Zara turns 44 this year but there’s nothing middle-aged about the Spanish fashion brand worn by Spain’s Queen Letizia, Britain’s Duchess of Cambridge, and the girl and boy next door – even if this summer’s base colour is beige, writes Belinda Beckett

If you loved the Sahara look in Sex in the City 2 you’ll be spending summer dashing into Zara to see if the latest must-have jellaba has arrived. Berber hoodies, floaty kaftans, exotic Moorish turbans and Atlas Mountain slippers ‘inspired by the Moroccan desert’ (beige basically) are one of this season’s hottest ‘looks’. The campaign photo shoot in the Sahara features a quintet of supermodels posed atop sand dunes just like the ones Carrie & Co skimmed down in their stilettos for the 2009 fashion chick flick, also filmed in Morocco although the story was set in Abu Dhabi.

But if you’re not wowed by nomadic numbers, there’s more in store: the Floral Collection (think Cordoba Patio Festival), Polka Dot (very Spanish feria), SRPLS (Army Surplus gets sexy) and Denim on Denim (‘double-denim-ing’ is no longer a fashion faux pas). Zara doesn’t stick to boring seasonal collections. It delivers up to 20 throughout the year in a drip feed of bijou batches, creating an air of exclusivity and cutting down on rebajas, as they often sell out. No design stays on the shop floor for more than a month to encourage Zara fans to make repeat visits and they do – 17 times a year, compared to the average three visits for other fashion stores.

Zara has been firing up fashionistas since 1975 – the year Franco died – when a tailor’s delivery boy opened a tiny shop in A Coruña, Galicia, beating heart of the Spanish rag trade. It became the flagship brand of Inditex, the world’s largest fashion retailer, and made founder Amancio Ortega the world’s seventh richest man, one place behind Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. The diverse label stable of eight brands and 7,500 stores includes upscale Massimo Dutti, Pull and Bear casuals, youth-oriented Bershka, trend-setting Stradivarius, Oysho (lingerie), Uterqüe (accessories), Zara Home (furnishings) and Zara Kids.

Now 83, retired and enjoying the fruits of his $63 billion fortune with his second wife and three children, Ortega, the ‘father of fast fashion’, brought the ‘haute couture look’ to the high street at the speed of a Lightening zipper and a decimal point of the price.

By keeping most of production in-house and manufacturing local (Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Turkey, far closer to warehouses and distribution centres than Asia), Ortega slashed design-to-store time from six months to four weeks. His streamlined set-up allows Zara to interpret a trend faster than Coco Chanel could cut out a dress pattern and get it to the store while the fashion house is still showing the collection.

Zara takes much of its ‘inspiration’ from the catwalks. Last year its look-alike version of Hermes’ tan leather sandals (€29,99 v €480) resulted in a sales stampede and enough buzz to bring them back for an encore this season. While some designers are not happy about Zara’s ‘imitative fashion’, even Louis Vuitton director Daniel Piette had to admit that Zara was ‘possibly the most innovative and devastating retailer in the world’.

At The Cube, as employees call their futuristic A Coruña HQ in northern Spain, sales are tracked by computer – those clunky security tags on the clothes contain data. If a design doesn’t sell like hot cakes, it’s instantly withdrawn and reworked or replaced. One room in this nerve centre emulates a shopping street with dummy store fronts where designers create the window displays for everywhere from New York’s Fifth Avenue to London’s Regent Street.

Zara’s stores have always been its billboards and it’s still opening them around the world but, like other retailers, it’s also renting a huge chunk of cyberspace. This year Zara zealots in 202 countries will be able to shop online. It’s also facing down the much-hyped ‘death of the high street’ with point-of-sale attractions in its top-selling stores. In some you can try out augmented reality, with an app allowing you to see real models wearing the clothes on the rails; in others you can have your jean jacket personalised with up to eleven words embroidered on the back in a choice of colours (providing they’re not among the 1,000 on its ‘banned-as-offensive’ list).

Be careful what you choose and where you wear it. Melania Trump will, after she was photographed visiting a centre for migrant children in Texas last year sporting a Zara coat emblazoned with the words: ‘I really don’t care, do U?’ Whatever Zara Look you pick out from the rails this summer, you’ll be bang up-to-date wearing the brand that unites diverse cultures and generations from Rome to Rio through the common bond of fashion.

Fashion Conquistador

5 things you may not know about Amancio Ortega

He keeps a low profile. He has only granted a handful of interviews and no photograph of him had ever been published until 1999, when he was forced to ‘say cheese’ for the stock market floatation.

He never wore a tie to work.

His signature office wear was a blue jacket, white shirt and grey trousers and none of it came from Zara.

He called his first shop Zorba after the classic film Zorba the Greek, until he discovered a bar two streets away with the same name.

As he couldn’t afford a new shop sign, he rearranged the moulded letters into Zara.

Work was his education. He picked up his first pay cheque at 13 and said, “Mi universidad es mi profesión.”

He donated €300 million euros to equip 440 public hospitals across Spain with state-of-the-art cancer-detecting machines.

Zara by Numbers

2,220 stores in 96 countries, including unlikely places like Albania, Ethiopia and El Salvador.

17 – the average number of times a customer visits a Zara store.

12,000 product designs launched every year, including men’s and children’s fashion, shoes, cosmetics, perfumes and accessories.

85% of Zara fashions sell for their full price against an industry average of 65%.

16-18 UK size equivalents for the Zara range (XXS-XXL) although you’ll be lucky to find anything in either extreme of the size scale hanging on a rail.

€3.4 billion profit was raked in by Inditex last year (although it was well down on forecasts).