A ration on fashion

Life&style Ostentatious spending is out and key "investment" pieces are in, but this doesn't take the fun out of fashion, in fact, quite the opposite.

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In a time when our belts need tightening (metaphorically of course), ostentatious spending is out and key 'investment' pieces are in. Tracy Nesdoly talks to the industry experts and finds out that this doesn't take the fun out of fashion, in fact, quite the opposite. These days, it goes without saying that an over-the-top show of extravagance is passé. Even the super-rich are tightening their belts and buying fewer luxury goods in order to conserve cash. "Affluent shoppers are showing a new frugality that may well become a habit once this recession ends," says Pam Danziger, president of the American marketing company Unity.

"It is the end of ostentatious spending and flashing designer labels," agrees Katrin Magnussen, a fashion analyst at the market research group Mintel. The usual advice in times of trouble is to buy carefully. It's not so much about spending less money, we are told, but spending on fewer things. One extraordinary jacket is better than the equivalent spent on a full wardrobe at Banana Republic etc, etc. But this buying stratagem implies that we should confine ourselves to the stately and safe.

In fact, the good news for the avid fashionista is that the real "investment" pieces are the clothes she thought she wouldn't be buying in the credit crunch. For it is the super-trendy names that will stand the test of time. Picking the right pieces is counter-intuitive, according to Kerry Taylor of Kerry Taylor Auctions, a London company that sells vintage clothing and manages fashion sales for Sotheby's. Instead of playing it safe, she suggests that the more outrageous or "unwearable" designers of today are the ones worth putting your money on.

"Whenever you have innovation, wherever you see great skill and understanding of fabric, whenever you see a designer who affects how the high street looks - that is one who will become memorable and therefore collectable," she says. While she generally auctions only the truly great names - Yves St Laurent or Cristóbal Balenciaga - her last sale included more modern designers: "We had a wonderful Galliano, a coat from his 2002 Russian collection that was truly extraordinary."

While Taylor prefers the old masters, if she were to invest in today's designers, she would consider Jean Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen or Comme des Garçons. "All these designers have a strong point of view, an identifiable personality." Of current or emerging designers Taylor likes Roland Mouret, whose siren dresses are so architecturally constructed they can almost stand up on their own. "I think his pieces will become collectable. The construction is so good. These pieces are extremely well cut and make a woman look incredibly feminine."

What will not stand the test of time, she says, is anything "boring". Here she consigns Georgio Armani and Ralph Lauren to the same heap as you might throw your Topshop tat. "Just too dull, and that does not last. Tasteful and elegant won't do it." And, she makes the interesting point that these are the clothes on which subtle changes in fashion have the biggest impact. For example, what was once the perfect trench will look dated in a few years, because the sleeves will be too wide or narrow, or some change in today's volume or length will make it look what it is - something you've had for 20 years. The lasting pieces are anything that has changed the way we all look at clothing, or simply so special it warrants wearing forever.

"I don't buy new clothes. I think they are just poor value for money. High-end ready-to-wear from, say, Paul Smith simply doesn't have the quality of fabric or workmanship to warrant the price. Go for someone who understands construction like a Galliano or McQueen." When the author and former fashion writer Holly Brubach launched her first collection of jewellery as creative director for the US-based retailer Birks & Mayors in 2003, she wore a smart suit with a double breasted black jacket that did all a great jacket should: it was nipped in where nipping in should be and smoothed over everywhere else. It was sharp-shouldered and perfect. And, it was about 25 years old: an Yves St. Laurent from the 1980s, purchased when Brubach was starting out at Vogue.

She may have spent her rent on it, but it was worth it. That's the kind of story fashion dreams are made of, and that's where the bar is now.

As art collectors and estate agents always say, buy what you love and hope for the best. Investing in anything creative or emotional is hazardous. That said, there are trends that prove eternal, and the best designers are a good bet, if not a sure thing. You can't really go wrong choosing the best of the following looks?