Style Police: Simplicity is the key, says JAMES SHERWOOD. Colours have gone neutral and that means bad design has nowhere to hide

We've always known fashion is a contrary old broad. She was austere as a Carmelite nun last season. Now she's kicking up her heels like a Vegas lap dancer in applique sequins, hot floral prints and wild, anything- goes colour. In short, she's as intimidating as Blanche Dubois after one too many daiquiris. This is a tough season for women who like quiet clothes.

In unwrapping the spring trends, Style Police has been a bit like a spoilt child at a birthday party, ripping open the grandest, most gaudy presents first. Now it is time to calm down. For all those women who have been screaming "Yellow makes my skin look like a cadaver", let us introduce the alternative: non-colours under the umbrella of "flesh tones". We're talking naturals and nude. We're also talking the very minimal shapes - women do not want to be overwhelmed by topiary prints and beading breeding like amoeba.

Hussein Chalayan is the designer who alerted us to the power of underplaying fashion. Chalayan is notoriously conceptual which translates to over-earnest and a mite too difficult for your average British punter. Compared with Matthew Williamson's hot pink, beaded exotica, Chalayan could seem sombre as an undertaker's convention. But look at the clothes. His shirt-collared short jackets and no-nonsense knee-length skirts in clearly defined white, grey, denim and nude at first appear devoid of the crucial details for spring. Look closer. His construction of soft suiting and nothing dresses is as subtle as a chess grand master.

Frankly, there are times in every woman's life - about 20 out of 24 hours a day - when spangly denims and floral chiffon aren't appropriate. Ask The Independent's fashion editor, Susannah Frankel. "Hussein has a sensitive approach to women. His are low-impact clothes compared with the characteristic wildness of most young British designers. The thought process behind such simple clothing is breathtaking." As US designer Michael Kors told Style Police, wild prints hide a multitude of design crimes. A half-tone suit is pure design laid bare.

How to wear it

The beauty of going into neutral is not having to think about it. Slipping into the nude two-piece is like stepping out of the shower then straight out the door. Flesh tones fuse with all those coffee shop colours: cappuccino, mocha, cream and cafe latte. Tone-on-tone Alessandro Dell'Acqua flesh mesh t-shirt under Hussein's not quite tailored jackets and not quite A-line knee-length skirts are colour by numbers clothes. We were all over eager to assassinate minimalism but, by the sainted Coco Chanel, it's so bloody simple. Minimalism is the saviour of women who work. Lightening up is the key to this season. Suiting in the nudes says spring/summer '99 without going too girly.

Where to buy it

As you'll see from all those Gucci pink print wannabes in Miss Selfridge and Kookai, the louder the designer print the easier it is to hear the echo on the high street. A perfectly executed piece by Chalayan is practically impossible to emulate. Episode understands the power of minimal for spring. While fools rush in with wannabe prints that escape looking tacky only when the fabric and finish are designer, Episode has taken on board clean and serene neutrals. Episode designers put together a spring story that's going to work for women who want to underplay. Flesh tones look fab in hides. Episode's luscious shirt-collar single breasted jacket (pounds 339) melts like vanilla ice cream into their nude palette knee-length viscose wrap skirt (pounds 89) and zero detail tunic top (pounds 79). Careful and considered tone- on-tone is a Marilyn Monroe whisper compared to loud print's Cilla Black Scouser honk.

Address book

Alessandro Dell'Acqua: 0171 730 1234.

Episode: 0171 589 7884.

Hussein Chalayan at Koh Samui: 0171 240 4280.

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