It used to be that when collections reached the shops a small group of insiders and wealthy clients would be first in line. Not any more.
Fashion talk: Tip-offs get democratic
Have you ever had a tip-off regarding the handbag-of-the-minute or must-have frock, then tried to buy it? If it's part of an autumn/winter designer range, chances are you might have succeeded - if you were shopping in August. It may well be 45C, but eagerly awaited autumn/winter collections don't hang about once they've arrived in-store. By the second week of the Premier League football season, Wags and fervent followers of fashion will have already made their ferocious attack on first deliveries.
It used to be the case that a small group of "insiders" and wealthy clients would be first in line to cherry pick - steered to the juiciest purchases by fashion stylists and personal shoppers. Not any more. Ever since the thudding great September issues made it their mission to trumpet "Top 10" lists of most lusted-after pieces, August has become not holiday time but shopping time for the fashion-hungry.
Only just, though. Earlier this spring, Burberry seized an opportunity to unite customer with must-have even earlier. Shattering the August precedent, they made it possible for clients to shop the autumn/winter range online as their catwalk show was taking place and being live-streamed globally in March. And this gamble payed off. Despite the fact the Burberry aviator jackets that formed the centrepiece of the range sold out instantly, they remain crucial to the new autumn/winter season. In fact, the waiting list for them continues to grow daily.
So what else belongs in the top 10? A camel jacket or coat in the no-frills style of Celine, Carven or Chloé; the longer-line calf-length "lady" skirt, which has a nipped-in waist and is evocative of Christian Dior's famous "New Look" designs of 1947; Dolce & Gabbana's classic pencil skirt in the same length; Chloé's high-waisted flared trousers; Antonio Berardi's body-conscious hourglass dresses; Hussein Chalayan capes; and, in terms of accessories, Prada's "eyebrow" spectacles. Over the next few months we must get used to seeing all these items again and again in fashion shoots, or being worn by style-conscious celebrities eager to impress us.
The more I stare at emerging got-to-get pieces such as Prada's new-length tweed dress with its ruffled breastplate, the more thankful I am for the very existence of the Victoria Beckhams and Wags of this world. Let them wear and enjoy all these garments, I say. Rather them than me. I'd like to point out right now that there are many more fashionable alternatives that are infinitely more desirable and don't require you to follow fashion like sheep.
As well as the rather obvious top 10 there is always another "under-the-radar" ratings system used by those in the know. The only trouble is deciphering what's in it (this is rarely featured in magazines). Here goes. For starters, a mannish double-breasted jacket. This will update anything so long as it's tailored to nip in the waist and has a shoulder line and feel evocative of the 1990s, an era currently being revisited.
What promises to separate fashion victims who end up looking like clones in identical pieces with the infinitely more stylish trendsetters this season will be hemlines and hairdos. Although calf-length is most definitely "now", take note that many trailblazers are busy experimenting with A-line floor-length and asymmetrical skirts and dresses, which are easier to wear and far more flattering. In a daring move to escape from the stark, clean lines and designer aesthetic of the moment comes a grunge vibe. We will soon start to see lots of cobweb lace skirts and bohemian velvet coming in as an antidote to designer collections such as Stella McCartney's.
Meanwhile the Seattle-chic that surfaced in the 1990s - Lumberjack shirts and threadbare jeans worn with gnarly workman's boots - will become common daywear (NB this is already being worn on fashion shoots by hairstylists and models). Grunge hairstyles require quirkier bird's nest and beehive updos rather than sleek, tied-back uniform styles championed on the Celine catwalk on fresh-faced young models.
Also be on the look out for velvet chokers and round, owlish tortoiseshell spectacles. Finally, anyone wishing to be truly fashion-forward must now start to embrace the equestrian, with jodhpurs and riding boots with snaffles and stirrups. John Galliano's autumn/winter 2010 couture collection for Dior, which was inspired by women's riding outfits from the 1890s, totally reset the fashion compass and will no doubt see certain fashionistas bypassing the clean-cut nonsense.
This explains why H&M's cream "treggings", with the jodphur-like inner knee section, are the surprise best-seller this August. Ladies, remember where you heard the tip-off first. Tally ho!