I concede that the idea of splurging on suede and leather for spring and summer feels distinctly counter intuitive. Both fabrics seem to fit into a winter wardrobe far more appropriately than into a summer one.
And yet since a slew of designers made skin a key element of their spring 2010 collections - notably 3.1 Philip Lim with his cropped, half-sleeve shirts, scoop-neck vests, buttersoft, wrapover dresses and sculptural mini-dresses, and Celine, with her curvy, waffle leather jacket and body-skimming coat, mini skirts, vests and dresses - suede and leather has been elevated to hottest fabric for spring/summer 2011.
With its faintly hippie-chic feel - especially when fringed, as it was at Mulberry, French Connection and Ashish - it also feeds into the 1970s vibe, which is another of the huge trends for spring.
Savvy JC readers, of course, know that "hot" in this context doesn't relate to heating properties of suede or leather. In fact, as totally natural materials with lots of breathability, leather and suede are actually unexpectedly cool and comfortable to wear in warm weather, especially when unlined, which they mostly are for spring and summer.
Another factor to make us swoon with delight, are the stunning colours in which leather and suede have arrived in the shops for spring. There are sublimely flattering, low-key naturals like sand, latté, nude and camel, or vibrant, deeply non-natural shades like electric blue and sizzling fuchsia which catch the colour-pop vibe. And of course there are the deliciously sensuous, tactile qualities of skin, which make it so appealing to wear at any time of the year. The slight downside is the fact that skin will, rather irritatingly, "seat" with wear. So don't wear it for work unless you can access your keyboard standing up, and be prepared to stay sober and full-of-energy all summer as there'll be no sitting at parties for suede wearers.
Not unexpectedly, the quality and origin of the skin will determine how a suede or leather garment feels to the touch and how long it will retain its gorgeous looks. Lamb, sheep and chamois skin are all soft, supple and lightweight, making them the most desirable skins. We all know, of course, that a high street leather vest top or dress - however fabulously styled - will not feel as soft and sensuous, or last as long as a suede dress by Balenciaga. But then again, since there is a price differential of, roughly, the GNP of a small Caribbean island, your expectations are probably lower with the high street garment. And, in any case, however much we all say we want "investment" pieces, a suede vest or leather dress is probably the kind of one-season-wonder item we are prepared to make an exception for.
Wallis, which did last summer's most desirable leather top, seems to have skipped the skin trend this year, but the rest of the high street has plenty to offer: Warehouse has a particularly desirable, slouchy, Celin-esque tunic dress; M&S has a stunning nude-colour leather shift with laser cut-outs, and Ted Baker has a brilliant shift in nude with hem to neck zips.
There are good leather shorts at French Connection, which has a well-cut, black pair long enough to avoid that unwelcome lederhosen vibe, and at Topshop, which has good shorts at around £65, as well as a covetable short-sleeve leather T-shirt that punches well above its £45 price-tag.