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Interiors: sleeping beauty

What is the well-dressed bed wearing this season: Tocca, Lauren, Farhi, Dior? James Sherwood reports on the explosion in designer bed linen
Is there anything more pleasurable than starched cotton sheets on a king-size bed? If you are a fully paid-up member of the style generation, then your designer G-spot will only be satisfied if the cotton sheets are those chosen by Philippe Starck for Ian Schrager's Sunset Boulevard "boutique" hotel The Mondrian. Naturally, your Christian Liaigre double-bed back home is dressed in Tocca's pretty pastel sheets with broderie Anglaise detail and scalloped trim.

Designers Yves Saint Laurent, Kenzo, Valentino and the House of Dior all present seasonal collections of bed linen. They are in direct competition with the traditional Italian linen houses of Frette and Pratesi, which sell single 100 per cent linen sheets for up to pounds 900 a pop. The fact that we are changing our bedroom fabrics as often as our frocks is the strongest signal that minimal severity is over and conspicuous consumption has returned.

"There is a crossover between fashion and interiors fabrics," says woven- fabric designer Paul Vogel. "For example, Calvin Klein bought a hound's- tooth check fashion fabric from me for his interiors range and Nicole Farhi took a suiting pinstripe for bed linen. Fabric designers are keen to comply because you earn twice as much money for an interiors fabric as opposed to fashion. Interiors fabrics are supposedly less transitory than fashion."

Of course, the fabric designers are delighted that fashion clients are making the crossover into interiors. Traditional bed-linen specialists such as Sanderson and Descamps may be less than elated, even though it is prompting both to "advance the boundaries of bed linen", in the words of Descamps. But luxury is not enough. Now design junkies are only satisfied by luxury with a label. The American troika of big brands, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein have all launched major interiors divisions; not so subtly crossing the line between fashion and lifestyle.

The new buzz about designer bed linen is partly thanks to product placement at the new generation of boutique hotels such as The Mondrian in Los Angeles, and London's One Aldwych and The Metropolitan. The equation is simple. The chosen few who check into luxury hotels as frequently as the rest of us shop at Sainsbury's have the small change to pay up to three figures for a piece of Calvin bed linen. Old money won't be conned, so ancien regime hotels such as The Ritz or The Dorchester will not do. The hotel has to be as sexy and young as this season's Gucci lingerie.

Gordon Campbell Grey, MD of One Aldwych, coined the phrase "stealth wealth" to describe both the boutique hotel and the elite who stay there. "It's all about stealth wealth rather than dripping in deluxe," he says of the One Aldwych interiors he co-designed with Mary Fox Linton. For bed linen, they chose crisp white Frette linen, feather duvets and pillows. Christina Ong, owner of The Metropolitan and The Halkin, says, "I hope The Metropolitanwill reflect the image of those who use it." Hence the dove-grey ultrasuede bedspread and matching pillows. (But once those crisp linen sheets are taken out of the hotel environment, would any of us be willing to launder the precious little darlings to hotel standards? Yes, you can buy the Rotary Ironer for pounds 875. But, surely, is life is too short.)

There does exist an aesthetic argument for fashion designers reinterpreting interiors. "Interior design companies were literally stuck in the decorative mind-set, which is not so modern," says Paul Vogel. "Fashion is fast. We love our colours. We love looking forward. There's something to be said for a cleaner, more modern perspective on furnishing fabrics."

But there is always a danger of faddish excess. One little bit of nonsense imported from America is the attention people pay to the "threads per inch" vital statistic on manufacturers' care labels. "All threads per inch tell you is how fine the fabric is: the more threads, the lighter the weight," says Vogel. "In a sense it is too much information." An equally worrying trend can be detected in Tocca's own brand of scented washing liquid. It may look cute but is, in fact, sinister: where will designer labelling end? Will household brands such as Persil and Ariel be joined by Ralph Lauren colour-fast washing powder or DKNY Shake 'n' Vac. The frightening part is people will buy these fantasy products

And so to bed ... To re-create that luxury hotel experience at home, you can buy hand-embroidered pure linen Frette sheets for pounds 1,100 a set or, for pounds 200 upwards, ensure quality sleep in between 100 per cent Egyptian cotton, all available from a selection at Frette, 98 New Bond Street, London W1, 0171-629 5517. Or dress your bed in pastels the Tocca way, with pillowcases costing pounds 44.95-pounds 89.95, embroidered double duvet cover, pounds 220, embroidered "bed scarf", pounds 389, all from Shop, 4 Brewer Street, London W1, 0171-437 1259. Nicole Farhi 100 per cent Egyptian cotton bed linen comes in at pounds 30 for a pillowcase and pounds 150 for a double duvet cover, from Nicole Farhi Home, 193 Sloane Street, London SW1, 0171-235 0877. Kenzo bed linen starts at pounds 99 for a double duvet, with pillowcases from pounds 25, available from Selfridges, 400 Oxford Street, London W1. Ralph Lauren Home Collection pillowcases start at pounds 25 a pair, with sheets from pounds 25, available from Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, London SW1, 0171-235 5000. Aiofe O'Riordain