For the past week, I’ve been walking around with a small fortune in my handbag. Roughly £380,000, if my calculations are correct. Certainly a long walk north of a quarter of a million.

It’s been quite a weight on my mind, I can tell you. But don’t worry, I haven’t robbed a bank. I’ve just been reading the September issue of British Vogue: 458 pages, almost 1.5kg — and a small house-worth’s of designer clobber.

The September issue of Vogue: the style maven’s autumn-winter bible. The most important edition of the most important magazine in Britain’s £30billion fashion industry.

Vogue, which can produce intelligent fashion journalism, too often dances to the tune of designers. It's like the lunatics have taken over the asylum, says SARAH VINE. (Pictured: The September issue with Emma Watson)

Because, as fashionistas are fond of telling us with that air of superiority only someone wearing next season’s must-have Chanel organza jacket (a mere snip at £33,283, see page 323) can command, fashion is about so much more than emaciated models, terracotta-tanned designers and the occasional frock.

And it’s an industry that provides the economy with around a quarter of a million jobs in retail, manufacturing, tourism and finance. 

So don’t scoff. Fashion is a serious business, which means that we, the general public, must take it seriously. 

At J. W. Anderson, a model (pictured) was swathed in iridescent turquoise with a black and yellow blouse, set off by a pair of fire engine red hooker boots. The whole thing looks flammable

Trouble is, that’s awfully hard, when — as Vogue does on page 310 of the current issue — it advocates teaming a £2,661 jacket and a £1,834 Donna Karan skirt with a £660 ‘jumper’ in the shape of an apron.

Does it, now? How many teenagers do you know who can afford to spend over five grand on a ‘stance’?

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve no problem with being told what to wear. In fact, I need it. I’ve never been good at getting dressed.

I’m probably the only woman in the world whose husband recently said, in all seriousness: ‘The trouble with you is that you don’t spend enough money on clothes.’

It’s just because, like most ordinary women, I look at the sartorial propositions being put forward by magazines such as Vogue and I think: ‘What?! £3,500 for a jacket that looks like something out of a Fifties mental asylum? I’m off to Zara.’

That particular item is on page 301, in case you think I’m making it up. Paco Rabanne, don’t you know. 

Asylum chic, left, is a £6,210 jacket from Paco Rabanne.  Worth it? Armani's £13,320 jacket (right)

On the opposite page some airy creature with frizzy hair is wearing what looks like a pair of orthopaedic lab shoes along with a misshapen jumper and a skirt that bears more than a passing resemblance to a Quality Street wrapper. 

The madness continues. There’s an ‘Eighties inspired’ fashion shoot that, as well as featuring some of the most preposterous items of clothing I’ve ever seen (vinyl shirt, anyone?) also features make-up that not even Boy George would be seen dead in. 

The word hideous doesn’t begin to do it justice: the model looks like she’s fallen asleep in my daughter’s paintbox.

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh. Perhaps the problem is not Vogue, which is a brilliantly run magazine, rather fashion itself, which presents such a stunning array of ugly, over-priced merchandise.

It’s all horribly summed up by the gloating headline ‘The return of show off fashion’ (page 337).

On the catwalk at Balmain, a dreadful cacophony. Purple. Orange. Stripes. Fringing. And the kind of gems that would make Dame Edna blush.

At J. W. Anderson, meanwhile, a model is swathed in iridescent turquoise with a black and yellow blouse, set off by a pair of fire engine red hooker boots. The whole thing looks flammable. Meanwhile, the usually tasteful and muted Celine teams ageing-barmaid animal print with white clodhoppers.

However much we might like to believe that women such as Anna Wintour (editor of American Vogue, pictured) can make or break entire careers, the reality is they’re all just part of the machine now

Indeed, in her monthly editorial letter, even Alexandra Shulman, the magazine’s brilliant and highly accomplished editor-in-chief, sounds a note of disbelief.

You have to search hard to find it, buried as it is in the middle of a three-page Versace advert featuring a bird-poo yellow trouser suit and matching handbag, but it’s there nonetheless: ‘Personally, I’m not so sure all these shouty clothes will rush off the rails.’

Stunned silence. Because in fashion-speak, that’s tantamount to saying: ‘This stuff’s hideous.’ 

And in Shulman’s world, that’s quite a brave thing to say. Heroic even. But oh, how I wish she would say it more often.

The Emperor’s New Clothes thing is a cliche, but it’s never been truer. Magazine publishing is in crisis, and the Jimmy Choo is on the other foot.

Vogue, which can produce profoundly intelligent fashion journalism, now too often dances to the tune of the designers, not the other way around. The lunatics have taken over the asylum.

To be fair to Shulman, her fashion bible isn’t the only magazine that’s lost touch with reality. And that is the heart of the matter. 

Publications like Vogue, which used to be trend-setters and taste-makers, daring and uncompromising but also with a real sense of duty towards their readers, have, in recent years, found themselves over a barrel when it comes to matters commercial.

Now the people they have to please are not the discerning public, but the multi-million-pound advertising contracts and the people behind them.

Fact is, Vogue — and in particular the September issue — is little more than a coffee-table-sized advertising billboard. 

In this edition, there are just 144 pages of alleged ‘editorial’ (in fact mostly articles about eyeliner and models) out of a thumping total of 458.

Triumphs of hype over content: Men like John Galliano (pictured left) who was recently welcomed back into the fashion fold after being convicted of anti-semitism; and Karl Lagerfeld (right) who clearly despises women

Because however much we, the public, might like to believe that women such as Anna Wintour (editor of American Vogue) can, with a simple flick of her fringe, make or break entire careers, the reality is they’re all just part of the machine now. 

Like it or not, the toxic, dysfunctional world of fashion infects all our lives. Because however absurd this stuff may seem, it does, without question, filter down to the High Street.

But the masters of this new universe are not exceptional, no matter how much they big themselves up. 

Men like John Galliano, recently welcomed back into the fashion fold after being convicted of anti-semitism; narcissists like Karl Lagerfeld, who clearly and openly despises women; terrifying harridans like Donatella Versace; out-and-out loonies like Vivienne Westwood. 

They’re all part of a self-appointed cabal that manipulates and controls the way women look and feel about themselves.

The entire edifice pivots on the principle that the more inadequate women are made to feel about themselves — physically, socially, financially — the more anxious and insecure we become and the more, therefore, we are likely to spend our hard-earned money on the remedies (handbags, shoes, jewellery, clothes) the industry offers.

And because women are naturally hung up about their appearance and what others think of them, we fall for it. 

Put simply, I don’t have a hope in hell of ever being as cool and as thin as Alexa Chung; but if I can buy the same handbag as her, then perhaps I might gain entry to the very outer perimeter circle of this glamorous, sophisticated world everyone tells me I should want to belong to.

Even Alexandra Shulman, (pictured) British Vogue's brilliant and highly accomplished editor-in-chief, sounds a note of disbelief over the clothes inside

But where the true perversion of fashion lies, where it truly abuses its commercial and intellectual power, is in creating items of such exquisite hideousness. 

Not only does it want women to worship at its feet; it wants us to do so trussed up like idiots — and charge us through the nose for the privilege. 

And like all cults, fashion doesn’t just want our money, it wants to be inside our heads, our minds, our souls. It wants us all to worship blindly at its shrine, and suffer for the privilege.

You think those monks who sit around mortifying their flesh with whips and chains are weird? I’d say spending £14,000 on a jacket (page 315) is just as nuts.

Thus the September issue doesn’t just tell us what to wear. It tells us what to eat — not very much, as it turns out: in the whole giant brick of the thing I could identify only three digestible items: a few plates of spaghetti courtesy of the Dolce & Gabbana ads; a horseradish, a handful of courgettes, a Romaine lettuce and something unspeakable in a jar (to illustrate a feature about the fashion for fermented foods) and, on page 98, a (very small) Tawainese bun.

Should you wish, Vogue will also tell you what to drink: ‘We’re swapping caffeine fixes for heady shots of kombucha,’ (a bit like ginger beer, only trendier) it says, on page 378. 

Meanwhile, on the cover we have a studiously dishevelled Emma Watson, gazing at the camera with a half-amused expression in what looks like something made out of upholstery fabric. 

Actually, it’s by Stella McCartney, another high-up member of the cult thanks to her impeccable rock-royalty connections.

Leave aside how one manages to make a girl as wholesome-looking as Watson appear as if she hasn’t brushed her hair for a week (inside, she poses legs akimbo in a £5,240 brocade dress, worn back to front, of course), and consider the vexed issue of lifestyle.

For those uncertain of the approved location in which to make their abode, Leyton and Stratford are apparently London’s most up-and-coming stylish postcodes. 

I’ve been to Leyton, and I dread to think what would happen to you there if you wandered around in a £2,000 leather and quill headdress (page 325).

And for dreary women like myself who are forever banging on about there not being any ‘real’ (aka fat) people in Vogue, well here’s an advert for plus-sized Italian brand Marina Rinaldi featuring actress Patricia Arquette (who ticks both the fat and the old box, being, as she is, a size 12 and over 40).

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But it’s left to some beautiful clothes from Giorgio Armani (sublime skirt and trouser suits, stunning in green, and jackets cut so exquisitely you could cry) and a gorgeous Diane Von Furstenberg dress to remind the reader of what fashion used to be. 

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