The Prince's new clothes

By wearing a djellaba, was Charles starting a trend, or just covering his ears? Siobhan O'Sullivan reveals all
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The Independent Online
Charles won't be starting a fashion trend in djellaba wearing, just because he greeted guests at Highgrove wearing one. But whether he was altogether serious about his latest venture into Eastern exoticism he's surprisingly stylish.

The revival in all things ethnic goes on apace. Design force, Red or Dead, showed flowing robes for men on their Spring/Summer catwalk. It's a movement away from the tight lycra-laden sportswear that has dominated men's fashion since the late 1980s.

Red or Dead's Wayne Hemmingway feels that menswear is moving towards looser shapes and more fluid fabrics. As for the style motives behind the Prince's new look, he said: "As far as I understand it, the Prince wasn't wearing the djellaba to be trendy but because of his interest in the multiplicity of religion and cultures. His free thinking ideas on culture and religion are very similar to the messages of Britain's youth. England being an exciting and cultural melting pot, with comparatively high levels of racial tolerance, and that is what we have attempted to put across in our catwalk show."

It's one thing to see men in robes on the catwalk but now that the collection is in the shops, are men buying and wearing it?

"The odd super trendy will buy the robes and wear them as seen on the catwalk but what we find sells in volume are the open-neck shirts and more embroidery details and the loose fluid shorts worn with the open- toe sandal. The catwalk portrayal is intended to convey a new spirit, the ethnic influence is very important and it will continue to grow in popularity over the next couple of years."

John Morgan, associate editor of GQ magazine, feels that although the Eastern influence is just one of many in today's menswear fashion, it is not necessarily an overriding one. "I think there's a very strong sartorial semiotic in the Prince wearing these things, although he professes to be Anglican and head of the Church of England, he is showing us all that he feels much is to be learnt from other religions." But will the trend take off? "I think it'll be quite a long time before the djellaba becomes everyday wear."

Strong Asian influences crop up regularly in fashion for both mens and womenswear. Sheilagh Brown, head of womenswear design at Marks & Spencers, commented: "We've certainly noticed a trend towards Eastern influences in fashion but they have been more Far Eastern in flavour than from the Middle East. At Marks & Spencer we will interpret these trends more through decorative fabrics such as jacquard, silks and prints rather than in extreme silhouettes. We will be seeing mandarin collars, side slits and dresses over trousers."

Simon Davy, head of menswear design at Marks & Spencers, noted: "Womenswear is always ahead of the game in terms of design trends. I think the Eastern influence is a long-term trend. It certainly isn't a major trend for us yet. I wouldn't say that what Prince Charles was wearing sounds like something Marks & Spencers would be stocking in the near future!"

Nick Sullivan, the associate editor of the menswear magazine Arena, thinks that it is not a trend that is particularly influential. "Many designers actually have homes in Morocco and, possibly as a result, the Moorish styles do tend to come and go on the catwalks, but putting men in skirts is more of a device to gain column inches. Few designers expect the public to embrace the look literally."

The award-winning men's and womenswear designer John Rocha feels strongly drawn towards Eastern influences. "I originate from Hong Kong so the resurgence of an ethnic influence in fashion is very exciting and something I understand. This is reflected in my Autumn/Winter collection which explores the idea of a bohemian Irishman travelling the East through fabric, colour and texture. I've used brocade silk and rich colours of the Orient. It is always very important to be aware of other cultures as it can be a great source of inspiration."

So, do the designers think that Charles is cutting edge? John Rocha: "Although Prince Charles is not known as a trendsetter, wearing the djellaba socially proved he has a sense of style and a certain flare."

Wayne Hemmingway was full of approval. "I think the Prince is quite modern. It's great he feels confident to wear a djellaba. Any criticism he may get is very short sighted. Besides, the hood is very useful to hide protruding ears!"

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