Design: Fashion's coming home

You've got the designer frock, now buy the matching dustpan and brush to go with it.
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Mwah. Mwah. Must dash, darling. Just off to buy a dustpan from Margaret Howell. So this season. Are we joking? No, we're not.

The surreal circus that is fashion has come Home. Nicole Farhi opens Nicole Farhi Home today, just round the corner from her flagship clothes store; Joseph has a furniture collection; you can buy Jasper Conran bedlinen at Debenhams; Betty Jackson does Pieces - yes, with a capital P; Browns in South Molton Street has Browns Living; Margaret Howell - bless her - offers dustpans and gardening shoes. Meanwhile, Donna Karan has snapped up Ilse Crawford, former editor of EIle Decoration, to produce a whole new home collection for DKNY, and next month, in John Rocha's new store in Sloane Avenue, you will be able to buy his Waterford glass and lights.

Fashion designers like the word Home; they are tacking it on to their names with the same wild abandon as they did the word Diffusion a couple of years ago. But the question must be: Why?

"House things are important," opines Ilse Crawford, as she shrugs herself into her new unwieldy title of vice-president home products Donna Karan, "and when you think about it, where do you buy stuff for the home that's pleasurable and different?"

If words such as Habitat and Ikea spring to mind, clearly you are not a DKNY kind of person. On the retail side, Ilse can come up with plenty of reasons why Home is good for fashion: "It gives context to the clothes. Fashion leaps about so fast, it gives something to ground it." And it is also, she says, a good way of using excess fabric. "Plus it creates a picture of the person who shops in your store - after all, one pair of black trousers is not that different from another," she says blasphemously.

Of course, Ralph Lauren did the whole Home thing very successfully a decade ago. In those days, it was called "lifestyle" - a term fashion designers today are studiously avoiding, aware that style had a nasty habit of devouring life.

Lucille Lewin of Whistles is horrified at the suggestion that she might be doing the Home Fashion thing. True, there are a few white plates from Tse Tse and some candles in the St Christopher's Place shop, but this is "just a styling adjunct. I've never trumpeted it as a lifestyle thing. In fact, lifestyle makes me giggle, the way everyone is jumping on the bandwagon."

Lewin puts it down to the "Colette syndrome" - a shop in Paris that did the clothes/fashion/food fusion so perfectly that "since everyone saw it, they wanted to do it. But since I saw it, I don't want to do it. Colette did it in a pure, uncompromising way and had things you couldn't find anywhere else in the world. I feel passionately that if it is not done well, it shouldn't be done at all. Leave it to the experts."

Or at least to the people with passion. When Maureen Doherty opened Egg five years ago, she sold ceramics along with clothes and was consequently regarded as eccentric by most people, but was practically deified by retailers and designers who had long ago traded passion for big bucks. "The whole ceramic thing now is quite phenomenal," she says, revealing that two of her potters have been approached by Donna Karan and Armani. Doherty has no idea why the fashion world is fixated on Home, particularly as her own idea of "home" is "a pair of white cotton sheets from Peter Jones - and a good iron". But she hopes it's not her fault.

Certainly you get the feeling that some shops are not totally convinced by what they are doing. Browns Living is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the novice home/fashion shopper: it is at the back of the clothes shop and, as you step down, you are followed by a sales assistant who is clearly dying to say "would you like to try it on?" when you pick up a pounds 60 slate table-mat.

Joan Hecktermann, the buyer for Nicole Farhi Home, is refreshingly irreverent about the whole business. She and several other buying powers behind the fashion names, including Ilse Crawford, started their careers on World of Interiors magazine. "But little did they know that we had never looked at price tags before - we'd just say: `Ooh, how lovely, let's photograph it.' The problem is now that everybody is chasing the same things - at trade shows, all the buyers end up on the same stand, and if you don't, you begin to question your taste." Nicole Farhi Home has got around this by mixing new finds with antiques - many of which Nicole herself sources. And she, at least, has the courage of her convictions: the home collection exists in its own right and includes large items such as leather chairs. It is not a case of "bought the coat, must have the ashtray to match". Designers will have to tread carefully over British sensibilities - their new double act requires balancing being different with not being too identifiable. In the States, it might be a mark of status to have everything from your toes to your tablecloth mortgaged to designer labels - over here, it is more likely to be interpreted as a terminal lack of imagination.

Betty Jackson at Freemans (0800-900 200); Browns, 26 South Molton Street, London W1 (0171-514 0022); Donna Karan, 19 New Bond Street, London W1 (0171-495 3100); Egg, 36 Kinnerton Street, London SW1 (0171-235 9315); Jasper Conran at selected branches of Debenhams (0171-408 4444); Joseph, 74 Sloane Avenue, London SW3 (0171-591 0808); Margaret Howell, 24 Brook Street, London W1 (0171-495 4888); Nicole Farhi Home, 17 Clifford Street, London W1 (0171-494 9051); Ralph Lauren at Harvey Nichols, London SW1 (0171-235 5000); Whistles, 12-14 St Christopher's Place, London W1 (0171- 487 4484)