When I lived in the so-called Golden Triangle south of Manchester in the 70s, it was a lot easier to shop for frocks. There was plenty of enviable merchandise then as now, but it was a lot more obvious where to find than it is for shoppers today.
We Cheshire-dwellers had a smart department store and a couple of good boutiques on our doorstep in Wilmslow, there were a couple of options in Hale and Altrincham, and if we wanted more choice we'd head for the city. There we'd comb the area around St. Ann's Square and Deansgate, where Kendal Milne was literally Manchester's Harrods - the two stores were in the same ownership.
Today, Wilmslow still has some great shops, notably Hoopers, the boutiquey department store which showcases top designers. But the city centre has changed beyond recognition. So many more boutiques, so many more international designer stores, so many more "quarters", as the city planners would have us call the many emerging neighbourhoods.
Vivienne Westwood, Burberry, DKNY and Louis Vuitton have joined Hermès in opening shops, while Harvey Nichols - which underpins magnificent New Cathedral Street, risen from the ashes of the bombed Arndale Centre - has brought Prada and other top names to the city. A new Emporio Armani is set to open on Deansgate later this year, and Selfridges reigns twice - in the shiny new shopping district known as the Millennium Quarter and in the Trafford Centre, Manchester's answer to Brent Cross.
WAGs have played a part in creating an incentive for big brands to take the city seriously, but Manchester's non-WAGs are no slouches and, predictably, their desire for beautiful clothing has kept a coterie of boutiques flourishing for several decades.
Footballers' wives are said to be among the clientele at Angela Beer in Bramhall and Tuula in Alderley Edge, and it would be surprising if a few had not discovered Adi Va in Hale, a village where, until recently, Vicki Allen had local fashionistas to herself.
Israeli Adi Joseph has burst on to the Ashley Road scene with her ritzy shop, where labels are mainly from Italy, France and the USA. She stocks designer jeans from brands like True Religion, Hudson, Goldsign, Citizens of Humanity and JBrand, along with pieces from Ed Hardy, Siwy and Goat, and jewellery by Lucas Jack, soon to be joined by Valentino Red, the Valentino diffusion range. Signature pieces include sumptuous hand-beaded silk chiffon tops and kaftans (left) from France.
Style hounds hunting the quirky and cutting-edge take the - now effortless - journey into the city by tram to the Northern Quarter. Here, the alluring, highly original shops include Rags to Bitches - where Anna Friel and Corrie stars shop for vintage jewellery and bespoke evening wear with a retro feel; and A Few Fine Things, which has well-designed textile and leather handbags.
Vampire Bunnies offers witty handbags and other amusing accessories, while Affleck's Palace, a multi-storey emporium, is a treasure trove of one-off frocks and other pieces created by fashion graduates who showcase their debut retail collections here. Some of the best designer garments in the Northern Quarter are at Renegade Marmalade which, due to its location in a semi-basement, is easily missed. It is a rich repository of recherché labels selected by its Jewish owner Victoria Jackson who hated the homogeneity of the high street and wanted to offer rarer brands such as Bolongaro Trevor - the duo behind All Saints - Arrey Kono, Ann Hagen, Jovonna and Uno de 50.