The fashion month

The financial world counts its pennies as fashion houses decide to 'float' more than this season's look; ladies at the races find themselves on the losing end of the fashion stakes; Vogue's Alexandra Shulman takes our boys in blue to task over 'heroin chic'; and Prada prowls around Gucci, buying up shares in the company
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Royal Ascot: a load of old hat

Time was when the races showcased the very best in British fashion. Unfortunately, the couture cognoscente have long since disappeared from the racetrack. And they've taken their dress sense with them

WE NEED LOOK no further for evidence of Cool Brittania's meltdown than the races. A big blot on the sartorial year, Royal Ascot in particular is to fashion what the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition is to art: old- fashioned, mediocre and tepid.

Minor royalty, posh-frock designers and Z-list celebrities all turned up to Ascot this year in a concoction of feathers and frills that would put the vainest of peacocks to shame. If any visiting tourist read the fashion press over the last month, they would have thought that London was behind Gdansk in the fashion stakes.

The problem is the traditional hat and suit combination. Not even trouser suits are worn (at least you could look like Bianca Jagger on her wedding day). Instead, the look is more mother-in-law-at-the-wedding, knee-length skirts.

Hats have always been bloody tricky, but at Royal Ascot they can reduce a public figure teetering on naffness into no-no hell. Fashion designer Isabell Kristensen was the Evening Standard favourite (huge dead tarantula) and reappeared in the Daily Telegraph (Rod Stewart comedy wig), while Sophie Rhys-Jones (pallid Mad Hatter) featured on the home news pages of the Times. Ivanka Trump (Freddie Parrot up-turned brim) and Ivana (Eliza Doolittle at jaunty angle) posed happily for the Evening Standard. The only clear winner was a Dai Rees hat which appeared in the Daily Telegraph worn by a complete unknown.

"Here, outlandish hat-wearing can be seen as either shameless publicity- grabbing or an ironic dig at the establishment," said the Standard. Sadly, the latter motivation was missing. The days of Gertrude Schilling, mother of milliner David, have long gone. The eccentric Gertrude could always be relied upon to inject a sense of humour into the occasion with galleon ships or bird cages. Where was Isabella Blow when you needed her? With all the other style gurus of course, far away from fashion's biggest non-starter.

Fashion editors were not impressed. Mimi Spencer in the Standard said all the ladies looked like "they'd dressed in the dark", while the Times reported that most women had emptied "the contents of their fruit bowls on to otherwise ordinary hats." And it costs money to look ridiculous. "Last year," said the Evening Standard, "a survey showed that racegoers spend an average of pounds 400 on their attire." Alas, money isn't everything, with most debs looking like they were wearing their sixth form home economics projects.

However, I take my (metaphorical) hat off to Princess Anne, a rebel-on- the-quiet if ever there was one. She pointedly cocked a snook at the whole proceedings by wearing a damp squib she'd last sported on a Sudan charity trip in 1984, no doubt reasoning that what was never in fashion can hardly be accused of going out of fashion. It comes to something if we need royalty to cause a stir.

However, British cool was somewhat restored with the Bhs Graduate Fashion Week at London's South Bank. Three marquees showcased over a thousand fashion students' work from 31 colleges. "The standard of work from students this year is phenomenal," said veteran show producer John Walford in the Daily Telegraph. Creative inspiration included supermarket brands and ventriloquists' dummies, with accessories ranging from false teeth and ray-guns to shopping trolleys and half a plastic rat in a bird-cage.

Meanwhile Cherie Blair, resplendent in Ronit Zilkha, attended the Royal College of Art fashion show which, though less entertaining than it's South Bank rival, outstripped it in prowling Big Guns. "International design companies like Calvin Klein, Alberta Ferretti, Prada and Gucci are pouncing on our graduates," said RCA senior womenswear tutor Henrietta Goodden in the Evening Standard. So we can heave a sigh of relief. We are cool really. As long as we stay away from the races.

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