Evening Standard, Mischler stole nude photos from the pregnant model's home in Los Angeles and threatened to post them on the Internet.

Budding snapper James Moriarty won the Independent/Clothes Show Live Young Catwalk Photographer of the Year award. His prize was a Fuji camera, worth pounds 995, and the chance to assist top catwalk photographer Chris Moore at next spring's London Fashion Week.

Apparently, Italian men are too stylish to be flogged their favourite football team's merchandise. "Italian clubs are envious that their English counterparts can foist polyester shirts on their fans and somehow persuade them they are a fashion accessory," reported the Daily Telegraph. Clubs such as AC Milan are way behind in selling game-related goods compared with Manchester United, a town not renowned for its menfolk's sartorial elegance.

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