Thursday, October 29, 2009

'Every designer worth talking about now is a woman'

Girl power: (from left) Joanna Sykes for Freda at Matches; E+J; Mint Velvet and Celine pre-collection by Phoebe Philo.

You come back from the collections with a head full of froth and confusion, but when the dust settles, you need to ask yourself: “What actually matters?” Now I come to write a list of the things I rate, it hits me. Just about every designer worth talking about now is a woman.

Phoebe Philo’s acclaimed debut at Celine and the clamour around Isabel Marant’s show were the things that got women talking in Paris. In New York, Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte carried off the title of Womenswear Designers of the Year. And London’s new talent wave is overwhelmingly female: Mary Katrantzou, Joanna Sykes, Holly Fulton, Louise Gray, Natascha Stolle and Hannah Marshall.

Aside from the catwalk, women with style and experience are stepping forward with wardrobe solutions that make complete sense. This week, Mint Velvet, founded by three women who picked themselves out of the ashes of Principles, enters House of Fraser Westfield, in London, after a national roll-out that’s triggering a great reaction. In Paris, the British stylist-turned-designer Jane Cattani and her partner Emanuela Calvi have put their cashmere knitwear collection, E+J, on the web.

What they have in common is that they’re designed by people who know what they’re talking about. Women designers know business is tougher than ever, but they know what that means from the inside, as well as from reading the balance sheets. We’re spending less – but we’re far more demanding. At the same time, there is a general heartfelt moan that, even with money to burn, it’s near impossible to find anything to spend it on.

This is the opportunity women designers see, which most high-street brands and luxury labels are blind to. At this point of the recession, where cheap throwaway fashion seems like a waste of money, these women are offering delightful clothes honed for the long haul. They’re the ones to put money on now.


Phoebe Philo’s re-entry into fashion has been greeted with an almost audible sigh of relief. Her debut at Celine is an endorsement of a calm, grown-up dressing, powerful enough to shift the general fashion aesthetic on to a new course. After a four-year maternity break, Philo has had time to gain clarity about what’s missing from fashion: solid tailoring, fantastic coats, well-cut trousers, a way of no-fuss dressing that exudes dignified good taste, and makes a woman feel sorted and sexy with it.

The fact that Philo is designing for Celine, part of the LVMH group, puts prices in the luxury bracket, but it is a definition of “luxury” that emphasises the long-lasting value of a garment.

Mint Velvet

The team behind Mint Velvet is the second group of female executives (after Jane Shepherdson’s migration to Whistles) to split off from a high-street conglomerate to work on a smaller scale – in this case, to design an accessible range with the mantra “relaxed glamour”.

Every item is tried on by the team; they’ve spent time assembling tops and dresses that can be layered under leather jackets, and lavished design nous on something as simple as an oversized batwing poloneck sweater (£75) with a satin back that also performs as an elegant tunic. And all this at reasonable high-street prices. Mint Velvet is available at selected House of Fraser stores, 0844 800 3731,


The sight of Jane Cattani, a British ex-model in her fifties, nipping around the Paris shows on her bike or careering off to a cocktail party in her mini is a head-turner. Her personal style - a system of dressing in her favourite knits, spiced up with sexy belts, heels and the occasional blazer - is honed to Parisian standards of economically chosen chic, made practical by a sensible streak of Englishness.

After working as a PR at Sonia Rykiel and Dior, Cattani decided to put her knitwear know-how to use. With her Italian friend Emanuela Calvi, she created E+J, a small collection of luxury cashmere that combines in multiple variations for working, travelling and dinner dressing. See


Joanna Sykes is on a mission to design for women of all ages. During London Fashion Week, she cast the elegant octogenarian Daphne Selfe alongside models from their fifties through to twenties, for her debut presentation, and sat back beaming when fashion editors started discussing the silk, satin, drapey and tailored clothes with the women who were wearing them. A champion of minimalism – the drape and tiny details like sheer inserts in seams make the subtly sexy differences –she looks fabulous slouching around in a supple leather jacket over a silk shorts suit. Sykes’s collection has been snapped up by Matches, and she is designing their in-house Freda label. Sykes and Freda are available at Matches, 020 7221 0255.


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  2. Hi! I found information about Talent migration on the website of a company called Ascentador

  3. hello , your blog is so beautiful , I love your outfit in chictopia , so amazing!!!