x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

A blur of fashion gets focused by the timelessness of the dress

Twice a year during showtime it's excusable, no, essential, to lose oneself entirely in fashion, what with all the trend guzzling.

Twice a year during showtime it's excusable, no, essential, to lose oneself entirely in fashion, what with all the trend guzzling. After a month of scrutinising runway hemlines and absurd colour combinations and playing the "what decade are we revisiting?" game, it does feel nice finally to take off the blinkers and rewind back to the present. So…where were we? Or more importantly, where are we?

I know full well what's in the shops, but I want to know what's been selling in the real world. You take your eyes off this for a moment and anything can happen. Let's forget the catwalk for a moment. Here's a funny thing: In a season so clear-cut - stark tailoring, simple lines, clean colour palette, etc. - why does fashion seem a little blurry? According to magazines and fashion diagnosticians, austerity and minimalism reign supreme, but I don't see many women in wide-legged trousers and capes. Nor have I yet come face-to-face with someone swaddled entirely in camel.

I note the Celine-look translated on to the high street has been toughened up. It's got a lot more streetwise, less career woman and in many cases, has been given a 1960s Mod vibe. So far, so good. I went to see a witty little film, Made in Dagenham, last week, based on an industrial strike in Britain in the 1960s; this is homage to hot pants, leopard print, black leather knee boots and thick, black eyeliner. At times when I blurred my eyes, rather than looking very retro, it looked uncannily very "now".

And speaking of now, Anna Wintour has cleverly pinpointed just this 1960s/noughties fusion on the cover of the October issue of US Vogue. Here, the 25-year-old British actress Carey Mulligan pouts like a young Twiggy, wearing Chanel. Being one half of Hollywood's "it" couple (her boyfriend, Shia LaBeouf, stars with her in Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps), she is most definitely "now".

The 1960s also was a decade that focused on outerwear and the sculpted one piece/shaggy knit. Which is all great to feature on the cover of a fashion glossy, but what happens when you come to wear the aviator jacket/coat/leather jacket/poncho then have to take it off because it's insufferably hot? Which brings me to the best-selling item of this season. Did I mention the Chanel piece that Mulligan wears in Vogue is a dress?

Look past the racks of slouchy fit "carrot"-shaped trousers, cape jackets, leather gilets, high hiking boots, etc., and you are bound to find one of these. Not just one dress but several styles, long, short, fitted, floral or flared. (The online shopping boutique, Net-A-Porter currently has 14 categories and 19 pages of dresses. Trousers in comparison only have five pages). On a shoot recently my three models fought over, not what is considered the hottest item of the season - the Burberry aviator - but a dress.

Admittedly, it was a Louis Vuitton piece, but I have seldom had a reaction like it. Even stylists from the adjoining studio came to gawp, stroke and take photos of it on their mobiles as if it were a beloved pet. Although I'm enjoying the latest television advertisement for Chloe's new fragrance, Love Chloe, featuring the Brazilian model, Raquel Zimmerman, swinging back her big blonde bouffant "do" in a creamy Mercedes convertible, (the TV ad was directed by Roman Coppola, son of Francis), I doubt her high-waisted trousers or satin blouse would trigger half the reaction of that dress.

At a stylish shop opening this week I saw plenty of professional women whom I believe Chloe's fragrance might be aimed at. Here were plenty of crisp, white mannish cotton shirts, toughened up with black leather skirts (one pair of neat leather shorts worn with boots) and giant, mean-looking urban wedges…and plenty of dresses, from grungy floral print floor-length to Alaia asymmetric styles to simple black, teamed with all manner of things to individualise them to the max.

One editrix wore a dress with a crazy oversized knit. Another wore Prada-style over-the-knee socks with hers. Although the dress was not tipped to be the scene-stealer of the season (whatever happened to the "lady skirt"?) fashion stylist friends tell me this is the case. Apparently, trendy young music types, such as Sting's daughter, Coco, and electro-pop singers such as Eliza Doolittle and Sky Ferreira are asking for punk rock dresses they can rip up then refashion with safety pins.

"The thing about a dress" one told me, "is, no matter how plain, they can never be ordinary." Speaking as one who is terminally obsessed with seasons, here's to the dress being "season-less" too!