Shalwar kameez: how will you wear yours?

Jemima and Diana started it. Now Eastern clothes are working their way into everyone's wardrobe

Paula Yates must be laughing all the way to the ante-natal classes. In the week when she announced that her home was designed in "sheikh chic", and that her baby was to be blessed with the Polynesian moniker Hiraani, it would seem that Eastern style is simply indispensable. Witness Jemima and Imran floating out of the High Court. Compared to the Bothams and the Lambs, all wide ties and tight skirts, the two Khans, in their loose trousers and long tops looked like something which had just dropped in from Planet Vogue. In the meantime, letters pages in fashion supplements are full of queries from women asking how to wear Indian clothes and if one needed any more convincing there's Princess Di, the nation's clothes- horse, appearing on the front cover of Hello! in a shalwar kameez (loose trousers and a long top, do wake up). And looking pretty comfy in it. Move over, the A-line. Your time is up.

Maureen Doherty has known about the sublime appeal of Eastern clothing for quite a while now. Egg - her shop in West London - mixes an eclectic cull of clothes from Japan, Iraq and Korea. "The East has always interested me," says Ms Doherty, formerly general retail manager of the Jigsaw empire. "They make clothes that are comfortable, and they're not designed by people who hate women. Like Chanel. I hate Chanel. It trusses women up like chickens."

Egg's clothes; loose trousers, baggy smocks, linen dresses, are all made in India by Doherty's partner Asha Sarabhai. Sarabhai is based in Ahmedabad, North India and the clothes are delivered to Knightsbridge every month. "I don't have a season, I just have a delivery every four weeks," says Doherty. "I avoid the fashion world, and all that Imran Khan hype. I don't have expensive shows and I don't make clothes to show off in." Perfect for the down-shifted Nineties; indeed, the Egg style seems ideal for the growing body of professionals who don't check in at the office wearing a pin-stripe each morning. In fact, some of them don't check in to the office at all. "A lot of men who buy things here wouldn't have dreamt of doing so 10 years ago. But instead of going into work now they just sit at home in a pair of drawstring trousers. They have an office at home and they wear what they want. I'm looking for clothes which will be worn by ordinary, working people," she says.

Which all sounds marvellous, although the prices at Egg are not for the faint-hearted - T-shirts from pounds 40, dresses from pounds 150 through to pounds 4,000 for an entire outfit. Doherty's insistence that she is merely catering for the ordinary proletariat masses rings somewhat hollow. "Well, most of the working people who come here are actually sort of architects, that sort of thing. And film people. No, I don't have Indian people shopping here," she confesses. "No, I don't know where Indian people shop. They probably have their own designers." And one is reminded rather too pointedly of Marie Antoinette and the goings-on at the dairy when Ms Doherty explains how she designed a smock inspired by a "wonderful butcher's apron" witnessed in action at Smithfield Market. To be worn perhaps by Lady Helen Windsor, that well-known "ordinary working person"and frequent customer at Egg.

Indeed, one imagines Doherty, who sniffily despises Western fashion as "the type of things people wear to Ascot these days", recoiling in horror when anyone wearing spaghetti straps wanders into her tastefully designed "non-fashion" shop. Yet for those of us still in the odd strap (only now and then), there is a new shop in which to find the comfortable elegance of Oriental style in an enthusiastic east-west cross-over. Ritu is an Indian boutique just off Oxford Street. The shop sells the designs of Delhi designer Ritu Kumar and is run by her friend Kiki Siddiqui. Ritu's Boutique, as it's known in India, has twelve branches across the sub-continent; this, the London branch opened in May. It sells classic Indian designs with a touch of Western styling; you can go the whole hog in a sari, or stick to a sleeveless wrap-over dress with an Indian pattern.

"I was surprised how the European community have taken to it," says Siddiqui. Her clientele is half European, half Asian; as with Egg, all the clothes are designed in India and shipped over to Britain. By all accounts, they're just the thing for a hot London summer and, as Jemima Khan has proved, shalwar kameez make perfect and elegant maternity wear.

"The shalwar kameez is very popular with customers," says Siddiqui. "It's cool and elegant. Any type of figure can wear it; I believe it enhances any shape. They're easy to wear; the only compromise we have made to Europe is that they have elasticated waistbands, rather than drawstring tops."

Ritu also stocks saris, both summer and winter versions, although it has to be said it would be a brave European to sport one in the boardroom. However Kiki Siddiqui is confident that in time, even the sari could take off as office garb. She can even show the uninitiated how to drape them. "Why not? The world is shrinking. People are travelling the world constantly. And fashion lifts all sorts of things from different communities. I don't see why it should be odd. Saris are so elegant, so easy to wear and very flattering. Even Princess Diana knows how flattering they are. We had a show at Galeries Lafayette in Paris; the Parisian women really took to them. And Indian women in London are so pleased they can pick up well designed, hand-embroidered outfits.

Indeed, looking at the range of deeply coloured, beaded and printed materials, soft peplum jackets and tapered trousers hanging alongside crisply draped tops and shimmering saris, the clothes present a refreshing change to the skirt and jacket routine to which most women invariably find themselves dancing. "All your life, you've lived in a little black dress," says Kiki Siddiqui, with devastating precision. "Why not try something vibrant, embroidered, luxurious?" Mrs Khan couldn't have put it better herself.

Egg, 36 Kinnerton Street, London SWI (0171 235 9315)

Ritu, 16 North Audley Street, London WIY 1WE (0171 491 4600)

Wealth of Nations' current mail order catalogue has several shalwar kameez-style options including a knee-length Punjabi coat (Choga) pounds 95, which looks great worn with wide pyjama-style trousers (from pounds 55); and Indian linen Kurta Pajama (pounds 110 for the pair). Call 0171-371 5333 for catalogue.

Workshop the specialist shirtmakers also do a nice line in simple linen tunic tops with matching wide-legged trousers. Worn together, they look like a pared down version of the shalwar kameez found at Ritu. Workshop 178a King's Road, London SW3;

52 Bow Lane, London EC4M and 1 Cabot Place East, Canary Wharf, London E14.

Call 0171-738 2525 for mail order and catalogue.

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