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A change in direction for the fashion compass

Luxury may have a new meaning, but the cost is still the same.

'The definition of luxury is changing," Tom Marchant, the co-founder of the hip New York travel firm, Black Tomato, tells me.

Marchant's firm specialises in bespoke holidays aimed at fast-living, jet-setting, exceedingly rich, upwardly mobile types. Earlier this month, it supplied luxurious tepees to the preppy Hamptons music festival, Escape to New York, which were kitted out with the sort of decor and facilities normally found in the penthouse suite of Geneva's Hotel President Wilson (reputedly the world's most sophisticated and luxurious).

Here, the dress code was more full-on, high-maintenance socialite, rampant with real jewels, blow-dry, Givenchy head-to-toe and white BlackBerry Torches, than the hippy Woodstock vibe you might have expected - what with wafting maxis being so "summer 2011".

Turns out this didn't so much reflect a change in the wardrobe of holidaying Boston intellectuals as hint at the direction the fashion compass is pointing in for autumn/winter 2011.

Marchant is right about luxury, time being considered the greatest luxury of all. His clients have less free time and want to maximise it whenever they can. Having time and an occasion to dress up rather than slopping around in jeans is now considered a luxury. This idea is being mirrored across many lifestyle areas, fashion included.

Translated into clothes, it means wearing something that, rather like a cordon bleu meal, has taken a considerably long time to prepare using the finest ingredients and laborious methods.

Fashion forecasters have been predicting a cooling of interest in "fast fashion" and catwalk hot trends, be they designer or equally Primark, but until now I've ignored this idea. To re-educate the average customer denied of high fashion until recently, when mass-market copies became available, seemed unthinkable.

And yet, glancing at the all-important September issues of glossy fashion magazines (the ones that lay down trends for the coming season) I now see their point.

Bottega Venetta's startling tweeds, Prada's snakeskin "hoof" boots, Marni pin-hole bags and Giorgio Armani's razor-cut tailoring showcases what truly sets designers apart from the relentlessly churning mass market: mind-boggling craftsmanship.

Whatever is lacking in terms of box-ticking trends such as long hemlines or high-heeled loafers this season is made up for in something startling that Primark couldn't replicate.

For her feature-length directorial debut, WE, about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Madonna will help the cause along even further. Capitalising on the impeccable style of Mrs Simpson, in clothes designed by the singer's long-time stylist, Arianne Phillips, in collaboration with Dunhill, the timing of this movie, fashionwise, couldn't be better.

Those of us who spent a childhood hankering after treasured items from mummy's/auntie's wardrobe may well snigger at the supposed "new" luxury. Wasn't fashion once defined by luxury, rarity and exclusivity? The expert cut of a jacket or skirt that would slice off an entire dress size, denoting the hours of work spent by an experienced seamstress?

The trouble with Chanel is it has become so easy to copy, but ever since catwalk shows became a window to shop for make-up and perfume no one really cared.

It's no coincidence designers currently considered A-list have set about adjusting this. Giambattista Valli, Sarah Burton, Haider Ackermann, Riccardo Tisci, and Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri who revived the house of Valentino have been quietly nudging themselves on to a demi-couture plateau using timely techniques to create preposterously beautiful/expensive clothes.

Giambattista Valli has offered an explanation for the change.

"In the past 10 years fashion has been about looking girlie. Now there is a healthy stream of young clients, particularly from the Middle East, along with China and Russia, who seek exclusivity and a fresh sense of beauty that is womanly."

Whereas girls might settle for less than excellence, with a passing fad he believes women desire a sense of permanence in their clothes.

Clothes that tell a tale and have a history in terms of their manufacture, the longer the better, sound good until you get to the end bit: the price tag.

There was a good reason why my mother would never lend me her best velvet coat. I got caught in the rain one evening and it was never the same.

That's the trouble with precious clothes. They demand to be treated with the sort of care and respect, which - I fear - we've forgotten about.

Most fashion stylists I know are currently using silk stockings on fashion shoots (as in the Chanel campaign). At Dh600 a pop, is it any wonder they complain like mad when they ladder? The definition of luxury may have changed but the cost, alas, hasn't.

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