The Weasel: Gucci vs Chanel - the shopper's test

I joshed about the ripped jeans, but it was not regarded as a great gag on Planet Gucci

COSMOLOGISTS HAVE suggested that there isn't just one universe but loads of them, all subtly different. Of course, they are right. In fact, there is a universe you can see right now that bears some similarity to our own, though in many respects it is bizarrely divergent. It is called New Bond Street. I made a rare visit for this special fashion issue. How is it different? It is populated by unfeasibly elegant lifeforms whose soigne dress would cause comment in almost any other part of London. Though generously staffed, the shops are otherwise unpopulated. Strangest of all, the items in the shop windows are all unpriced.

Despite the daunting nature of this alien milieu, I determined to get some prices for the goods on show. I started at Gucci, where the minimalist window display featured a pair of jeans distinguished by a row of small holes. Inside, I was dispatched to the men's dept in the basement. "They're pounds 220," said an assistant after peering at the tag on a similar pair of jeans. "Rather nice."

"If I wore them, people would just think they'd been caught in the washing machine," I joshed, which was evidently not regarded as a great gag on Planet Gucci. In Yves St Laurent, I asked about a handbag in cloth bearing a plastic coat of arms (motto: "Yves St Laurent"). "It's called Le Blason and costs pounds 575," an assistant told me. "You can also get it in black leather for pounds 700 but you wouldn't want that." In Chanel, it was a handbag and matching skirt in the maison's signature dogtooth tweed that caught my eye. "The price? Of course," said a Coco coquette. She opened a door behind the window where the prices were scribbled on a Post-It note. "pounds 905 for the handbag. pounds 625 for the skirt," she announced.

Across the road at Louis Vuitton, I enquired about a briefcase in the window. An assistant flipped through a loose-leaf brochure ("For Internal Use Only"). "There it is," I pointed. "pounds 865."

"It would have been that if you'd got it earlier." My helper tapped at a computer. "It's now pounds 1,040."

"Blimey."

"It's been redesigned," explained the Vuitton babe, but she intuited that a sale was unlikely. "So you're not buying it today?"

At Stella McCartney, the price was instantly supplied for a vaguely medieval handbag. Covered in tiny armour plates, it is apparently designed for mortal combat. "pounds 660 in beige or black material. pounds 705 for white patent leather." A chap at Versace was perplexed when I asked about a gold belt worn by a mannequin in the window. "Hm! We don't seem to have it," he said, peering at a display case. "Maybe it's in a drawer. I'll get a key," he said, leaving me to the echoing techno music in the vast empty showroom. Eventually he returned and fruitlessly fiddled with a key. "Sorry, it's the wrong one." But he didn't bother getting the right one. We both knew that the enquiry was academic. "It's around pounds 300 anyway."

At Vivienne Westwood's shop on Davies Street, the only item in the window was a top in white cotton. What was surprising, indeed arresting, about the garment was the message printed on it: "1) Blow me up. 2) Do not use sharp object. 3) Gently pull the safety seal from my vaginal opening..." They were the instructions that accompanied an inflatable sex doll. Making a note in the shop, I explained to the flame-haired manageress, who is called Andrea: "Have to write everything down. Terrible memory."

"You must be in a bad way if you can't remember that," she commented. Still, this challenging display was conventional in one respect. It carried a price-tag: pounds 285. I was back in the real world. Kind of.

THE JARRINGLY different nature of the fashion universe is clearly manifested in Vogue. Appropriately for a fashion bible, much use is made of the imperative. On page 137, readers are directed: "Slip into a leopard print top and micro-mini and reveal your inner predator." Supermodel Cindy Crawford is portrayed enjoying a private moment of orgasm while wearing a skirt that begins a foot or more north of the knee. It brings to mind the old joke when mini skirts first appeared in the Sixties: "I've seen more cotton in the top of an aspirin bottle." On page 128, we're again treated to a tremendous expanse of Crawford thigh, with the owner photographed in a minuscule affair described as "the sleekest, sexiest LBD with a Chanel Padlock Belt".

What's odd about these pictures is that they seem somewhat at odds with page 69, where supermodel Cindy Crawford states her "fashion pet hate" as "Women who dress too young for their age. Midriff-baring tops and minis look great on Kate Hudson, but she's 25. I'm 38 and if I wear a mini, it's only on the beach." Maybe the fashion universe contains multiple Cindy Crawfords.

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