Jump on board the camel train
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Mid-tone camel coat with bold buttons, £100, Warehouse
Let's be clear. When every fashion page - including this one two weeks ago, and our glossy Edge - is telling you to get into camel, they/we are talking "fashion" camel, which is anything approximating to that pale toffee shade, rather than to a garment made from the fine, soft, warm and prohibitively expensive hair of an actual camel.
When it comes to the latter, the kind of investment needed to acquire a truly luxurious camel coat - or, in many cases, a cashmere coat in camel colour, which looks the part and is equally warm - requires that you and your coat be committed to an enduring relationship based on mutual trust.
For your part, that means maintaining it with regular trips to the dry cleaners, efficient moth-proofing and proper coat hangers. Its role is to make you feel unfailingly fabulous whenever you wear it. If that is the kind of investment you wish to make, there is an achingly sumptuous, ruffle trim, pure cashmere coat by Fendi at an eye-watering £2,150, and a ravishingly minimalist collarless camel cashmere by Alexander McQueen (at an equally ruinous £2,765 at Net-A-Porter).
If you are planning to wear camel - investment or "fashion" camel - the key is finding a shade of camel that will suit you. On a recce in Fenwick's last week, I counted at least a dozen tones that could be described as camel - from blonde to almost tobacco.
While the paler shades tend to suit blondes and the darker tones will suit brunettes, whether the colour has a yellow or blue undertone will determine whether it flatters or drains you. The camel conundrum will be easier if you have had your colours "done" - if you are an autumn or a spring, for instance, you will know you should pick yellow-based shades; summers and winters need the cooler, blue-based tones. And if you haven't had your colours done, why not: it is the best investment you can make in terms of ensuring that every future purchase will work for you - find an accredited consultant at www.tfic.org.uk.
The next question is whether a camel coat will make you look like your mother, the brutal answer to which is: "Quite possibly". Despite the fashionista decree that camel is deliciously on-trend, and glammy images of models with the BMI of a moth, all tumbling, glossy hair, swathed in caramel-colour wool, the reality is that what is, essentially, a beige coat with a belt round the middle may, indeed, look mumsy.
Unless you are very tall and a size 10, a belt is a Very Bad Idea. If you want a belt, choose a streamlined coat rather than one which will gather around your waist. The clever Helene Berman has pulled off the trick of updating a classic camel coat by losing the belt and adding a big, face-framing collar and oversize buttons (£169, Fenwick, W1).
Other good, unbelted camel coats are at Warehouse - a version with big, brass buttons hinting at militaria; at Reiss, whose big collar reefer coat, £189, channels the 1960s; a great version with big pockets at Banana Republic; a shapely, collarless version at Wallis; and a preppy overcoat in a treacly tone of camel (£540, Fenwick). A cape at Reiss (£195) with epaulettes and drop-dead simple cape at Zara, £99, both neatly circumvent the "belt" issue, too.
If you want to dip more tentatively into this trend, Stella McCartney has a perfect fitted asymmetric peplum camel jacket (£1,075 at Browns), as well as a more relaxed, up-turned collar jacket, (£1,135 at Net a Porter). Other stellar jackets include Isabel Marant's camel leather biker jacket (£1,520 at Net-A-Porter); Joseph's unstructured waterfall jacket in cashmere (£550, Fenwick, W1) and a pretty, Chanel-esque sequin-trim camel jacket at GIVe, £50.
Helene Berman and Reiss both have dead on-trend pencil skirts, Reiss's with buckle trim at £85; and Elie Tahari and Hobbs both have immaculately cut camel trousers - Tahari's wide-leg babies in dark, warm camel (£209, Fenwick) and Hobbs's paler and tapered (£159). Camel also turns up crafted into dresses: a stunning merino wool draped dress by Alexander McQueen, £860 at Net-A-Porter; a leather trim shift in dark camel, £319, by Elie Tahari at Fenwick, W1; and a sleek shift by Hobbs, £159.
There is knitwear in camel, too, like a shapely polo neck with long, puffy sleeves and deep cuffs at Oasis; a fine, long, lean sweater with deep V-neck at Jaeger; a ribbed merino wool cardi with bone buttons by Elie Tahari at Fenwick; and a camel and red V-neck cardi from Hobbs's NW3 collection.
And if you feel an entire garment is too much of a statement (and can too easily be dated to autumn 2010), there are some great pieces that allow you to show off your trend credentials without overdosing, like a camel leather and chain belt at Reiss; camel suede lace-ups at Banana Republic; long, camel leather gloves, £79, and a camel-and-grey jigsaw pattern knit tunic by DKNY, £149, both at Fenwick, W1; and the most definitively luxe camel accessory: a divine, double-layer stole in camel-knitted silk with a sheer overlay studded with bronze sequins, at £440 from Browns.