If you've ever wondered how to take the key trends of the season from the runway to reality, Nadia El Dasher makes it easy with a step-by-step guide to building a fashion-forward wardrobe on a budget. Follow our tips on five signature looks and you'll be dazzling in no time.
Less than a decade ago the high street wasn't cool. If we wanted a show-stopping dress we would go designer; the high street was reserved for teenagers or those on a budget, and if we were wearing high street we certainly didn't say so. But things are changing.
Not only is shopping on a shoestring now widely accepted among even the most scrupulous of fashion folk, it's almost become something to boast about. Who could forget Michelle Williams in that black-and-white H&M gown at this year's Bafta Awards or that white-and-blue polka dot Topshop dress that made its way into not one but five celebrities' wardrobes including those of Kirsten Dunst and Fearne Cotton.
So why the sudden interest? Why are celebrities, who have access to as much designer gear as they like, suddenly turning to brands such as Topshop and H&M for the red carpet? It would be foolish to say the economic climate has nothing to do with it; there is no doubt that buying capabilities have dwindled and that the ranks of those who could afford a designer wardrobe have thinned. Thus, the demand for fashionable, inexpensive clothing is rising, and with it the power that designers once had over our wardrobes is diminishing.
But that's not all of it. High street shops are smart. What's the first thing customers hear when they walk into the store? Not "Welcome" or "Welcome to H&M", but "Would you like a basket?"
They give us what we want, which is choice. Look at the Swedish retail giant H&M, which brought us collaborations with Roberto Cavalli, Stella McCartney, Comme des Garçons, Jimmy Choo, Lanvin, Versace (twice) and Marni. Topshop offered up some London-based talent such as Ashish, Jonathan Saunders, Emma Cook and Mary Katrantzou. Even the designers are offering a cheaper solution by launching diffusion lines: Karl by Karl Lagerfeld, Alice by Temperley London and Elizabeth and James by Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen.
We also can't ignore the speed at which trends now hit the high street. Weeks after collections premiere at Fashion Week, you'll spot them in stores, hanging on billboards and being fed through blogs, fashion websites and celebrities. Before you know it, you're knee-deep in next season's coat in the blazing summer sun.
What it all comes down to is a desire to emulate the catwalk. But with all this choice the whole thing can be overwhelming. Try going to the mall without any direction and you end up bombarded by trends: Aztec prints, fringing, geometric silhouettes and floral tea dresses coming from all directions. Suddenly nothing seems more enticing than a dash to the nearest cafe for an overpriced bottle of imported water.
We need to step back and ask, what is it that makes an outfit so desirable? Is it the combination of different shades of grey? The lace trim socks that match the Peter Pan collar? Because these are the details that make a runway look appear as well put together as it does.
There's no denying that the quality of fabric, tailoring and detailing on a high street piece will not compare to those of a designer, but that's not to say there aren't tricks to learn in order to fake it. As M fashion director Katie Trotter has previously advised in her column, start with the cost-per-wear equation, as despite what we may think the price of a garment doesn't simply reflect its value but the amount of use we get from it. It's hard to go wrong with the 70/30 rule - 70 per cent classic staples and 30 per cent fashion-forward. Those from the high street should be your emotional pieces, as they will have a shorter lifespan. Learn to thoroughly examine a garment and look for flaws, and avoid anything synthetic with a cheap finish.
Do your research and go armed with a game plan, and find out when the new collaborations are arriving. To be offered the chance to buy high-end designer goods at high street prices is worth much more than you think.
In short, love your high street gear as much as your high-end pieces. Just because it's affordable doesn't mean it should look it, nor should you buy anything just because it's a bargain.
All of this of course is great news, proving that good styling and a little creativity will suffice - almost as much as a black AmEx and a trip to Paris.
We say 'tribal' but what we really mean is controlled clash. Think graphic Aztec prints and pattern on pattern as seen at Michael Kors and Burberry.
- When you combine black, beige, tan and brown the effect is instant. All you need are a printed scarf, chunky heels and some clever contouring with bronzer.
- Layers will create a longer line by keeping the silhouette slinky and close to the body. Stick to finer fabrics to avoid bulk.
- High heels will help pull the look together. Try a strappy, chunky pair to break the mould.
- Cinch your waist with a wide belt in an opposing colour - this will help add volume and accentuate your shape.
- A solid stack of bangles, an oversized neckpiece or hoop earrings will give it a glossy finish.
- A dark lip will add an urban twist but be sure to leave the rest of the face clean to keep the look fresh.
Feathers had a big presence at both Ralph Lauren and Oscar de la Renta, but Gucci stuck to art deco-inspired geometric design and the classic dropped waist.
- Avoid anything with a sheen or a gloss as you will only appear overdressed. Instead stick to sheer beaded jackets or cut-out earrings.
- Don't take the trend too literally - it should be more of a nod to art deco rather than head-to-toe flapper.
- Keep hair slick; a centre parting and a low bun will help toughen things up.
- A flapper dress can be risky - low-quality feathers won't move as well as expensive ones will, so make sure to check the quality before you invest.
- When it comes to a dropped waist, a larger size than you normally wear will drape better. Anything that clings will appear cheap.
- If you have enough confidence to pull off a headpiece, then that's the way forward, otherwise several strings of pearls will do the deed nicely.
- Stick to flesh tones with touches of black and steer clear of the more colourful "fun" versions found on the high street.
Designers such as Victoria Beckham and Alexander Wang proved there is more to sportswear than trainers and tracksuit bottoms. It's time to join the club.
- Avoid head-to-toe leather. Instead pair a graphic top with a pair of motorcycle boots for a modern take.
- Heels will transform the look from athletic to sexy, so if you're wearing anything figure-hugging make sure to stick to flats.
- A baseball cap can be a great addition - try one in leather for added impact.
- It's tricky to pull off cut-out dresses or leotards if you're curvy. Instead try a slashed jumper to add texture and dimension.
- Heels with metal hardware are great for ramping things up a gear.
- Experiment with jewellery - chain mail, spikes or Perspex will add to the androgynous tone.
Mary Katrantzou, Preen and Carven made a bold statement this season with the use of kaleidoscopic prints in a controlled colour palette.
- Begin with a fixed colour scheme. Pastels are a good starting point as the muted shades won't overwhelm. Pair unusual combinations such as pink and red, orange and blue for extra flair.
- Stick to one kind of print. Floral, tropical or abstract when paired together will become overly noisy.
- Be sure to keep accessories to a minimum, with either a statement multicoloured bag or a pair of printed shoes.
- Pattern can overwhelm a small frame, so try adding heels for a leaner line.
- For added drama pair a strong print with something sharp, such as a pair of cigarette trousers in a bright colour.
- Jewellery should be oversized but not colourful. Solid pieces that look modern are ideal.
Pale hues in pink, green and blue are everywhere for spring. Take inspiration from Louis Vuitton's oversized collars, Miu Miu's stiff jackets and Chanel's ladylike suits.
- A skirt suit is a good way to start, but be sure to pick a heavier fabric so it holds its shape.
- Pair sheer ankle socks with a puffy skirt and prim shirt.
- Pointy-toed flats with studded detailing will give a bit of bite to a look that has the potential to appear a little sugary.
- Pastel from top to bottom works beautifully, so don't be tempted to add black - it will only break up the line.
- Try an A-line dress with platform heels for a more youthful take.
- Avoiding heavy accessories. Dainty earrings or a thin headband are all you should need.
Hair and make-up: Carolyn Gallyer
Model: Victoria P at Bareface
Photographer's assistant: Mark Offemaria
Aldo Accessories, Dubai Mall, 04 339 9430 and elsewhere.
Bebe, Marina Mall, 02 681 1379; Dubai Mall, 04 434 0614; and elsewhere.
Bloomingdale's, Dubai Mall, 04 350 5333.
Gerard Darel, Marina Mall, 02 681 3350; Dubai Mall, 04 339 9780; Galeries Lafayette, 04 339 9933.
Kurt Geiger, Dubai Mall, 04 339 9737 and elsewhere.
Miss Selfridge, Dubai Mall, 04 339 8016.
River Island, Mall of the Emirates, 04 340 9115 and elsewhere.
Topshop, Marina Mall, 02 681 8242; Dubai Mall, 04 339 9802; and elsewhere.
Zara, Abu Dhabi Mall, 02 645 6527; Dubai Mall, 04 330 8567; and elsewhere