How many modern design classics do you own? There's the Philippe Starck lemon squeezer and perhaps a Newgate station clock on your kitchen wall. An iPod. Soon, maybe, a Pashley bike, if you're lucky.
Here's a secret: I bet you have loads more than that. Most design classics lie in our wardrobes. The Levi 501s, the perfect white button-down shirt, the LBD, the pencil skirt. There's probably one or two in the hallway, too – a waxy Barbour, or a pair of Hunters.
Great design is at the heart of fashion. The showpiece frocks that dominate catwalks and headlines are there to make your mouth water, like sugar sprinkles on the ice cream sundae of fashion. But the really great clothes that define an age are useful as well as beautiful.
Sometimes, fashion has so many bells and whistles it's easy to lose sight of structure. At other times – like now – the opposite happens, and fashion focuses on shape and silhouette. Shoulder seams instead of sequins, the quiet allure of a wool crepe rather than the wow-factor of neon ponyskin. It all began with the arrival of new designers at old French fashion houses. Raf Simons at Christian Dior, Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent and a young American, Alexander Wang, at Balenciaga. These hip young things have trawled the couture archives for recognisable shapes and signatures from a pre-logo era. The waisted bar jacket at Dior; the slim black trouser suit at Saint Laurent; the apron dress at Balenciaga. These are defining fashion right now.
A stone-cold silhouette, cut out with a Stanley knife, is the key to this autumn's look. Then, you layer up by adding a sleek, ultra-fine-knit polo-neck under the shift dress, adding warmth while keeping the outline sharp.
Thankfully, many of this season's shapes are also deeply feminine. Take, for instance, the just-below-the-knee skirt which – praise be to the Gods, from women over 30 everywhere – has replaced the mini as the glamour hemline. From supple leather midi skirts at Prada and sculptural fishtail skirts at Céline, to demure prom dress shapes at Lanvin, the new skirts show off your style not your thighs. And the blazer faces stiff competition from caped shoulders and funnel necks.
This new world order, in which a dress is ranked by seams not sequins, sounds serious: this is fashion, not a geometry test. But the joy of picking a few pieces to update your silhouette is that you are then at liberty to play. That slope-shouldered coat you're thinking of buying? Nobody says you have to buy it in black or camel. You could go with panels of red and black (a London Fashion Week theme), with laundry-bag checks (given the seal of approval in Paris) or with a gorgeous bubblegum pink (the look of New York).
Whichever you choose, the silhouette will signal style at 20 paces. And the glamour will hang together far longer than any sequin ever did.
MAIN IMAGE FROM LEFT: Waisted bar jacket at Dior; Prada does the leather midi; Céline's laundry-bag checks and fishtail skirt; the apron dress at Balenciaga
The fashion sweatshirt
is a key piece in your wardrobe and a great
way to look modern.
Try this one from Kin by John Lewis, layered over a shirt – much more now than a V-neck sweater.