Vicki Woods: By the end of fashion week, even the least fashionable among us will know who Agyness Deyn is

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The Independent Online

Last week, Anna Wintour's fiercely controlled bob was front-rowing at the New York fashion shows (verdict on the shows: "Commercial as ever"; verdict on Anna's hair: "Stuck in a style rut"). This week, the entire fashion pack (including the bob) is in London for their bi-annual dose of excitement over British edginess. Even the designers' names are edgy: Eley Kishimoto, Marios Schwab, Sinha-Stanic, Duro Olowu, Ashish, Osman Yousefzada. Next week it's Milan and then Paris, so by October even the man in your life should finally have a good grasp of who Agyness Deyn actually is. (She's the blonde in most of the pictures.)

Fashion week is good for newspapers, especially when the model-of-the-moment is home-grown, acceptably pretty and humbly born, thus making for a lot of very satisfying rags-to-riches articles. Lovely Agyness, born Laura Hollins in Stubbins, Lancs, once worked in a chippy! And she's now a Vogue cover girl! From deep-fat fryer to photographs by Mario Testino – how beyond fabulous is that?

When I first started working on newspapers, there wasn't much fashion in them and it wasn't fabulous. Fashion coverage was a weekly dole, usually on a Monday, to "brighten up" the paper as the working week began. You brighten up a paper by putting pictures of women in it, in order to leaven the lump of men-in-suits droning on about the economy. Until the late 1980s, the pictures were all in black and white. The fashion editor would go to Paris with a photographer and bring back rolls of black and white film. The one showing the prettiest model displaying the most leg would be seized on by the news desk and headlined: "News from the Paris Collections."

Sometimes, as everyone knows, there isn't any news from the Paris collections, but news editors are paid to provoke it: "Hemlines UP again? See page 29."

When that man from Warrington whose name (Eddie Shah) is largely forgotten now, launched a new newspaper in 1986 (Today), men in Fleet Street sniffed. Colour – so what? The Prime Minister was still just a head-shot; what was newsworthy wasn't the colour of his tie but the colour of his policies. But Today changed all that.

I was on the Daily Mail in the late 1980s and it was black and white. When the fashion pictures came in from Paris and Milan, I would look gloomily at a sea of monochrome. Even Versace's sexy designs looked a tad less must-have in uniform grey. For the front page teaser I would have to find one of the girls wearing white against a black background (for contrast) and hopefully with either leg or bosom showing. Meanwhile, Today would come out with a paintbox-bright red suit and a headline saying, "Versace paints the town RED."

Today proved that women like looking at clothes whether there's news in the pictures or not. Their fashion editor was a clever friend of mine called Nicola Jeal. Her fashion spreads often failed to address "news" entirely. Instead, they addressed the universal female moan: I've got absolutely nothing to wear. Jeal ran pages about what women in the City are wearing; what mothers and daughters are wearing; what to wear for the weekend; what to wear for a winter wedding.

The (few) women on Fleet Street began nagging: When are we getting colour? and citing Today and Hello! Newspapermen abominated Hello! because there wasn't any news in it. "Look," they would say, baffled. "They use the same picture over and over again. Over eight bloody pages. What's the POINT?" I would look: Diana arrives, in a tartan suit and a red hat. (Ooh, frisky.) Next: Diana shakes hands, with the same picture cropped to show her shoes. (Ooh, quite high heels.) Next: Diana from the back. (Ooh, little bows on the heel of her tights.) Yes, it was the same picture over and over again. But for women, whose relationship with what they wear is often fraught and whose knowledge of what's hot and what's not for atumn 2007 is often sketchy, the devil is in the detail. We like as much detail as we can get. You can't rush to judgment over Anna Wintour's bob or Agyness Deyn's It-bag, can you? I'll be poring over every picture.

This summer's missing child story has been the worst I remember, because of the McCanns' deliberate, careful, brave – and dangerous – decision to keep Madeleine's image constantly in the press. I can't see a pretty three-year-old in the garden of my local pub without feeling jolted to check that her mother and/or father are at a nearby table. I dread picking up the papers and seeing the McCanns' taut, artificially calm faces or hearing their tightly controlled statements on the news. Yes, yes, I think: I understand. But people will hate you for this. People will call you limelight-lovers, money-grubbers, wickedly bad parents.

I've only written about Madeleine once, when she'd been missing only a matter of days. I was saying: We've all done it; we've all briefly mislaid a child, or half-poisoned one or sunbathed or argued or finished a second bottle of vin rouge while a tot risked death out of eyeshot. My god-daughter ate half a pack of her mother's contraceptive pills; my son left a French supermarket and toddled across two main roads back to the car.

Readers' comments on my piece were astonishing. "Speak for yourself! Not me." "You might be as wicked as the McCanns, but I have never, never, never, ever ONCE endangered my precious daughter's life." "Call themselves doctors? They should be prosecuted for child-neglect and banged up."

Kelvin Mackenzie, who would no doubt be running a HELP US FIND MADDY campaign if he was still on the Sun, told Radio 4 last week that his (sympathetic) article had atracted "hundreds" of vicious comments about the McCanns' sin of "using" the press. That the press used the McCanns, and will go on using them, passed them by. Mackenzie said: If it was a black single mother, or a pair of chavs, they wouldn't have got so much publicity, would they? As if publicity FOR THEM was what they wanted. The audience was murmuring restlessly as he spoke. I couldn't tell tell whether they agreed or disagreed.

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