Liza Bruce (above) wouldn't have been so upset about the alleged infringement of her copyright if she had been consulted by M&S. At least then she would be paid for her services.

A number of designers who run their own labels are increasingly being asked to bring their expertise to existing clothing ranges. This involves what is called a consultancy, when a designer oversees an entire collection from conception to shopfloor, tweaking details, advising on colour and silhouette, and generally giving extra input to the designers employed by the big stores.

Marks & Spencer directly employed Paul Smith, (who no longer works for it), and Betty Jackson as consultants, but a number of other designers are also consulting for the company indirectly. The young womenswear design duo Barbara Sonnentag and Tracey Mulligan have been working with Sterling Group, which supplies M&S, since last October. "It's helpful to see things on a more commercial level," Sonnentag says. "Thequality of the fabric and design in our own collection, and the one we advise on don't overlap at all, and we always keep our best ideas for ourselves." Other designers who have worked with M&S include Wayne Hemingway, creative director of Red or Dead, who consulted on footwear for the company for 18 months.

Debenhams also has an impressive list of designers who consult or design capsule collections for them, including Jasper Conran, Sonja Nuttall, Ben de Lisi, Lulu Guiness, and Phillip Treacy. Other high-street stores have directly employed designers to create collections to sell in-store. Bella Freud worked with Stirling Cooper, and Joe Casely-Hayford with Top Shop. The ranges, although very different, used heavy branding to attract the youth market to which they were aimed.

There has long been a gulf between department stores and the designer in this country. The young talent has all the great ideas which are then mercilessly plundered by the high street. Usually, they have no power to fight it. Consultancies give designers and big companies a legitimate reason to work together, rather than throwing lawsuits at each other.

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