Fashionably Late by Olivia Goldsmith HarperCollins $278 THIS book is everything that Naomi Campbell's recent foray into publishing is not. Like Swan, the clothes business is the focus, but unlike Campbell's superficial fashion statement, Olivia Goldsmith's story of designer Karen Kahn, her company and her personal search for a place to call home, provides not only an in-depth appraisal of the world of haute couture but a scathing indictment of the way men control women through the clothing industry, rounded off by a refreshing anti-family stance for the back-to-basics 90s. Best of all, Goldsmith has dressed it up as a blockbuster and sewn it together with great humour. It can thus soft-shoe shuffle its way into the hearts and minds of fans of Danielle Steel and co, while kicking home a pertinent message about women's lives. Plain, middle-aged but talented Karen Kahn appears to have it all: a handsome husband who loves her, a career that is about to make her one of the most feted designers in the world and two wonderful homes. She can't have a baby but she's going to adopt. Despite this seemingly idyllic set-up, she has doubts. As an adopted child herself, Karen has always felt an outsider at home and like many women, despite her achievements, she still has little confidence that she alone is responsible for her worldly success and nobody else. She also has her ex-model friend Defina's warning: that unlike many men, a woman can never have a marriage, home, career and children. Only two. Sure enough, trouble rolls in at home and at work, forcing Karen to examine her goals and reassess the meaning of success and her relationships. That friendships eventually prevail over family and everyday women over the 'glamour' of high fashion neatly avoids the usual road to a happy ending (fiction-style), while providing an alternative route to satisfaction: being true to yourself. Goldsmith has a flair for pen portraits and the comic scene and takes a wicked delight in the family gatherings that always end in disaster. But she also has plenty to say about the fashion business. She explores the way women at both ends of the market - the garment workers and the purchasers buying into a dream - are exploited by the money men, and blasts the unreality of haute couture, created for a small elite and underwritten by the middle class who buy the cheaper lines spun-off from the extravagant designer shows. She also shows how fashion houses can teeter on the brink of ruin even at the height of their success in design. Then there are the models who must force themselves to be thin to be successful, the effect their thinness has on other women, and the way clothes have become a means of competing with other women, an obsession to fill lives struggling to find a purpose. Not everything works. The pace drags in the middle when the outcome of several sub-plots is telegraphed too early (though it picks up again towards the end) and the scenes related to Karen's sister's sudden feminine hygiene problem are way too close to That's Incredible. But these are minor grievances in a work which is both entertaining and enlightening. Her other books have tackled first husbands and Hollywood. Maybe 'women's fiction' next?