What's new for 2012? So much that it is difficult to know where to begin. They say fashion holds up a mirror to the times and that designers are like sponges, soaking up the cultural, global and urban references all around them and interpreting them into catwalk trends. Is it any wonder some get lost in translation?
Overall, next year's fashion mood is light and sweet and pretty, ushering in a new era of feminine innocence (as opposed to the high-octane glamour/drama epitomised by the singer Lady Gaga). This is said to be inspired by couture frocks of the mid-20th century (1950s and 1960s), particularly those by Christian Dior, the French fashion house that still has a vacancy sign hanging over its gilded doors following the exit of John Galliano, its disgraced former designer-in-chief.
Pastels act as a palette-cleanser to all the bright colours we've seen in 2011. Stabs of magenta, red, gold, maroon, teal and purple - unusual for summer - stop them from looking too nostalgic, along with pales and metallics. And print continues to dominate in many guises. Dolce & Gabbana even declared eggplants and courgettes the new black!
An uncertain global climate in both the financial and ecological senses is reflected in fabrics that ooze a couture-like wealth as if to remind us of what luxury means. Meanwhile, it's worth noting that three of the most influential designers of our times - Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen and Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy - all took inspiration from the sea or rather, rising sea levels, for their spring/summer 2012 collections.
Their "drowned world" seascapes had both an illusional and a delusional quality. Tisci combined mermaid with surfer. Lagerfeld and Burton used tactile textiles to showcase artisanal house signatures creating a 3D effect on otherworldly frocks.
Elsewhere, fashion dreams played out on catwalks included Miuccia Prada's homage to 1950s Americana - with car prints that looked like something stripped from the wallpaper of a seven-year-old's bedroom - and Nicolas Ghesquière's very new boxy jackets for Balenciaga, which cemented an overall stiffened top-half silhouette over a softer, sportier bottom half (blame the imminent 2012 Olympics in London for that).
The biggest shocker was flat shoes at Christopher Kane and Victoria Beckham (yes, really!). And heels are not the only accessories that seem to be shrinking: so are handbags.
Here are the 10 hottest trends expected to dominate the fashion scene in 2012.
1. Pretty dresses
Romance is in the air. Pretty dresses are everywhere. Some are superficially sweet, but if you look beyond the paper doily-effect lace, the appliqué flowers and porcelain-inspired prints to the form-fitting shapes, you get another story entirely (many are shapely and hourglass). Designers known for their lightness of construction and couture-like workmanship (Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Givenchy, Nina Ricci and Dolce & Gabbana) have singled this out as the key piece for spring/summer 2012. Just in time for the remake of Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, tipped to have a whopping impact on fashion and be the movie of the year (so far, we know the film's diamonds are supplied by Tiffany's and Ashley Olsen has lent some 1920s vintage dresses).
2. Punky pastels
Sweet but not quite sorbet or sugared almond shades, there's a deeper (or in some cases paler) hue to 2012 pastels. These take in the entire spectrum, from peppermint and pea to sunshine yellow, cerulean blue, gold, coral and peach. For added effect, these came tri-coloured, sliced together in fabrics of different weights (lace, perforated leather, shiny silk gazar) or teamed with darker/lighter hues such as grungy aubergine or "red sock in the wash" nudes.
3. Hermès scarf prints
There is so much print around, the best way to sort the wheat from the chaff is ask yourself, would Hermès use it? Everyone is so crazy about Hermès right now, whether you opt for a Dolce & Gabbana "onion" print, a Mary Katrantzou panoramic, Stella McCartney Hawaiian, Jil Sander paisley or Burberry African digi-batik, the bottom line is if you can imagine it on a Hermès scarf, you know it's cool.
4. Miu Miu cape
Prada's younger, edgier line has steadily built up a following to rival its big sister, thanks to quirky signature pieces like this cape. Although it has something of a "harajuku girl" vibe about it, patterned and teamed with the mish-mash of double-layer lace and dolly handbag, there's no reason why it shouldn't catch on with a wider mass market (everything else from Miu Miu does). Meadham Kirchhoff's sash-tied marabou bed cape-like jacket in lemon, pink or turquoise just might, too.
5. Slouch sportswear
Fashionable kit for spring/summer 2012 includes a soft metallic parka and either loose-fitting shorts (like those at Balenciaga) or track pants (Haider Ackerman). Just make sure they're in double-face satin. Victoria Beckham and Stella McCartney's collections featured sporty shifts, inset with sheer mesh or lace. Haider Ackermann and Henry Holland showed perforated "string" vests. Lanvin and Celine paid homage to utility tailoring. Layering is key to this locker-room look.
6. Chanel's 'Boy' bag
Chief contender for the 2012 "it bag" status is Chanel's androgynous "Boy" bag, launched last September and named after Arthur Edward "Boy" Capel, the love of Coco's life. March will see Karl Lagerfeld's latest "muse", the beautiful punk musician and model Alice Dellal (whose mother is a former model and father a property tycoon billionaire) star in the new Chanel advertising campaign. The Boy is boxy in shape (rather like an old camera case) and comes with a beaten metal buckle and large gilt chain. Mulberry's "Carter" and Victoria Beckham's tote are also on every fashionista's wish list.
7. Pleated skirts
Trust Miuccia Prada to single out what could be the biggest commercial hit of the year: a pleated skirt reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe's pleated dress in The Seven Year Itch. Prada's acid pastel, just-past-the-knee circular skirts were teamed with 1950s satin bowling jackets. Celine and Gucci backed this style too.
8. Peplum jacket
There was something very new about the way Givenchy's Tisci, Chanel's Lagerfeld, Louis Vuitton's Jacobs and McQueen's Burton tagged peplums on to the end of otherwise sculpted, form-fitting jackets. Sometimes this started off as a ruffle, or collar spiralling down to the waist, showcasing some pretty nifty pattern-cutting. Fashion in 2012 is all about 3D dressing. Nothing says it quite like this.
Belts update the 2012 wardrobe and draw attention to the uniform nipped-in waist. They were big and sporty at Celine, plaited and African tribal-inspired at Burberry and skinny at Mulberry and Elie Saab. Newest of all is matchy-matchy, camouflaged in the same colour as your skirt/dress but doing the same job as Spanx pants.
10. Flat shoes
Christopher Kane's chunky, spa-inspired slip-ons drew gasps from the front row at the London catwalk shows. Victoria Beckham's first-ever flats were the talking point of New York Fashion Week. In Paris, Stefano Pilati combined pumps with gold gladiator sandals to spectacular effect. Net-a-Porter's buying director Holli Rogers told The National lace espadrilles by Valentino in black and cream were her personal favourite shoes of all those on the international runways. So it's official then. The end is nigh for heels. Flats are back.
Lucia and Barbara Croce, the new duo at Vionnet; Peter Copping at Nina Ricci; the British duos Teatum Jones and Meadham Kirchhoff; the US rising stars Ohne Titel, Alessandra Rich and Joseph Altuzarra; Net-a-Porter's Holli Rogers Rogers puts forward Prabal Gurung ("he was one of my favourite shows of the season - his directional yet feminine silhouettes were reworked for spring in fabulous print and colour combinations"); also the Lebanese - Elie Saab, Georges Chakra and Zuhair Murad - and the French Morroccan Bouchra Jarrar.
Will Marc Jacobs settle for the US$10 million (Dh36.7m) post? Runners and riders include Raf Simons, Alber Elbaz, Haider Ackermann, Azzedine Alaia, Riccardo Tisci and Tom Ford.
The Marni/H&M and Vanessa Seward/APC designer/high street collaboration.
Karl Lagerfeld's new mid-priced collection KARL (to be launched exclusively by Net-a-Porter on January 25) and McQ, the beefed up diffusion line of Alexander McQueen.
More consciously ethical brands like SameSky.com, a jewellery cooperate run to help women affected by HIV, which the glossy fashion press such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harpers as well as The New York Times are raving about.
The team at Net-a-Porter is keeping a close watch on Boardwalk Empire from the US, set in the Prohibition era. This echoes 1920s-themed, delicate beaded collections by Gucci and Ralph Lauren.
Tali Lennox, Meghan Collison, Ruby Aldridge, Madison Leys, Maja Salamon and Romee Strijd.
The British singers Katy B and Alice Dellal.
Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen's little sister Elizabeth. Model Agyness Deyn and Miss Piggy, who features as the plus-size fashion editor of French Vogue in the 2011 film The Muppets.
Balenciaga shot by Steven Meisel, the model "Svengali" who uses Laura Kampman, Juliane Grüner, Rosie Tapner and Kirstin Liljegren. Versace by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott featuring Gisele Bündchen.
Louis Vuitton Marc Jacobs exhibition (March 9 to September 16) at Les Arts Decoratifs in Paris; Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada: On Fashion at the Costume Institute, New York (May 10 to August 19); Kensington Palace in London will unveil a display of pieces worn by the late Diana, Princess of Wales next summer (dates to be confirmed).
Madonna playing the Super Bowl on February 5; the christening in July in the UK of Harper Beckham (what will her mother Victoria wear?); and finally, will the Duchess of Cambridge be wearing Victoria Beckham soon? It's only a matter of time.
* Julia Robson