Hide and chic

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 August, 2007, 12:00am

As the latest autumn-winter merchandise trickles into Hong Kong's stores, it's time to think about updating your wardrobe with smart pieces that will last you until February. Gone is spring's futuristic fembot. In its place is a strong, stylish woman.

'It's all about fashion armour this season - literally,' says Lane Crawford fashion director Sarah Rutson Pang. 'Well-cut silhouettes, defined shapes and detailing such as studs.'

Designers' autumn looks use sumptuous materials, contrasting textures, heavy-duty details and accessories with a subtle hint of S&M. Colours range from black- on-black to bold Bauhaus shades such as fuchsia, red, green and blue. Spring's frills and feminine details are replaced by military and prep-school chic, with jackets and blazers returning to the spotlight.

Another inspiration is the sophisticated, sharp tailoring of 1940s screen sirens.

Now isn't the time to fade into the background: leather is a must-have. Patent, embossed and even synthetic leather features in accessories, as well as in jackets, skirts, dresses and trousers at Burberry Prorsum, Fendi, Gucci and Hermes, where biker chic has been given the luxe treatment. The trick is to choose a piece with appropriate details such as metal zips and buckles, but on a shape that's still elegant such as a pencil skirt or fitted jacket.

Some designers have taken the equestrian route by pairing a leather bomber jacket with jodhpurs - another big hit for the season - and riding boots, as seen at Gucci. For a youthful take on the trend, Christopher Kane has created a range of intricately detailed leather mini-dresses inspired by medieval doublets.

A few words of advice: To avoid looking like a fashion victim, leave the head-to-toe ensemble at home and pick a single statement piece to cement your outfit. Pair it with a contrasting fabric such as a smooth cashmere knit or woolly sweater.

If the tough look isn't for you, go retro and opt for the refined glamour of the 40s, as seen at Christian Dior, Valentino and Calvin Klein, whose models wore tailored skirt suits cinched at the waist. The mid- length skirt is an essential item this autumn, but the petite can get away with knee-length styles for a more flattering look. A less demure option is English country chic of the same era, with tweeds cut into wide-legged trousers or menswear-inspired suits with matching waistcoats and blazers, as seen at Miu Miu, Chanel and Paul Smith. Take cues from Stefano Pilati at Yves Saint Laurent who transformed menswear-inspired wool blazers into mini-dresses by pairing them with black tights.

For the evening, women will be glammed up in high-waisted, column gowns with draped or embellished shoulders. Materials such as satin, jersey and velvet are good options because they flatter and elongate the body. Choose evening metallics such as pewter, bronze, green and even orange, as seen at Louis Vuitton. Complete the look with Veronica Lake waves and bold red lips, if you dare.

Although some designers have looked to the past, others such as Stella McCartney, Paulo Melim Andersson for Chloe and Miuccia Prada have used new technology and materials. PVC, faux fur and plastic are among the more popular choices. Prada at Miu Miu designed stiff wool skirts with unusual plastic slips underneath. At Prada, she used treated or boiled wool and synthetic fur. McCartney's shaved carpet coats were a winner among editors.

For something sexier, Hussein Chalayan paired a stark black wool coat with slick PVC stockings a la Kate Moss. The less daring might prefer a PVC handbag or clutch, or a blouson PVC top matched with a sturdier fabric such as wool or denim.

Black dominated the autumn runways, but was given depth with different textures and laminated fabrics. That said, designers such as Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga added some much-needed colour to the mixture with his urban ethnic tribal prints that were modern and current. You can take your cues from Lanvin, Jil Sander and Versace and opt for blocks of colours on simple cut dresses and coats. Mixing too many colours is a no-no, unless it's subtle, along the lines of Jonathan Saunders' sleek black jersey pieces detailed with colour blocks.

In accessories, tights replace last season's ubiquitous leggings and can be worn under dresses, tunics and skirts. Anything made from patent leather is good, so look for ankle boots (lace-up Oxfords are de rigueur), pumps, handbags and belts in the shiny material. Choose brightly coloured accessories such as Lanvin's fuchsia platforms or red patent handbag. Waist-cinching corset belts and platform heels are all the rage.

The most popular shape for handbags this season is the structured, granny-inspired purse with a solid frame. Look for options in exotic skins or soft calfskin. Brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel have embossed crocodile scales on their bags.

And to finish off your woman warrior look? Chain-mail, breast-plates (leather and metal) and heavy belts crated with jewels, studs or metal plates. These are statement pieces best worn with simple clothing.