This year allegedly has been the British high street's annus horribilis. Take Marks & Spencer. The fashion press has set upon Auntie like a pack of rabid dogs. What does Style Police have to say to the harbingers of doom? Begone, because 1999 has been a stellar year for the British high street. Who gives a rat's arse if a few fat cats haven't earned their Christmas bonuses? Hip kitties have had a ball with this year's colours, shapes and prize-fighting trends.
We've taken a tip from the British Fashion Council and decided to hand out the odd gong to our fashion favourites. We're going to get up close and personal with the maestros behind what can only be described as a symphonic two seasons. So ladies and gentlemen, be upstanding for Style Police's very own 1999 Shopping Awards.
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QUEEN OF THE HIGH STREET
Karen Millen rules the street in 1999. She made sense out of autumn/winter by boldly going with colour, wild animal print and luxe leathers. Millen ruthlessly edited the ugliness out of bohemian and took her fabulous embroideries from summer pretty to winter disco glam. The secret of her success is Karen's eye for trendspotting plus MD Kevin Stanford's genius with the store concept and presentation. The new Knightsbridge Karen Millen is up there with Issey Miyake and earns 10 out of 10 for minimal chic.
"Our girls are looking for glamour and they know they can find it in Karen Millen," says Millen. "The design is instinctive but I listen to my customer. I study weekly reports from all the shops that tell me what's working. This season has been demanding. The girls want luxury. We have factories in the Far East hand-stitching embroidered finishes which could take up to a day to produce. They sell for pounds 90."
Whereas a store like Kookai rips off the catwalk seam for seam, Millen works in a parallel time zone with the catwalk designers. "Colour has exploded this season and we've been pushing it 100 per cent," says Millen. "You've got to be brave and trust your instincts. I wouldn't have launched the shoe collection this season if I wasn't prepared to go for it."
Millen's olive green patent pumps trimmed with fuschia leather and her hot orange heels are genuinely up there with Prada on the trend thermometer. Ultimately Karen Millen is Queen because she delivers delectable new booty every week and hers is the best quality on the street this season.
CHEAP CHIC STORE
Style Police was about to lift our fatwah on Gap because their "Khakis a Go-Go" TV ad had us shimmying round the lounge like one of the Supremes. But once you actually see clothes on rails they have as much appeal as stale Christmas pud. H&M trounces Gap anyway for the Best Ad award. Who but H&M could persuade Johnny Depp, Patricia Arquette, Milla Jovovich, Salma Hayek, Steve Buscemi and Amber Valletta to model high street? H&M corral better photographers than Marie Claire: Terry Richardson, Michael Jansson and Mario Testino.
H&M is faster than a speeding bullet delivering seasonal musts to the stores 24-7. We're talking 300 million garments a year with new stock delivered every day of the year. You have to grapple and claw to bag essentials like this season's bead tweed A-line skirt or neon yellow stretch shell top for men. H&M is your fashion smash and grab. Pretend you're Meg Mathews and buy 10 pieces for an average pounds 20 a pop.
H&M is a winner because it is dirt cheap, fashion forward and in the zone with fabric technology. H&M's code of conduct is eco- friendly and on message for Y2K. They recycle, don't use sweatshop labour and won't use models who are "unhealthily thin or who look unhealthy". So you can splash the cash daily at H&M and massage your social conscience at the same time. And you know what? H&M knows how to make fashion a sly little giggle rather than a condescending sneer.
DESIGNER STUFF FOR CHEAP
Designing for the high street was viewed as a guest pass to the elephant's graveyard for faded fashion names. To be fair, Jasper Conran, Ben de Lisi and Pearce Fionda worked miracles for Debenhams. But you still have to fight through racks of dodgy German labels before you can find hidden gems. Top Shop not only bagged uber- conceptualist Hussein Chalayan and funky chick Tracey Boyd to launch new label TS Design, but they also created an oasis of calm in each Top Shop to show off their new baby.
This year Sherald Lamden, Clements Ribeiro and Marcus Lupfer joined the posse. "Britain produces the most brilliant designers who aren't necessarily interested in commerciality," says TS brand director Jane Shepherdson. "We wanted to tap this talent and support our young designers while introducing them to a new audience. We've seen TS design skyrocket."
Top Shop designers don't compromise. You'll find a seminal Chalayan paper dress for pounds 45, Lupfer's olive leather A-line dress for pounds 110 and Lamden's denim crop pants for pounds 50. Style Police loves Top Shop because it takes you back to teenage when fashion was fun. "The Top Shop girl will want to hang out in the store. Shopping is her hobby and we have to make the space work for her," says Shepherdson. "She can send an email, surf the net, lounge in the coffee bar or play a Sega game. We want the changing rooms to be like Top Shop girl's bedroom. She wants to have a giggle and she wants something sparkly and new every weekend." Don't we all, dear.