I just went to Italy and it seem­ed like every other woman was wearing one of those metallic, long, pleated skirts. I remem­ber Gucci had some. Do they all shop at such posh bou­tiques there? Is it some sort of national discount that keeps them looking so stylish or do they have a source I need to know about?
For Pleats Sake, Happy Valley

The Dictator rules: Hmm, isn’t that metallic, pleated midi trend from spring-summer 2016 look­ing a little dull already? Well, apparently, a few of us are in on their secret. Are you ready for it? Fashion is cannibalistic. No, not in a flesh-eating zombie sort of way. Brands feed off each other, especially from the bottom up.

There are not-so-secret stores that specialise in reproducing catwalk must-haves at a fraction of the cost, and situated in prominent retail spaces in Hong Kong. One you really should get to know is H&M, where you could pick up a silver pleated skirt for only HK$299. Gucci’s comes in iridescent green lurex and silver leather (HK$13,200 and up). And, of course, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Stella McCartney, Loewe, etc, have created variations on the theme.

You should also make Zara your best friend; it’s got them galore, from metallic pastels to various shades of silver in plissé or accordion pleats (HK$189 to HK$499). The street stylers you spied could just as easily have been wearing low-priced iterations by Topshop, Forever 21, Asos; the list goes on.

But you don’t have to go to extremes. Between lunch money and rent, there are fashion brands you should be able to afford. Vivienne Tam has made her sparkly lamé pleated skirts in solid black or deep red (HK$2,200) and Alice & Olivia makes a dark grey metallic maxi skirt in a silk blend (HK$4,790).

Is charcoal skincare still a thing? I just saw an ad for a new product that is all black! How on earth is that supposed to leave my skin clean?
Black to Nature, Tsim Sha Tsui

The Dictator: The last time I checked, charcoal was still a thing, as in one of the trillions of inanimate objects on Earth. Charcoal is a hard black material composed mostly of carbon and made by burning wood, petroleum, coconut shell or peat, etc. What you’re after, or should be, is activated charcoal, produced specifically to make it more porous for medicinal treatments of flatulence, high cholesterol, poisoning and even a hangover. It’s supposed to be great for dental care, too.

Stop rolling your eyes. I know by “thing” you mean a trendy, exciting, novel ingredient. It continues to be used in skincare, especially for oily and combi­nation skin types. Clinique’s Pore Refining Solutions Charcoal Mask (HK$250) is still a popular one. Amid the colour­ful, pungent displays at Lush, there are a few dark charcoal treatments, too, such as: Coalface facial soap (HK$99), Dark Angels fresh cleanser (HK$110) and The Guv’ner deodorant powder (HK$105).

Beauty junkies will know about the variety of black konjac root sponges, such as Sephora’s Face Konjac Purifying Sponge with bamboo charcoal extract (HK$72). Skincare expert Erno Laszlo uses char­coal, too, including in his Sea Mud Deep Cleansing Bar (HK$300). At Watsons, you’ll also find affordable skin and dental-care products made with it. For example, Sukin uses charcoal in its oil-balancing range (HK$169 to HK$199). Interestingly, many are branded for men, such as the Men’s Biore Charcoal Series of facial foams (HK$62.90 each).

Got a question for the Dictator? Email her with your name, or alias, and address at: dictator@scmp.com