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Fashion layering for winter

This season's look of the moment involves lots of layering.

During a trip to Prague's trendy Old Town district last week to witness a major shop launch, I was asked to do a few "makeovers". Aware that the Czech Republic's capital is currently bleeping on the global radar not because of its pretty castle, but more because of its cool young inhabitants, I suspected any takers would be daringly fashionable. And I was right.

Like Grand Sablon in Brussels - and Copenhagen's Christianshavn ever since Yvan Rodic put it on Face Hunter - the old-town streets of Prague's Staré Mesto are famous for the sort of "urban casual" style frequently referenced on the international catwalks.

Coming face-to-face with stylish types who even pre-makeover looked fiercely "fashion forward", I reckoned I'd have to be particularly inventive to pull this off.

Actually, this wasn't the first time I'd found myself in this position, performing fashion miracles on trend-savvy clients, and the fact that I was in Prague was irrelevant.

Without thinking too hard, I applied exactly the same philosophy there that I would anywhere else in the world right now: layering.

Layering doesn't hold merely the secret to pulling off the trends of this particular season - including the Celine-inspired 2010 minimalism which you'd think would require the opposite tack; it also holds the key to modern dressing. Nothing will age you more if you don't layer or equally, shave off more years if you do.

Viktor & Rolf, the Dutch fashion duo renowned for taking an intellectual, often controversial approach to design, put this point across in their autumn/winter 2010/11 show, entitled Glamour Factory. On the catwalk, the designers rolled up their sleeves and highlighted the role multi-functioning "hero" pieces played in layering. Using the veteran 1990s model Kristen McMenamy as a glorified clothes hanger, they pealed off 23 layers, their entire collection in fact, to reveal key items such as a giant caped tweed coat that could also be worn reversed with a twinkling lining for evening, and slim leggings that worked with everything.

In real life, strategic layering, when done correctly, should resemble a salad not a soup, with one, or at the most two, hero items standing out, rather than clothes simply piled one on top of the other.

It is this idea of wearing multiple fashion items in a mashed-up way, slicing across each other, that provides the current season's silhouette.

This is why I began my task in Prague by matching individuals to a recognisable pièce du jour, such as a military jacket, which I felt would flatter their body shape and suit their style. (One doesn't work without the other). Then I started to encourage the customer to try on more pieces.

Running around the store armed with high-heeled wedge ankle boots (for women) and snoods (for men) for a bit of fun, makeover madness commenced.

Luckily for me there were lots of "hero" pieces to choose from (parka, cape, shearling aviator, mannish jacket, 3D knit) along with plenty of less spectacular items to provide the perfect canvas.

Not all hero pieces are as obvious as the aviator or flashy as a Prada PVC A-line skirt either. Many are discreet, such as any of the camel jackets in the +J Uniqlo range (the Japanese collaboration with Jil Sander).

Layering skills can also be shown off by drawing attention to your best asset - legs for instance - by slipping on a pair of coloured tights with a skirt and boots, or just by wearing long leather gloves with a caped jacket that might otherwise demand bare arms.

It's amazing how confidence-boosting hero pieces can be. I've no doubt the reason that niche labels such as Isabel Marant and Zadig & Voltaire are popular lies in the fact they have pieces that do just this.

Take Marant's stretch leather second-skin motocross trousers with zips at the ankle (Victoria Beckham has been wearing these in dark red; Cheryl Cole has a pair in black).

These can be worn under featherweight chiffon dresses and mannish oversize jackets. They can be dressed down with a flimsy tunic, furry gilet and hiker boots combo, or given a spin on boardroom chic with a camel coat and spike heels.

Because I'd sooner wear a clown's outfit than leather trousers, which remind me of male hairdressers going through mid-life crises, my hero pieces of the moment are a Burberry black leather gilet and the dark aubergine Nars lipstick, in the same shade ("Volga") worn by models on the Marc Jacobs spring/summer 2011 catwalk. Combined, these possibly provide the simplest, laziest makeover yet. Don't believe me? I dare you: try them.

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