It doesn't seem long ago that the mere mention of the name Dorothy Perkins sent shudders down the designer- clad backs of style-obsessed fashion editors. Despite its longevity, Dorothy Perkins has somehow remained the poor relation to its more cutting-edge contemporary rivals, Top Shop and Miss Selfridge.
That all began to change four seasons ago, when Helena Christensen, who perfectly combines achievable prettiness with supermodel glamour, began to appear on buses, billboards and magazines. (A new pounds 1 million advertising budget has lured Niki Taylor, yet another millionaire model, to get out of her expensive sheets).
Dorothy Perkins had stolen a march on its trashier high-street rivals by providing better-designed, better-quality clothes to fit grown-up women as well as teenagers. The very same fashion editors who poured such scorn on the old, mumsy Dorothy Perkins were now to be found rifling surreptitiously through the rails of the West End store.
Then, with a flourish, Dorothy Perkins unveiled its coup de grace. Although not the first to introduce the designer touch (Top Shop enlisted Joe Caseley Hayford's skills for a jeans range, while Marks and Spencer turned to Betty Jackson and Tanya Sarne of Ghost to inject a designer element into its stores), the company had the uncanny prescience to snare a design team very few people had even heard of before 1996. "We chose to work with Clements Ribeiro because, although they are extremely progressive in terms of design, they are also capable of designing clothes for wearing," says managing director Stephen Sunnucks.
It took a little time to convince Suzanne Clements that the collaboration was a good idea. "Inacio and I weren't sure at first. They approached us after our catwalk show last year and we couldn't decide. There is a Dorothy Perkins at the end of my street and I would never set foot inside. We thought it could damage our designer range, but then realised it was a good way of reaching more people."
Ironically, Clements Ribeiro have had to improve the quality of their fabrics to win the heart of the woman on the street. Their first, autumn/winter collection featured the "good taste, bad taste", trailer-park-cool synthetic fabrics beloved of style junkies but very sensibly rejected by the ordinary clothes lover.
For spring, they have replaced the polyester fabrics with silk. Although expensive compared with Dorothy Perkins' usual prices (pounds 40 for a top, pounds 50 for trousers) the range is a third of the price of the Clements Ribeiro designer collection, where you can pay pounds 300 for a sweater. "We had to tailor this collection to look more designer than our mainline range," Clements chuckles. "The average person just can't relate to nylon. For spring, we used silk and natural fabrics and they seem to be selling well."
At the risk of sounding smug, it looks like another triumph for the great British high street.
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