Fashion designers, according to Joan Collins of all people, are mediocre woman-haters who prefer anorexic bodies to those of real women. A feminist rallying cry from unexpected quarters, and at the exact moment when Alexander McQueen sees fit to go all Alexis Carrington. Spooky, eh? Meanwhile, at the shows, designers plumped for sporty wearability, and a young American emerged as fashion's new enfant terrible
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Real women have curves and dress like Eighties soap stars

MARCH WAS A MONTH when the fashion world went mad. Joan Collins, the actress who became an Eighties icon after her role in the American soap opera Dynasty, launched a scathing attack on fashion designers. In the Spectator, a magazine not known for its cutting-edge style, she said "if fashion isn't dead, it's terminally ill." The actress last visited the sick-bed of fashion in 1978 as a maxi-clad siren in The Stud (a questionable soft-porn flick with lots of Vaseline lipstick and crimplene bikinis) and has since retired into an endearing "Cannes Chic".

Collins accused designers of ignoring the bodies of real women, preferring to parade their creations on "anorexic, androgynous teenagers who stalk the catwalks like heroin addicts in search of a fix". Apparently, the last time Collins flicked through a fashion mag was 1996. However, the Guardian approved. "Even Joan Collins," it said, "a preposterously unfeminist creation if ever there were one, is now taking up the cudgels on women's behalf."

The actress declared that "many style gurus must loathe women", and added that "standards of style have deteriorated rapidly in the past decade" (i.e., nothing looks like the Eighties), "and 'shabby chic' and 'frump fashion' have been extolled as the way to go." Sorry, the last time Ms Collins flicked through a fashion mag was 1992.

According to the Daily Telegraph, "her article is thought to be an attack on designers such as Alexander McQueen" and here lies the irony. McQueen (a designer known for his love of strong women) had Joan Crawford as muse for his Givenchy autumn/winter collection, an actress whom Collins reportedly used as inspiration for her Dynasty superbitch, Alexis Carrington.

Still, Joannie did have a point. The model and Chanel Face, Karen Elson - an elf in comparison to the average woman - was dropped from the Dolce & Gabbana show because she was too big. "I don't look fat," said the size 8-10 model in the Daily Mail. "But this season there are an awful lot of new girls who are really skinny, and the designers want them."

Anna Harvey, deputy editor of British Vogue, came out in Elson's defence in the Daily Telegraph. She described the 19-year-old model's look as "a refreshing, delightful sight on the catwalk when it has been far from a vintage year for models."

Elson even got a full-page interview on the back of the controversy. "I have got more womanly this year," she told the Sunday Telegraph. "I was very flat-chested and now curves have come from nowhere." Could it be that Elson is turning into a real woman? Who knows, but Armani's Paris show turned into a fiasco.

The king of Italian fashion's $1-million marquee extravaganza was cancelled by French police at the last minute. They feared the deluxe tent, which took seven days to complete in Place St Sulpice, was a safety risk. According to the Evening Standard, the tent failed a police safety check at the eleventh hour because of the "general disposition of the installations, the small number of exit points and ... bad accessibility to rescue services".

"In shambolic scenes on the Left Bank," reported the newspaper, "a detachment of CRS police pushed and even kicked some of the hundreds of fashion showgoers, models and photographers, as they enforced a decision to stop spectators viewing the much-vaunted collection."

Armani put on a brave face for the papers, but the man was livid. According to the Evening Standard, he is set to "launch a massive damages claim" against Parisian police authorities. "Competition between the French and the Italians has always existed but there are limits," he told the Guardian. Fashion? It's a mad, mad, mad world.

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"AS WE went down into the tomb, I saw all this wonderful pink, on the walls, on the artefacts. I was so terribly impressed by this pink that I vowed to wear it for the rest of my life."

Dame Barbara Cartland (above) on how a trip to Tutankhamen's tomb sealed her wardrobe, Frank

"Do you know why I'm doing this? Because you did it."

Courtney Love to Madonna, on doing the Versace ad campaign, Hello

"Rei is a major inspiration - other designers look at her work and admire it. But is fashion art? Why are you doing it, if it sits there unworn?"

Jasper Conran on Rei Kawakubo's "intelligent" clothes, Vogue

"Think Rapunzel, add metal armlets, but forget the wimple."

Hilary Alexander on Nineties medieval in Milan, The Daily Telegraph

"In fact, I'm increasingly convinced that Ford conceives his advertising campaigns first and then designs and styles his clothes to fit them."

Colin McDowell on Gucci designer Tom Ford, the Sunday Times

"The fire in my soul is for the love of one man, but I do not forget my women, whom I adore as they burn daily from Cheshire to Gloucester."

Alexander McQueen gets deep about his Joan of Arc muse, The Face

"There's Zora and Zoe, Sunniva and Maggie, all light of bone, translucent of skin and about as sexy as a pound of plaice."

Mimi Spencer on the new shoal of models, the Evening Standard

"She didn't let the side down. Not at all Russian..."

A fashion observer on Russian Vogue editor Elena Doletskaya on her debut in the fashion show front row.

"I think it's incredibly tacky that all people seem to care about at the Oscars is what people are wearing."

Uma Thurman, Harper's Bazaar

who shot what

Cover girls (and boy): Georgina Granville on Elle; a homogenised Uma Thurman on Harper's Bazaar; Alek Wek on i-D (above); Eva Herzigova on Vogue and Alexander McQueen on the Face.

The cowboys... The Evening Standard said that the urban cowgirl was heading for the hills but Elle, Frank, the Times Magazine and the Sunday Telegraph were still gunning for the fringed look.

Any colour as long as it's... Harper's Bazaar said white was right; Options said rose, ES and Vogue said pink, while at the Independent On Sunday it was shocking; Elle said whatever you choose, and clash your colours.

Profiles: Jean-Paul Gaultier in Time Out and Elle; Vivienne Westwood (above) in Elle and the Evening Standard; Sonya Rykiel in the Sunday Telegraph and new designers Gharani Strok in the Telegraph.

To carry or not to carry: Chanel's new 2005 bag, a sort of aerodynamic lunch box, made headlines in the Times, the Independent and the Evening Standard, while Elle and the Evening Standard's Life & Style preferred happy shoppers, the more ethnic the better.

Flamin' Nora: Red hair is on the rise said the Observer while the Independent On Sunday said, "Ginger nuts are the hot new thing - and we're not talking biscuits." As pink's the hot new colour, we'd all better get out the sunglasses.

Pets win poses: no photo shoot was complete without a hairy beast, and we don't mean a rock star. Pigs, cats and mice made it into Frank, cats napped in Harper's Bazaar; and a Weasel (in Diesel) showed up in the Modern Review.

Business News

TARA Palmer-Tomkinson posed for Ballantyre Cashmere which is owned by textiles group, Dawson International. The parent company's pre-tax profits slipped 13.5 per cent to pounds 10.2m in 1997 and turnover fell 11 per cent to pounds 85.4m.

(Sources: the Independent and the Daily Telegraph)

Next, the high street fashion group, announced a surpise profit warning after shares plunged 173.5p to 544p. Pundits blamed the group's latest focus on young fashion at the expense of children's clothes and tailored suits for thirtysomethings.

(Sources: the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Times)

La Senza, the troubled lingerie group, is set to be bought by Gary Klesch, the man who rescued Knickerbox, after Ann Summers and Contessa made offers below the group's asking price of pounds 8.3m.

(Source: the Sunday Telegraph)

fashion focus fashion focus fashion focus fashion focus

THE AUTUMN/Winter 1998/99 ready-to-wear shows in Paris and Milan didn't throw up any surprises (on the catwalk, at least), but gave the fashion press a steady stream of wearable clothes to dissect.

Even John Galliano, the master of costume history, attempted functional clothes (be they in his own inimitable style) at Dior. His Twenties floral take on parkas and puffa jackets left a few journalists unconvinced. "Sportswear On The Dior Catwalk Shock!" exclaimed Susannah Frankel in the Guardian, adding that "only the most flamboyant athletes need apply". Frankel noted that the "styling is heavy-handed" but later conceded that it did give the collection a more "contemporary feel".

In the Times, Grace Bradberry explained that "the jacket, known as a doudoune, quilted from rose-print satin and trimmed with blue fur, was his answer to critics who say that he is out of touch with what real women wear". Hilary Alexander, however, pointed out in the Telegraph that Dior ready-to-wear sales had increased by 40 per cent on last season.

Now that McQueen has grown up, all eyes turned to the latest Enfant Terrible, Jeremy Scott, whose mink and gold lame creations caused reactions of the fight-or-flight variety. "The topic this season was the peculiar Jeremy Scott phenomenon," said Colin McDowell in the Sunday Times. "Paris is split between those who think this young American should never show again and those who believe he is the 21st century's Sun King." Some were less kind. Susannah Frankel reported that "journalists ran screaming" from his "disastrous catwalk show". Thank goodness flat shoes are fashionable.

Meanwhile, in Milan the tills were also ringing. "Italian fashion is business, which is why even secondary figures in Milan's design hierarchy are rich in a way that few designers in other countries are," said McDowell. So if any city could give Vivienne Westwood business acumen, it is Milan. And it did. She launched Anglomania, a collection based on her archive designs and heralded as her greatest money spinner since the Sex Pistols. "You can hear the cash registers ringing now," said Mimi Spencer, wryly.

This was the season when Milan went to great lengths. Two fashion houses renowned for short and sassy, Gucci (left) and Versace, turned their backs on the thigh. The Guardian reported that in Donatella's collection, "there was only one short dress in the show" while Hilary Alexander reported that Tom Ford "turned his back on legs".

The Daily Telegraph quoted Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue, as saying "really short looks really old now," but whether we'll ever see Wintour in anything other than short remains to be seen. Even Milan doesn't have that much influence.

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Gossard girl, Sophie Anderton (right) collapsed in her west London flat, blaming champagne and fatigue, reported the Daily Mail. Police broke into her home when she failed to answer the bell. "The alarm had been raised by her former lover, millionaire Robert Hanson," said the newspaper. "It wasn't too much drink or drugs as some people are saying," she said. "Yes, I had a couple of glasses of champagne but nothing else."

Cher got the award for the worst outfit at the Oscars in the Guardian, wearing "a wimple mated with a gold fishnet seashell" while the Daily Mail's award went to Melanie Griffiths for wearing dark glasses with her Versace frock. Meanwhile, The Full Montys looked the most stylish men, dressed as they were by Paul Smith.

Voyage, the Fulham Road shop with a reputation for making anyone but the rich and famous feel small and poor, has opened a menswear branch. Past customers have included Nicole Kidman, Courtney Cox and Naomi Campbell, and the new shop should soon see the likes of Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart knocking on its door. That's credibility out the window, then.

Patrizia Reggiani, the former wife of murdered fashion heir Maurizio Gucci, was accused by a former friend, Pina Auremmia, of offering her pounds 1m to confess to ordering his murder to "deflect attention from the murder charge against her". Reggiani, together with the Pina and two alleged hit men, will go on trial next month.

Waris Dirie, top model and United Nations special ambassador, arrived in London earlier this month to promote the United Nation's Face-to-Face campaign for women's equal rights. Her role was to speak out against female genital mutilation, of which she was a victim at age five. "I see myself as an ambassador on behalf of my sisters," she told the Times.

Liz Tilberis, editor of American magazine Harper's Bazaar and a former editor of British Vogue, revealed in her Daily Mail memoirs that the Queen vetoed a photograph of Diana from the cover of Vogue. The Princess of Wales posed "sitting on the floor in a satin ball gown and tiara, head thrown back, laughing with delight," said Tilberis. The photograph was taken by Patrick Demarchelier for Vogue's December 1991 issue, but the magazine was only allowed to publish the shot inside.