Fashion: It takes two

Already hailed for their award-winning glamorous eveningwear, fashion designers Pearce Fionda have now created highly desirable daywear. And it's just what Tamsin Blanchard has been waiting for. Styling by Sophia Neophitou. Photographs by Donna Trope

Ladies who lunch and movie stars love Pearce Fionda. They make precisely cut trouser suits (you know the sort - the jacket does more for your figure than a whole month of dieting and working out) and their bias-cut evening dresses - slick and sleek and ideal for the Oscars - have been worn by Iman, Francesca Annis and Elisabeth Shue.

However, I, like many women, must confess that I am not much of a glamour puss. In fact, up until this season there was not much I could have worn from their mainline collections for an informal lunch without looking a little over-dressed. The designers were, after all, nominated for the Glamour Award at the British Fashion Awards in 1997.

But spring/summer '99 is a breakthrough for the designers, because Pearce Fionda have discovered daywear. Yes, there are still drop-dead gorgeous silk columns and tailored two-pieces (and the collection will continue to make waves in LA), but now there is also the perfect skirt - flatteringly cut and knee-length; the best plain black trousers; and simple tops. These are the sorts of pieces normally associated with American designers such as Calvin Klein or Donna Karan. They have been designed to make your life easier and smarter. "For the first time," say the designers, "this is a collection from which women can build a wardrobe."

Pearce Fionda don't take all the credit themselves. "Our marketing director has influenced us a lot. After selling our collection the first time, she realised that there were a hell of a lot of potential customers out there who want daywear who we just weren't catering for."

Andrew Fionda and Ren Pearce met on the fashion degree course at Trent Polytechnic. After graduating from the MA degree at Central St Martins, Pearce worked with John Galliano in Paris and Roland Klein in London, while Fionda, who graduated from the RCA, was employed on a commercial collection in Hong Kong.

Their debut as Pearce Fionda coincided with the explosion of new talent in London in the early Nineties. From the start, the pair offered a different stance to the other, often self-consciously avant-garde, young designers. They set out to make wearable clothes, rather than clothes that would make a statement. In 1995 Pearce Fionda won the Lloyds Bank Fashion Awards New Generation prize, with the bonus of sponsorship to stage a catwalk show at London Fashion Week. The following year, they travelled to Istanbul to be presented with the title of Young Designers of the World.

But the journey from fledgling to serious designers has not been without its struggles. In 1996, despite their impressive awards, Pearce Fionda were considering throwing in the towel. Cashflow problems were making it almost impossible to continue. But at the eleventh hour, a lucrative deal with Debenhams - which had the foresight to see the designers' potential in the wider market - saved them from the abyss. The Pearce II Fionda line, launched exclusively for the store, gave the pair a bigger audience than they ever knew existed. Since then, every collection, from their evening dresses, swim- and cruisewear to the most recent ventures into shoes and sunglasses for Debenhams, has been a winner. The contract has benefited everyone, allowing the designers freedom to let their creative and perfectionist streaks run wild on their own line, and giving women who would not normally be able to afford Pearce Fionda a taste of glamour. "Doing Debenhams has liberated us to do what we want for the main line," the pair state. "I've personally spent a month on a single jacket," explains Pearce. "We're still such a small team, nothing escapes our attention. It's practically a couture service."

Although Pearce Fionda say they are far from being a fully fledged business, they are now well on their way. They have a manufacturer in Turin, called Approhodo, which talent-scouted them three seasons ago at London Fashion Week, along with Fabio Piras, and Copperwheat Blundell. "Italian quality is just fantastic and half the price of that in England," says Fionda.

In just three weeks, London Fashion Week kicks off and Pearce Fionda will present their line for autumn/winter 99/2000. It promises to continue evolving with pieces that look clean and modern. The current collection has already moved in that direction. Start shopping now