The fashion month

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Nobody seemed to know what was in and what was out as white, red and gold were all hailed the new black; Ann Iverson got the chop from Laura Ashley; Elton John flogged his togs for a good cause; Jodie Kidd mixed but didn't match; and the New York shows were, frankly, dull

the big story+

Who's got the look?

Fashion editors don't like November. For them, the eleventh month is a no-man's land between the adrenaline rush of the collections and what to wear to Christmas parties. It is usually a time when fashion editors expand on the season's key looks, but not this year. The hard-and-fast fashion rules for Autumn/Winter - grey is the new black, the business suit is back, the micro-mini is the new skirt length - have all been questioned, denied or, most popularly, completely ignored.

Red, white and black have all been proclaimed the new grey, the cardigan, the jumper and the maxi-coat have all been declared the new jacket, while the new feminine business suit has been usurped by an androgynous pin- striped trouser-suit option. The only common thread through this fashion mine-field has been feathers. The message is loud and clear: if in doubt, make like a bird.

Rarely has a fashion shoot passed by us without feathery necklaces, collars and boas making an appearance. Fashion editors shot them in every colour and with every outfit combination. Vogue put feather necklaces with silk chiffon and tulle dresses (for that see-through Pocahontas look), while ES used them on knitwear, shoes and featured the omnipresent feather boa, as did Woman's Journal, who teamed it with the nicest of debutante dresses. The Daily Telegraph went for feather-trimmed evening purses and peacock chokers, and Harper's Bazaar even stitched a pair of heavenly black angel wings to a Versace tuxedo.

The power suit got an almost unanimous thumbs down. "My chief observation," said Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman in the Daily Telegraph, "is that the much-heralded return of the power suit was a false call." I'm sure working women throughout the country are buying them in their droves, but, in the rarefied world of fashion journalism, only the trouser suit has been a sure-fire hit. They were either moody and business-like (check out Marie Claire), or models donned top-hats and cummerbunds for Undertaker Chic in Elle.

Once the business suit was dispensed with, it was time to move on to the jacket per se. Fleece refused to die a death (the Independent and the Times saw to that), while Shane Watson in the Evening Standard declared "the only item to wear over your party dress this season is the humble cardi".

The inherent problems of November have been made worse by the current mood in the fashion industry. "For the last season there has been a big crisis in fashion, for the designers and the press," says Margherita Gardella, senior fashion editor at Harpers & Queen. "Young and old designers have no new ideas, and I think this is because people don't want to buy fashion anymore. The less outrageous the outfit, the more it will sell, so designers don't take any risks. Everybody is being really conservative. The press have to create their own fantasy, because they won't get any ideas from designers."

Harper's Bazaar charted this monotony in fashion: "...you open your closet and feel a vague repulsion at the idea of putting on that grey flannel suit again - considering that only two months ago, the very idea of it gave you a chemical high". The fashion pages then proceeded to dazzle us with red. To the average woman, putting on a recently bought suit would still produce some kind of happiness, but the fashion editor's boredom threshold is a little lower. Having hyped Autumn's hot looks into the stratosphere, they are now sick of grey, power suits, micro-minis and stilettoes - they might sell but, in press terms, they are old news.

But there were those who stood by their guns. "Grey has, however, been a huge success," continued Shulman in the Daily Telegraph, and the Independent on Sunday stood firm on "steely tones". Of those who sought out new stories, the Sunday Times suggested dashes of red to break up grey or black and on the next page claimed that "hip young things are making the move to mauve". Elle heralded the return of the Little Black Dress, declaring that "it never goes out of fashion".

Before you heave a sigh of relief, consider Mimi Spencer's words: "But this Christmas, a little black dress is not good enough," says the fashion editor of the Evening Standard, "and if we're wearing sequins to breakfast, as the glossy magazines would have us do, what are we supposed to wear for a big night out?" At this rate, we will be turning up to parties like Vaudeville strippers, with huge feathered fans (any colour, as long as it's not grey) covering our indecision.

+ Oxygen +

"Without a few mavericks in the sheep pen of contemporary fashion, we're in danger of chasing our own tails round and round the century."

Sally Brampton, on intellectual fashion, Elle

"Believe it or not, even choosing buttons is tricky. Getting the right colours, textures and sizes is vital."

Stella McCartney discovers how to design dresses in Paris, Frank

"As a fashion editor, I receive more letters complaining about the size of models than about any other subject." Susannah Frankel, the Guardian

"You know what? Nobody ever asked me to be in a fashion magazine in my life." Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac interviewed in Harper's Bazaar

"The way I work is about the body, the physicality, the necessity of nature connected to this need of breathing." Miuccia Prada (above) in Frank on her serious lingerie line

"This year it reflected aggression, violence and anarchy, but translated it into something more beautiful." Isabella Blow on 1997 fashion, the Sunday Times

no kidding!

Jodie Kidd has been dubbed a "super-twiglet" by the uncharitable and a super-posh clothes horse by the generous (her father is Lord Beaverbrook's grandson, but she's more new money than old aristocracy). However, one thing she'll never be called is a style icon - unless Play School Chic gets big.

Jodie's appearances in Vogue's people pages this month are living proof that you can take the girl out of Bermuda, but you can't take Bermuda out of the girl. It is painfully obvious that her upbringing on a strange island has resulted in a Dr Moreau fashion sense. While we pour over photos of Naomi and Kate for style tips, Jodie turns up to parties looking like a children's television presenter on holiday.

She thinks that a black headband, over-sized patchwork trousers and diamante sandals go together and that a Santa Claus hat is the ultimate bikini accessory. As the Wallis Simpson once said "You never can be too rich or too thin." Yes, but can you be too uncoordinated?

Business News

Ann Iverson, Laura Ashley's chief executive, was fired after a troubled 30-month reign at the struggling fashion company. Ms Iverson picked up more than pounds 2.2 million in salary and bonus payments since taking on the job in June 1995 and was one of the highest paid executives in the country.

(Sources: Daily Telegraph, Independent)

Levi Strauss is to close one third of its American factories, resulting in a 34 per cent cut in the workforce. Levi's market share for men's jeans has slipped from 48 per cent seven years ago to around 26 per cent this year. (Sources: Sunday Times, Observer, Guardian and Independent)

Sherman Cooper, which makes Ben Sherman shirts, has increased sales by 55 per cent to pounds 37.7 million this year. Its success is indicative of the UK's clothing industry fortunes: we exported 10 per cent more clothes last year than in 1995.

(Source: Independent on Sunday)

Claude Montana, one of few remaining independent Parisian haute couturiers, has lost pounds 5 million over two years on a turnover of only pounds 700,000.

(Source: Independent on Sunday)

Who Shot What +

Fame mark one: Celeb profiles of John Galliano in Elle, Dolce e Gabbana in Vogue, this year's model, Ling, in this section, Margaret Howell in the Independent on Sunday, Honor Fraser in the Guardian and Tocca, the Super's favourite designer label, in the Daily Telegraph.

Cover girls: Helena Christensen on Elle, Stella Tennant on Vogue, Nicole Kidman on Vanity Fair and Janet Jackson on Arena.

Knickers to all that: Frank devoted its issue to lingerie, Donna Karan waxed lyrical about hosiery in Marie Claire, and Elle featured luxurious lacy stuff, while Vogue looked at the supporting role of undies. The Evening Standard asked "will fishnets catch on?" and the Independent profiled undie kings Agent Provocateur.

All white then: Frank said it was the colour of the moment, while the Sunday Times decided Persil white was the colour to be seen in. Elle heralded the return of the white suit as seen on Patsy Kensit and in Saturday Night Fever.

Get your coat you've pulled: Woman's Journal went for tasteful browns and creams, the Sunday Times suggested "for extra cosiness invest in a fur hat and collar". The Guardian featured faux-fur and raged against the real stuff, while the Daily Telegraph hailed the return of the Mac.

Jumpers leap back into fashion shock: The Guardian featured chunky woollies, while ES went for ripping yarns.

Disco fever is back again (and again): That old chestnut popped up in the Sunday Times with a silver catsuit, ES featured spangly frocks and Vogue went for gold and silver suits.

Boys keep swinging: The Telegraph did soft separates, the Evening Standard featured the Alan Partridge Sad Knitwear look, Arena teamed puffa coats with moon-boots and went for schoolboy style where the movie If... meets TV classic The Double Deckers.

Fame mark two: In Marie Claire, Peter Lindbergh photographed Heather Small from M People, Hot Chocolate singer Errol Brown was shot in Ozwald Boateng (on a Cadillac bonnet, no less), Barbie brought a whole new meaning to the micro-mini in the Sunday Times and Helena Bonham Carter was transformed in the Independent from old-money waif into Westwood doyenne.

+ Bits 'n' Bobs +

Footwear company Clarks has offended the British Hindu community by calling a sandal Vishnu and a boot Krishna. The company has caused great but unintentional offence - not only is the cow sacred to Hindus, but shoes are deemed dirty. The Times said Clarks has apologised and obscured the name on the boot box (the sandal sold out), but protesters want them withdrawn.

Antonio Berardi (right) may have been misrepresented at the British Fashion Council awards ceremony (the New Generation award went mistakenly to Clements Ribeiro) but he's tipped to be Versace's new employee. "I would love to work with Donatella," he said in Sunday Times, "I like strong women."

American company Visionaire has published one of its limited-edition books on the work of photographer Mario Testino. According to the Independent on Sunday, Chic includes a swatch of emerald-green fabric from a Versace dress once owned by Madonna and a copy of a letter from Catherine Deneuve to her tailor and friend Yves Saint Laurent.

Chelsea Girls flocked to the first Red Cross Charity Shop fashion show, reported the Evening Standard. A Cerruti dress went for pounds 22.50 and a Balmain silk dress with matching bag and shoes fetched pounds 120 at its SW3 branch.

Talking of charity, Elton John has put 10,000 outfits up for sale at "Out of The Closet", a special temporary shop in London's West End. All proceeds go to the Elton John Aids Foundation.

The Guardian reported that the Hollywood movie Face/Off staged a private UK screening for the style press, with the distributors predicting that the Donna Karan designs worn by John Travolta and Nicholas Cage would have "a strong influence on fashion this Autumn/Winter". As likely a story as the plot.

Supermodels are not thin, just tall, according to researchers at the University of Newcastle. According to the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian, the body boffins discovered that Naomi (left) and Claudia have hour-glass figures and if they were a good six inches shorter, would be dead-ringers for a Playboy centrefold. This apparently blows away the theory that Supers encourage anorexics.

Ivanka Trump, daughter of Donald and Ivana, modelled a dress made out of ticker-tape for a fashion show outside the New York Stock Exchange, reported the Times and the Daily Telegraph.

According to the Evening Standard, a New York judge has granted Naomi Campbell an order of protection in the Queens district against alleged stalker Michael Gold, 43.

new york

Following the glamour and decadence of Paris and London, the Americans' pragmatic approach to fashion failed to inspire the written word.

The only colour double-page spread was in this section, where Chris Moore declared that Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan "all showed safe but covetable collections". Mimi Spencer agreed, describing the expertly tailored but conservative clothes as "Gap with better finishing".

The Daily Telegraph's Hilary Alexander wired daily bulletins on Stephen Sprouse (the Warhol prodigy who owns the rights to the artist's screen prints) and Rifat Ozbek's "voodoo" collection. Even Marc Jacobs' show (above) failed to raise any enthusiasm. The Independent's Tamsin Blanchard talked of a Sprouse/Pop Art revival, but that was as exciting as it got.

Perhaps the reason for such luke-warm coverage could be that Naomi, Kate et al looked like sales assistants at the hands of grey-obsessed American stylists. After their wild hair and make-up adventures elsewhere, it was all very tame stuff. Supermodels generally look bored on the catwalk - but this time it was for real.

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