I was styling a shoot for a fashion magazine this week, photographing "real" women (as opposed to models) in three key looks tipped as crucial for autumn/winter 2010/11. These were: the full circle midi-length "lady" skirt (championed in particular by Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and Dries Van Noten) that cinches you in at the waist then flares out from hips to mid-calf; the camel coat, which is really a mid-length elongated jacket with a sturdy collar and egg-shaped structure and high-waisted Charlie's Angels-style flared check trousers (the three big "C"s - Chloé, Celine and Carven - have done both of these).
My job was to coax six ladies, all of whom invest in designer clothes on a regular basis and whose professions were architect, TV presenter, marketing executive, hotel chef, retail director and fashion student, into one of the items. They were all a slim size 40 (UK size 12) and of ages ranging from 21 to 52. I had reckoned the "lady skirt" would be by far the hardest to pull off, followed by the 1970s trousers, which would make me run a mile, and finally the coat, which quite frankly looked like something my granny would wear.
To my amazement, the young TV presenter, whom I had expected to love the funky trousers, fell in love with the classic coat. The savvy marketing director, who was 51, and the TV chef, aged 35, both wore Vuitton skirts and looked fantastic. The 21-year-old fashion student settled for leg-lengthening trousers. If I had attempted to do the same shoot even a year ago the situation would have been disastrous if not impossible. Seasonal key items, the stuff of waiting lists and Wags' wardrobes, are usually, by definition, daft. So what has happened? Are clothes getting less silly or are the majority of women who actually buy expensive designer pieces getting wise? As we enter a season where the colour scheme is the most practical and easy on the eye in decades (charcoal, camel, black and white) it's clear: what I am seeing, at least, is that the sort of items that were once rarely shown on the catwalk but actually sold in stores and boutiques by the billions, are being allowed a "moment".
It's refreshing to see brands such as MaxMara and Celine, which traditionally used to be shunted to far-off areas of boutiques and department stores, brought into pole position. In the meantime, before the bulk of wintry fashion hits the shops, there's even a raft of "sensible" delights arriving instore this month. These include sensible crisp white cotton short-sleeve shirts, fine-gauge T-shirts designed to be paired with your existing jeans and practical accessories including handbags that won't swallow your keys and purse.
Take the latest handbag by Proenza Schouler. This is a hybrid between a satchel, the "it" shape that gives a nod to androgyny, and the retro handbag. As well as fashionable tan, this comes in jolly shades of purple, olive and sienna. After all, it's still summer. "It's like a schoolboy's bag, stripped of everything. We wanted to transcend seasons and for it to be something that lasts," say Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough. Wow. Voice of reason. Isn't this what every woman is looking for in a handbag?
This has got me thinking that perhaps one positive reaction to the recession is that the customer is wielding the upper hand once more. I can't remember the last time it was considered cool to buy something and actually take into account your body shape, rather than simply buying something because it was trendy. Could this really mean personal style will be championed and for the right reasons? Will so-called style icons such as Kate Moss and Alexa Chung be allowed to bend and break the fashion rules without the rest of us having to copy them?
What else is there to get excited about? Tailored, feminine 1960s pieces that mirror the gamine look of actresses such as Jean Seberg in the French film Breathless. Don't be put off by the idea of waists being the new focus. The fact that the two-decade reign of low-waisted tailoring is now over is great news for anyone 16 or over - high waists conceal "muffin tops". The night before my shoot I hesitantly tried on the Louis Vuitton skirt expecting it to look ridiculous. Quite the reverse. Despite the fact it was the heaviest item of clothing I have ever worn, it felt utterly fantastic. And it also gave me the waist of a teenager.
I'm all for this reality check passing through fashion. Bring it on.