Dial M for mobile clothing

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Indy Lifestyle Online
If there's one theme that categorises hard selling in the 1990s, it's the desperate rush by large corporations to get all funky and streetwise. Yet multinationals are fast finding out that they just don't have the relevant knowledge to pull it off. Thus they are turning to all the real movers and shakers - the designers, the artists, the stylists and most of all the Cool Britannia underground - to bulk buy that credibility.

So far, it's been the worlds of music and design that have done well out of this. Tomato, who design all of 1996's surprise dance hit group Underworld's covers, have been doing ads for organisations such as the Telegraph, whereas bands like Leftfield make more ad soundtracks than you can shake a stick at. Now, however, it's the turn of the fashion world.

Orange, the mobile phone people, have always offered users exclusive products through a catalogue called "Extras", but the clothing has tended to fall within the usual sweatshirt, T-shirt and branded jacket categories. Now they've hooked up with Bruce Cameron, one of the hottest designers to come out of St Martin's School of Fashion in 1995. He's been working up designs for the last year.

No-one at Orange was prepared to talk about the clothing and Cameron was extremely reticent. But friends of Cameron say that it's a sort of urban denim range with jeans and jackets. Pockets are flush with the material so as to be almost invisible (Cameron himself says that "you discover the pockets for yourself") and all is very simple and sleek.

Branding, it seems, will be minimal. The clothes will probably go through Orange's "Extra" catalogue, but some sources say they may also be sold through some of the funkier boutiques.

Meanwhile, hip young gunslinger Brian of Britain is preparing to tie up with BT for a cutting edge range. "We haven't signed everything off yet but we're looking to work with Brian to make pagers more acceptable to women, possibly with a range of accessories," says a BT spokesman. "We could work with an established designer like Versace, but if you work with a small, cutting edge outfit you find they are very enthusiastic."

Puma, in the meantime, have recruited Vexed Generation and their knife- proof urbanwear styling to help with a new range of shoes to take on Nike. Puma are paying Vexed a consultancy fee and buying in their designs.

Fashion designers are keen to dip into this pool of cash since those in the early years in a fashion career usually make starving artists look well fed. The new breed are not ashamed of the financial relationship. "A number of us are approaching the big corporations," says one of the youngsters, "and suggesting they work with us. The corporations take some convincing, because they are always looking for the staid, safe route, but they can come round in the end."

Of course, the real problem with the whole set up is that buying the underground is a contradiction in terms. Already, purists are slagging Tomato off for sucking up to the big corporations and within six months they probably won't be hip anymore. Eventually, as with everything else, youth marketing will eat itself.

Stephen Armstrong

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