Style police by james sherwood: Dressing on a knife-pleat edge

More Martha's Vineyard than Miss Jean Brodie, the fine pleat skirt is the demure new shape for summer. We show you how
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Indy Lifestyle Online
WAITING FOR spring fashion has been one big game of Peter and the Wolf. Week in, week out, Style Police has been priming you for the first burst of sunshine. Well, spring has sprung and what do we see on the streets of London? Baggy Ts (one giving ten reasons to use the Internet), sawn-off shorts and voluminous dresses in loud prints. I just hope your sex lives are as busy as some of the prints I saw this week.

So let's start from the top again. Pedals, kitten heels, cardis and the big white shirt are all killer for spring '98. Pastels on black or white feel right this season. Add it all up and what have you got? Proper little madams. Last week's Doris Day headscarves pointed the direction womenswear is going this spring. The destination is Martha's Vineyard circa 1960. If there's one piece that really is as American as apple pie then it's the knee-length knife-pleated skirt.

Now the knife-pleated skirt is a tough proposition for English women. They equate the stiff grey wool pleat skirt with Jean Brodie and gymslips. Stylists for British magazines like The Face and i-D have confused the issue further by labelling the knife-pleat skirt "Schoolgirl chic" and telling their misguided readers to buy a genuine school skirt in John Lewis children's department and spend the VAT on tequila. Very Lolita.

Here's the real story. American designer Marc Jacobs made the most mouth- watering, shot silk, knife-pleat skirts in a kaleidoscope of blue hues. He twinned it with delicate crop cardigans, sheer vest tops and neat little tanks. As artistic director of Louis Vuitton, Jacobs also took the pleat skirt into the LV collection. The biggest Vuitton seller is a slate blue lightweight wool. It's pounds 390 and it's pleated at the back and the front. Unless you've got hips as svelte as Dana International, full wool pleats round a skirt may not be kind, so Louis Vuitton has compromised brilliantly.

You all know Style Police has championed the pencil skirt for the past two seasons. It's still with us but, trust me guys, the knife-pleat shape is also right. Don't think that pleats equal bulk. If it's cut correctly and made in silk-based fabric, the knife pleat skirt won't balloon like that Eighties nightmare that was puffball. It will collapse gently from the waist and flutter playfully around the knee. How darling! On the high street, Burberrys, they of the county set camel check, have designed the most beautiful white satin knife-pleat skirt (pounds 180) and also one in white crepe (pounds 155), only available at their Regent Street flagship. This is the streamlined shape of things to come at Burberrys post-Nineties face- lift. Dorothy Perkins, Gawd bless `em, have done a light-weight black knee-length pleat skirt for pounds 30, yes, pounds 30 and it's cheap at twice the price. Miss Selfridge do the Vuitton-style back-and-front pleat skirt (pounds 22) in dove grey. It's above the knee, fairly light-weight cotton and it won't work for everyone.

Some of you may still not be convinced by this skirt shape. Don't blame you. It's a Pond thing. Americans know and love knife pleats. Brits take a bit of persuading that pleats are not just for Jean Brodie gels. But with a pair of kittens and a cardi, you're going to wear that knife pleat with the panache of the woman who patented it: Coco Chanel.