Style Police: Short, back and sides

All rise for Whitney Houston, says JAMES SHERWOOD - not for her vocal acrobatics, but for the fact that she has discovered the perfect little crop cardi

Sometimes you've got to ask yourself what floats your boat. What is it about fashion that really lifts your skirt? Some people get off on waiting too long and spending too much money on what the fashion press call a seasonal essential like the Fendi denim baguette or Gucci's feather- and-bead flared jean. Not Style Police. For us, finding a trend that answers all the season's questions is better than a blind date with Gucci's Tom Ford. It's like that moment when the six lottery balls line up: fashion's answer to multiple orgasm.

This latest fashion moment happened when we were watching Top of the Pops last week. Now we already knew Whitney Houston was fashion-hot when the divine one vamped it up in spray-on black leather bustier and maxi combo by Gianfranco Ferre at the Brit Awards. If you want to be a diva, you've got to act like one and the girl looks good. But on TOTP, Whitney entered the Style Police hall of fame - and all because of a black crop cardigan. Whitney was belting her new single, It's Not Right, But It's OK, and all Style Police could think was, "It's dead right and OK is an understatement, babe".

So you think a black cardi is nothing to froth at the mouth over. Well, Whitney's crop cardigan is this season's Sermon on the Mount. The darling item was tight, long-sleeved and buttoned on the neckline before skimming away into a bolero shape. There is literally nothing to it. Compared with the Goliath spring trends, this little cardigan is the David.

Let's explain. In autumn/winter a shape emerged not seen since Norman Norrell designed Doris Day's Fifties screen wardrobe. The fashion press christened it the Shrug. It was a tiny little shoulder-covering sleeveless cape: looked gorgeous but nobody bought it. Clearly, the concept was great but needed a push. Whitney, God bless her, gave us the answer: the crop cardigan as the cornerstone of your spring/summer wardrobe.

How to wear it

Before we get on to the how, you need a bit more why. The cardigan was the key piece for the past two summer seasons. But it needs to move on. Now look at what we're wearing this time round. The spring dress is either backless, strappy, bustier shape or sheer. There is zero cover and Style Police knows how some of you feel about untoned upper arms. This bolero cardigan is a barely-there layer. It is a new shape: a genuinely fresh dimension.

As a guideline, you're looking at a crop that stops where the Empire line begins: just below the bustline. As a rule, button it down if you have a large chest and leave it open bar the top button if not. Just buy it and try it.

Where to buy it

Now this is what we love about a rogue trend. Everyone's talking about Whitney's top so this is a real "she's gotta have it" story. And what you want, Style Police is honour-bound to get. We called Whitney's stylist, Patti Wilson, in LA who said she bought the little black beauty from Dolce & Gabbana. But panic not. You can always call on Amaya Arzuaga for the season's most delectable knits and Amaya's well on top of the crop cardi trend. Her vamp-red knit cardi (pounds 70) is a killer; especially since we were telling you last week to dive into colour.

Try an old fashion stylist's trick and scour knit supremo The Scotch House to find its small-size cashmere cardi (pounds 225) in lilac, grey or natural. It sits and fits like a crop. If you can bear the wait, Nougat's opus of crop cardis for autumn/winter will be in store in August (just in time for British summer). We're talking a praline or sepia dip-dyed crop for pounds 45, ice-blue lambswool with blanket stitch (pounds 45) or chenille-trimmed neutral at pounds 60.

ADDRESS BOOK

Amaya Arzuaga at Selfridges: 0171 935 9393.

Dolce & Gabbana: 0171 235 0335. Nougat: 0171 631 8444.

The Scotch House: 0171 581 2151.

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<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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