Peter York On Ads: If Lacroixis at the cutting edge, then who let Avon out of the bottle?

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If the banking sector's getting wobbly then we'll have to find other businesses to keep us going. Other service businesses of course; Brits don't really do manufacturing any more.

All eyes turn to fashion at this point. Can our fashion boys and girls save us? Can they make the global cut? The Creative Industries argument – last week's British Fashion Week and London Design Festival are the big international symbols – is that all this stuff adds up to a great chunk of UK GDP. It's everything from computer games design to little Matthew Williamson, taking in the music industry, the art business, TV, advertising, museumland, theatre, films and everything else.

There's a lot of it about, much of it more admired over there than here. At the Venice Architecture Biennale, the British stars paraded on the world stage are treated like rock gods, and there's a touching admiration for the culture and the system that produces them. But we're perpetually uncertain and chippy about our fashion.

It matters, though: we export more clothing than you'd imagine – and precisely because of that, it's a great shaper of popular perceptions of this country. At the V&A now there is an exhibition about the Golden Age of Couture, Paris and London 1947-57, and you can see the difference. The great French designers were making things for women – rich, grand – and the Brits were making stuff for English ladies – people who saw dressing up as a class ceremonial, even a sort of uniform, rather than an end in itself. Women who believed that, off-duty, there were much more important things to think about than clothes.

British couture wasn't state-supported, it wasn't worn by international celebrities and it didn't have masses of licensing deals in America. It wasn't dramatic or sexy then – and it usually wasn't innovative either. In context – in the right house, at the right time, on the right girl – some of it will have looked good. But that's not enough to build an international business.

Since the late Seventies, though, the punk aesthetic has defined us – art school designers perpetually refer to it because they know how it works. Brits are on strong instinctive grounds when they relate to demotic music themes; it's all interwoven in the culture.

Brit high fashion is mad for innovation now. It's hard-wired into our popular culture. But it's not so familiar with the workings of global aspiration, where the Italians and French have simpler stories and are more focused on telling them.

Christian Lacroix is a talented French designer who emerged in the late Eighties infected with some Brit influences. He was bought on early by LVMH – brought on too fast. They wanted him into big licensing deals and global scents before the markets really understood what he was selling, which wasn't WAG fashion. So they sold off the business.

But he's reappearing in a new ad – for scent of course. It looks like a classic French designer pre-Christmas production. An impossibly tall girl in scarlet chiffon runs through a dark forest – pursued by an impossibly handsome Gallic-type with three-day stubble. He catches her. They embrace. There are huge staring eyes, glimpses of the moon and a very excitable voiceover about how Lacroix's fashions stir the imagination and his fragrances stir the senses. And then some pretty bottles with curly-wurly lettering. So far, so completely predictable.

But then they say it's exclusively from Avon! I don't think this is a marriage made in heaven.