Style: Ready for the here and now

Not ground-breaking or scary - just great clothes. Tamsin Blanchard meets Stella McCartney
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The Independent Online
Just don't ask me about my parents." Stella McCartney is slumped over the desk in her small Westbourne Grove white-walled office. Her name hangs around her neck on a gold chain. It is three in the afternoon and she has spent the day either being interviewed or replying to requests for interviews.

The phone rings again for the umpteenth time that minute. "I'm not doing TV," she tells Phoebe, her suntanned, tattoo-backed PA who will be accompanying her on her big move to Paris, to the house of Chloe where she starts work on Monday. Stella McCartney is yet another great British export.

She asks for a can of Diet Coke, a habit she shares with Karl Lagerfeld, the all-powerful designer from whom she takes over as head designer. She has not met him, and he has been quoted as saying he thought Chloe might go for someone a little older, the implication being, with a little more experience.

The fact is, despite her tender twenty-five years, and scant eighteen months out of Central St Martins, Stella McCartney may prove to be a very clever and appropriate choice for the job. Already, she has gained more column inches for Chloe since Martine Sitbon took over as head designer in 1988.

Whether she likes it or not, her name will get the label talked about. When she shows her first collection for the house in October, the world's press will be there, not so much to see her clothes, but her family and friends sitting on the front row. And while Stella McCartney remembers her mother's pieces of Chloe in the seventies, "the first year Browns bought it" - a dressy jacket, a little silver halter neck top, a cashmere skirt - she was only just out of nappies.

She belongs to the new twenty-something generation and while Karl Lagerfeld prides himself on how up-to- date he is with MTV, Stella McCartney doesn't need to watch it - she lives it anyway. She will bring to Chloe a fresh new look, nothing ground-breaking or scary: just great clothes that she and her friends would love to wear.

She will introduce culottes in the way only someone not old enough to have worn them when they flapped their way through the seventies could. "I will make it relevant to our generation. I think there is a whole new generation of consumer. If you really want something, you'll buy it, or borrow money from your dad." Depends how many islands your dad owns, but she has a point.

The phone rings again. "No, this isn't Stella," she says and hands the phone over to Paris, her PR, a friend who was taken on so they could all "hang out together." According to Stella, life is "cool" at the moment. She was originally approached by Chloe to design another range for the house and then was asked if she thought she could design the main line.

"I haven't ever thought I wanted to be head of a house. It just sort of happened. This is the right time. I'm obviously ready for it. I have to be."

In Paris, she will have whole teams of people working for her, seamstresses, pattern cutters, embroiderers. She need no longer get up at five in the morning to scour flea markets for antique lace. At Chloe there will be the facilities to make all the lace she wants, to her exact specifications. "How cool is that?" she says.

"I can't wait to look through the archives," says Stella as Paris walks into the office carrying a magnum of champagne that has just arrived. "Bollinger! Nice!" She won't say who it's from, but it looks like it will be flowers and champagne from now on.

Before leaving for Paris on Monday, Stella has to complete production on her own label for autumn/winter, photographed here by her sister, Mary. After just three short seasons, she promises to become highly collectable.

Part of the deal with Chloe is that she will close her own label and work on Chloe exclusively. Karl Lagerfeld designed it alongside his own label, Chanel ready to wear and haute couture, as well as Fendi. "You feel like your own label is your little baby, but I'm relieved in a way. Press and buyers have been enthusiastic, but it was getting to the stage when I was going to have to start getting serious with it. Now I can do the designing and other people can have the headaches."

The first thing Stella intends to do when she arrives at Rue de Faubourg St Honore is refit her office. Her own studio has white walls and painted floorboards, an old pink velvet sofa, a seventies floor light that doubles as a fish tank, an old ornate gold and green mirror with the letter M painted on the top, and a sugar coloured glass chandelier hanging in the middle. Music blares from the stereo, from a collection of CD's that ranges from The Beastie Boys to Beethoven.

There are two rails of clothes, the collection for autumn/winter, but most of the samples are out on a shoot for British Vogue. She talks me through the collection in surprisingly plain speak for a designer. There are no hidden references, no deep and profound meanings behind the clothes.

"This is just a double-breasted suit... here's a little waistcoat... I use men's fabrics for my tailoring. This is the sort of white shirt that a man would see and think what a cool chick, what a cool shirt." The shirt is monogrammed with the initials SNM. Stella's middle name is Nina, and the monogram only adds to the impression that this is a very intimate collection designed with herself and her circle of friends in mind.

In Stella's work, there are three main elements: masculine tailoring, feminine lace and lingerie, and a side order of trash in the form of Biba- esque stripes of stretch fabric for a tight little top and high- heeled boots embroidered with the words "daisy roots", cockney rhyming slang for boots, picked up from her time working on Savile Row.

She intends to continue her own style for Chloe. The label is in major need of an overhaul. Browns, the store that has bought Chloe since it opened, dropped the line two years ago, because it was no longer relevant to the customer. In contrast, the store's new younger shop, Browns Focus, has just begun stocking Stella McCartney for spring.

Caroline Burstein of Browns is optimistic: "She'll inject some youth into Chloe, a lighter, younger, sexier touch. That's what's been lacking for a long time. One's always sceptical because she's young and inexperienced, but she's a strong person and I think she is talented. She's got a lot to prove. She's a now person. I'm sure Chloe haven't done this lightly, and not just because she has famous parents. Hopefully we will be able to buy the label again." Meanwhile, Stella is draining the last drop of her magnum of Bolli and steps into her new daisy roots on Monday morning.

Stella McCartney's Autumn/ Winter '97 collection (shown above) will be available from September. The Spring collection is currently on sale at Browns Focus, South Molton St, London S1. Tokio, 309 Brompton Rd, London SW3.