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Glamour and femininity rule as autumn days draw shorter

Perhaps, it's because they have far fewer opportunities to socialise now that the ladies-who-lunch circuit is greatly reduced, or maybe the heralding of a new fashion season inspires us women to dress up more. Either way, the exclusive invite-only Brown Thomas annual fashion show in aid of the ISPCC, held in the Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin, was as glamorous an affair as you're likely to see -- a throwback, albeit brief, to the good old days of conspicuous consumption and grandeur.

Everyone agreed, it was a lesson in good style and grooming. Well-known faces adding to the glamour quotient included Annette Rocha, Celia Holman Lee, Clodagh Hopkins, Jane Given, Yvonne Keating and Morah Ryan.

Chief executive of ISPCC Ashley Balbirnie joked on stage ahead of the show that he was aware he was standing between 300 women, a fashion show and their lunch and that for that reason "had all the attraction of a road block". Consequently, his speech was brief, but long enough to honour the ISPCC volunteers and highlight the extraordinary work the charity does to prevent cruelty to children.

Despite what she describes as a "tough" spring/summer season, Brown Thomas' fashion director Shelly Corkery is positive about the forthcoming season. With customers more inclined to spend money on clothes in the colder months because they are seen as investment items, the buying team have worked hard to ensure that they get it right for autumn/winter.

"There is so much glamour," said Shelly, talking me through the international collections before the show. "I love that midi-length for women. It's a more covered-up, grown-up season. It definitely has an edge of femininity to it. Even though femininity has been around the past few seasons, I think it's more obvious this season. It's about longer sleeves and higher necklines. The fabrics are very beautiful too -- lots of pure silks and wools."

It is a season rich in diversity, with trends ranging from fetish to Forties. There is more colour than one would expect for A/W -- particularly red in every permutation and rich jewel tones. Prints are a commanding presence for A/W too, with spots, stars and checks replacing stripes and tropical as the preferred aesthetic.

With outwear very important this season, BT's fashion director insists that it's a really good season to buy a coat. Every international designer had something different to offer -- from military (Alexander McQueen), sheepskin (Miu Miu), check (Celine), cape (Lanvin) and oversized (Stella McCartney). In terms of labels, Roksanda Ilincic was a definite favourite among the crowd, helped somewhat by MC for the afternoon Donna Air, who looked resplendent in a red wool crepe one-shouldered dress. Meanwhile, Victoria Beckham's dresses continue to garner adoring glances, and sometimes don't even make it to BT's shop rails because they've been snapped up in customer pre-sales.

New labels to Brown Thomas this season include the much-anticipated womenswear collection from Tom Ford, which seemed to have been met with mixed reviews from the attendees. Kate Middleton's favourite label Issa is also new to Level One of Brown Thomas. While, on Level Two, The Kooples, Zadig et Voltaire and Raoul have given the floor a real injection. In fact, it seems that BT's buyers have a much clearer focus and the lines are no longer blurred between the international designer floor, young contemporary and BT2. Each has a very distinct and different identity.

While Brown Thomas may be a little light on Irish designers (Louise Kennedy on Level 1, Mary Grant on Level 2, Pauric Sweeney and Sian Jacobs in accessories), they are currently celebrating the Year of Craft by temporarily housing some of Ireland's finest bright young design talents across a range of categories -- fashion, jewellery, accessories. The chosen designers are stationed on the third floor until September 18. Explaining, an excited Shelly said: "We worked really hard with Eddie Shanahan to see who is out there. We travel so much, we're away a lot and to be honest, nobody knocks on our door, so it's important that people know that they can come and see us. We put three days aside and literally saw 50 of the up-and-coming young designers. What we chose, and we will do it again next season, were new and innovative people. We have eight jewellers, Lucy Downes in ready-to-wear, Heidi Higgins also women's wear, Mark Burke in hats, who is an incredibly clever designer. And Una Burke, with her leather and cuffs and bustiers."

Shelly believes that if a designer delivers, it could foster a continued relationship with Brown Thomas. "We want to see what the reaction is from a retail point of view. It's a great opportunity for them to have a showcase on Grafton Street in a department store alongside some of the biggest heavyweights in the world. I hope that we will find designers from it."

The Irish designers' pop-up expo, coupled with BT's strong international label representations, makes this an especially great time to revisit the store and update your fashion knowledge.

Sunday Indo Living