Melanie Rickey checks out hassle-free shopping at the high street's next big thing. Photography by Sheridan Morley
One of the decade's biggest retail gambles is about to begin: next week a new chain of women's fashion stores will launch into the fiercely competitive quality end of the high street. But unlike Jigsaw, which opened one store in Hampstead when it launched in 1972 and then grew gradually, Jack will arrive with a bang. Twelve stores by the end of 1998, and 35 by 2000.

Simon Green, its founder and creative director, says Jack is a concept shop for confident women who know what they want from clothes and fashion, and who don't need to be dictated to from above. He calls it "anti-pigeonholing" and says it is about attitude rather than age, income, or any other demographic statistic.

Their customer (a thirty-something career woman with children), on the other hand, will probably quite like Jack because both the clothes and the shops are approachable. "Anti- pigeonholing?" I don't think so.

Jack has been put together by marketing men who have sat down at a table and decided what busy British women want from clothes and shopping at the end of the 20th century. They propose that we want modernity, with ready-made, well-designed clothing solutions all wrapped up in futuristic architecture and suede padded walls designed by Wallpaper* favourites Softroom. And a clothes vending machine from Japan which (when it arrives) will dispense vacuum-packed T-shirts and undies outside each shop after hours at the touch of a button.

Jack's woman already shops at Jigsaw, Whistles and Nicole Farhi. So how will they tempt her away? Green sees it as an intellectual challenge. "People are nervous of new brands, it won't be easy, but we see the potential," he says. The clothes are certainly unfussy, stylish, safe and very wearable, and nothing costs more than pounds 250. Indeed the collection is carefully worked out to have a place in the wardrobe of today's "I've worked out what suits me", Nineties woman/capsule dresser, and there will be new clothes in store every week to stop her getting bored.

Trousers and suiting are available in the nation's favourite hues: black, cocoa, navy, stone and taupe, with pinstripe optional. Their merino, cotton and wool knits in soft shades of raspberry, slate, moss and more taupe come in every conceivable shape, and are excellent for now. They will be popular with women who love the styling of TSE Cashmere but can't afford it. Their slim-fit shirts will attract Helmut Lang fans in the same way. Skirts too are available in every colour and length, and it all works together.

"It is a very ambitious project, sometimes I would think, `I must be mad,'" says Green, who comes from a middle-market fashion background and has worked with Fenwicks and House of Fraser. Eventually support came from Rodney East, Etam's ex-managing director, who came out of retirement to become chief executive of Jack. As a team Green and East know the psychology of the high street like the proverbial back of the hand. Together they gathered eight investors who raised the finance.

Despite its obvious middle-of-the-road approach, and the fact that the clothes only go up to a size 14, Jack does have some new ideas. There will only be a few so-called "must-have" fashion items on sale. "We know pink will only sell for a week, we won't be going to town on it," he says of this spring's hottest colour. In place of pink things and their ilk, there will be limited edition carrier bags and glossy coffee-table brochures to take awaywhich will promote their Best of British ideal - just as the name, with its connotations of the Union Jack, does.

Fashion fans will also approve of the clothing labels which will identify when the clothing was bought with details such as "Jack s/s [spring/summer] 98" displayed. Also sure to catch on at other shops are the no-hassle assistants with Polaroid cameras who, instead of saying "miniskirts are really in this season, you'll get lots of wear out of it," will take a quick photograph of an item for the uncertain shopper to peruse at home instead.

The Egan Melia designed adverts for Jack in the March issues of Vogue, Elle and Marie Claire are aimed to intrigue, annoy, and be remembered. People are asking, "What is Jack?" and though it is hard to tell just what the adverts are about (a shop? a person? a hoax?) this was precisely their point. You'll have to decide for yourself.

The first Jack opens on March 1 at Unit 60, Royal Station Concourse, Windsor, and on 7 March at 24 High Street, Marlow. In mid-March two stores open in London, at 192 Westbourne Grove, London W11 and 110 Marylebone High Street, London W1. These dates are subject to slight change.

Stylist: Sophia Neophitou

Hair and make-up: Fiona Moore for

Jo Hansford using Aveda

Model: Camilla at Storm

Clockwise from above: Navy slash neck cotton rib jumper, pounds 70; navy split miniskirt, pounds 60; navy knee-high socks, pounds 6, by Hue, available from department stores nationwide; black shoes, pounds 45, from Clarks, Regent Street, London W1 and stores nationwide, inquiries 0990-785 886. Ceramic cotton beige shirt, pounds 50.

White short-sleeved cotton polo neck, pounds 40; jeans, pounds 65.

Lime green short-sleeved shirt, pounds 45; lime green cotton knit cardigan, pounds 80.

All clothes by Jack.

For further information, call 0171-585 3321