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you are what you wear

Olivia Stewart-Liberty takes a return trip to logos-ville
Carl Holbourne is 15. He wears an Umbro top to show he likes football and Adidas trainers because he likes Oasis. Carl would not be friends with anyone who couldn't read the signs.

Adrian Clark is 29. He is the fashion director of Attitude magazine and fashion editor of Fashion Weekly. He wears a Russell Athletic sweat top, vintage Levis and Reebok trainers. The outfit makes complex reading for a beginner: the top denotes everyday quality; the jeans give that enduring casual look. And the trainers? "Adidas is old school; Nike is for the younger generation or real sport enthusiasts; Reebok is for general lads."

After a brief no-name backlash, London's fashion world has been thrown back into the safety of logos-ville. Once again, you are what you wear. Labels speak volumes about the people who wear them; but what on earth are they saying?

The season's labels come in two forms; the sporting brands (Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Umbro), and the designer (D&G, DKNY, CK, Armani, Versace etc). Simply put, sports labels denote quality, designer labels are about money.

So where did logos really take off? The industry blames the trainer, which it claims still leads the way. The newest and most expensive style from any of the top brands (Nike, Fila, Reebok, Adidas) speaks loudest at street level. The only trainer no-no appears to be Hi-Tec. Raj Bhasin, 17, wouldn't be seen dead in Hi-Tec because "it doesn't look good", a notion reiterated by all on Oxford Street. "It's cheap, and people who don't know about fashion wear Hi-Tec," says Daniel Moorhouse, 16, looking casual in Reebok. "If you wear it you get cussed by people." Clark is a sportswear purist; designer labels, he says, are "naff" and "pretentious". But even Clark shakes his head as a sorry individual limps past in Stussy skate pants, Nike cap, Adidas socks, Champion sweat top and clutching a hot Tuna wallet. Rule one: don't overdo it.

Designer purists, meanwhile, warn against "try-hard brands". The counterfeiting industry has severely damaged the designer label's cool. (Clark has shelved his Ralph Lauren garments, a personal favourite six months ago. YSL, DKNY and D&G are also out. "They're dead," Clark says. "Bread crates on Oxford Street have seen to that.")

Those on Oxford street, however, seem unaware. T-shirt sales at Selfridges are going through the roof. Virginia Marcolin, an assistant buyer, says "the bigger the brand, the better". Versace, Moschino, Armani, and D&G are top sellers. She does admit that CK and DKNY have perhaps become a little "stale" through over-exposure, but demand for the designer T-shirt has never been stronger, especially among 15-30-year-olds. Sales are governed by a strict code among consumers. Abdullah Isa, 13, dapper in Versace, won't touch Moschino because it's strictly for the older age-group, "16- and 17-year-olds".

And what about the logo-king, Tommy Hilfiger, the designer coveted by East Coast US rappers? While he's busy limbering up to be the hottest thing in spring 1997, several in the industry say the man's too late - by the time the collection arrives, street fashion will have moved on. "The Hilfiger label has been counterfeited so much, it'll be out before it arrives," Clark says. "It's a dead label already." And sure enough, Harvey Nichols may boast the aftershave, but shops along Oxford Street have been selling the T-Shirt for months.

Whatever happened to individuality? Independent fashion writer Melanie Rickey, says it's "tribal". "People want to belong. It's all about feeling part of the grander scheme."

Some in the higher echelons of the industry are deeply disapponted by this season's label resurgence. Alice Massey, of Elle, is "sickened" by it. "It's the 1980s all over. It's being able to buy into that DKNY life-style without spending pounds 2,000. It's so crass.

''Anyone with any style wouldn't buy into this. Fashion's about individuality." she says angrily.

And Tommy Hilfiger? "A man who makes a tracksuit and a foul aftershave" she says, bitterly.