One step ahead

The misfits of today may be the fashion leaders of the future.

As the September issues of the magazines reach us, so with them comes news of the looks we'll be wearing in the autumn, based on what was at the shows. Black is meant to be a popular colour this year (like it ever went away for some people). As is purple. Knitwear is loose and soft, but the overall silhouette for women (because men get no such direction) is hourglass and sexy. The "big news" in footwear is, apparently, that heeled ankle boots will be on every female (and the occasional male) foot in the land.

In truth, although the designer shows of course influence what we wear, no one absolutely knows what looks will really take off. I remember a few years ago when minis were predicted to appear everywhere. So strong a fashion wave were they meant to cause that even the Vatican was said to be rethinking the hemlines on nuns' habits. But no one wore minis; everyone wore jeans instead. Or when stilettos were meant to be the order of the day, but ballet pumps took over instead. It's nice to know the general public still has a modicum of decision in how it dresses.

Some people, however, are so far ahead of fashion - as if they can tune in to some fashion wavelength far, far into the future - that the way they dress looks all wrong to begin with. Perhaps you know someone like this. I did. She eventually became a muse to one of the world's greatest designers, but when I knew her, her clothes always caused an uncomfortable shift in any room she entered, as everyone collectively thought: "What is she wearing?" I wonder how many ever thought back and realised how avant-garde she was.

When I worked at the London Evening Standard in the early 1990s, I told the then deputy fashion editor about this girl - about how, with uncanny certainty, whatever she wore would eventually come into fashion, no matter how odd it looked at the time of her wearing it. "Ooooh," the deputy fashion editor said, "what's she wearing now?" "Really odd stuff," I replied, "like Queen Mother chic, almost. All grown-up-ladywear - handbags, pussy-bow blouses, A-line pleated skirts, round-toe shoes." "Yuk," we chimed, in our totally pared-down, Martin Margiela deconstructed chic, a look farther removed from Queen Mother chic it was hard to imagine. "She's really got it wrong this time," we agreed sagely. It was about four, full years after this that our catwalks, shops and then wardrobes became full of just such clothes.

Japanese tourists often herald new looks some way ahead of time. They are a very good indicator of what is to come, sometimes only a season ahead, sometimes a year or two in the future. So, it is with some trepidation that I must report that they have been spotted three times in the past week wearing yellow, semi-sheer tights. The sort of heinous, anti-fashion colour that flatters no one. Surely, this time . . .

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 10 September 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Why Boris and London deserve each other