Forget all that rubbish about 'pale and interesting'. The latest look is mahogany, so grab your suntan oil, slurp a cocktail and go find that tan
IT STARTED with Stella Tennant and Chanel. The glossy ads may have been black and white but there was no mistaking a new perma-tan Stella.

Of course, hers came from back-packing in Peru rather than two weeks on the Costa but the message was clear: tan your hide. The Guess? jeans girl and her muscle-bound cohorts are all mahogany. We're not talking the "delicate glow" beauty editors advise. This is deep, golden brown. Daily, women are accosted by billboard posters of a bronze- skinned Helena Christensen modelling for H&M Hennes. A few may grumble that she'll have skin as gnarled as a crocodile hand-bag come forty, but there's no getting around it - Helena looks healthier, happier and hornier with a tan. Hell, we all do.

Last year's model, Karen Elson, did have vampire-pale skin. Combine that with a PC backlash and we may have a motive for bronzed flesh. There's nothing more sexy than a pack of Italian stallions coated in Philipo Berio and smoking Camels on a beach. Or an olive skinned, sun-kissed girl in skin tight Liza Bruce. Wear a cartwheel straw hat, Gucci shades and a white linen "cover all" kaftan if you must. You'll avoid skin cancer and leather skin. You may also be mistaken for a beach ball.

Pale isn't interesting. It's cadaverous. Just one look at the bikini- clad masses frolicking in the Royal Parks this week tells Style Police that there's more to a suntanning than burnt flesh. It's the bright light, the feeling of heat soaking into skin and fresh air that lifts the most troubled spirit. That and a couple of Budweisers. So are we telling you to look gorgeous in youth and end your days, like George Hamilton, with a face as wrinkled as W H Auden? No, mes cheries. A deep tan may be deeply unhealthy. That's not what concerns us here. We need to know if it's fashionable or not.

"'Sun-kissed' is a word I'm hearing a lot from the catwalk make-up artists," says Bronwyn Cosgrave, health & beauty editor at Frank. "By that I don't mean beige skin. I mean a tan like Helena's. But you can't tell me you feel great if you fire yourself in intense sun. You'll feel physically sick and it is potentially disastrous for your skin. It's a big lie that above factor eighteen blocks the sun totally. If you spend a little time in the sun each day, then you build up a tan."

Put it this way. When you slow cook a chicken in the aga, its skin is cooked to a perfect golden glow. Too long in the microwave and the chicken's charcoal. Golden brown skin makes you feel sexy and confident. There's nothing sexy about a heat rash, honeys, unless you're a finalist in Miss Lobster Skin 1998.

A word about fake tans. Like fur, you can always tell the genuine article from the man-made. In this month's mags, you'll see Liz Hurley after a tussle with Estee Lauder self-tan. Add a bindi and she's a dead ringer for Madhur Jaffrey.

So, back to the big issue. We don't live in Barbados. This is Great Britain. Our summers are short, so we can't blame you for wanting to feel the burn. But take heed; leather isn't a good look. The next time you see sunlight, I want you to baste yourself in factor eighteen, open a Jackie Collins and simmer until golden brown. Then moisturise, slip on a little strappy frock and knock 'em dead.