Young, urban and cool: the Virgin clothing range is definitely not aimed at Richard Branson. Melanie Rickey gets a sneak preview
When news leaked that Richard Branson's Virgin empire was entering the heady world of fashion, there were sighs of boredom all round. "Lots of red T-shirts with 'Virgin' scrawled across the breast, homely jumpers a la Richard Branson, and baseball caps," I mused to the Virgin motorbike cab driver as he sped me across town for my first look at the range.

Of course I was wrong. Mr Branson likes to go into "virgin territory" and shake up the market with each new project he takes on. In this instance the idea was to create a diffusion fashion collection of a similar quality to the cK, DKNY or D&G lines but without a designer name to support it, and to sell it alongside those labels in groovy stores around the country.

The range launches next week, carefully niched towards the 18-34-year- old "contemporary urban man or woman", and is worthy of the two years it took to develop. It is skewed towards the now ubiquitous British street- style look, with plenty of fleeces (in three different piles), padded jackets and parkas with waterproof linings and detachable innards, chunky jumpers, and slick leather jackets. The range is spilt into three categories - Urban Tailoring, Urban Statements and Urban Active - and has been carefully, thoughtfully and anonymously designed. Branding has been kept to a minimum, while functional design features and innovative fabrics have been played up. One pair of high-heeled women's shoes even has a shock-absorbing sole, useful for heel addicts who suffer with back problems, apparently.

The advertising campaign, by Saatchi & Saatchi, has just hit glossy magazines. The campaign is so "clever" that the casual onlooker would be forgiven for thinking what is actually an advert is an error. The first one is disguised as normal magazine pages which have accidentally been printed twice. Turn the page after the error pages and a pile of magazines present themselves, with one logo poking out - for Virgin Clothing. The catchline is, "Think You've Seen It All Before?" The idea, apparently, is to interest and intrigue the public without revealing too much about the clothes. A second advert features a man's shadow, and a clothing caption. Where the model should be is torn out.

These adverts form part of a pounds 4m launch budget for the label, which is taking no chances with its first collection. The clothes have to be seen by the right people, in the right magazines, and be sold to the right shops to gain an immediate foothold in the market. Otherwise the range will be dismissed as an extension of the Virgin branding machine, which it clearly isn't. The only common denominator is the name, and the thinking behind it.

A fair chunk of the launch budget probably went to the leading creative team behind the pictures here. They are not adverts, but what are known in the trade as brand image photographs. The idea is to convey what the clothes and the people who wear them are all about. Phil Bicker, the art director of Vogue Homme International, and Anna Cockburn, a freelance stylist who works on Calvin Klein's catwalk collections, and Gap campaigns, came up with the concept, namely to photograph "ordinary people" doing everyday activities, but to make it all look very staged. The photographer is Hannah Starkey, 26, a recent Royal College of Art graduate, who describes her work as "fine art photography of everyday things".

Bicker's main objective was to be different from the crowd. "So much fashion photography has no deliberation - we wanted this to be a collection of urban images that looked staged and deliberate, and were almost beyond normal," says Bicker. The clothes are, in fact, almost incidental to the images. "They are wearable, practical clothes, that people everywhere can wear, they are not high fashion," says Cockburn

Virgin Clothing will be available exclusively at Selfridges from 20 August, then nationwide from 1 September at selected stores (enquiries 0845 308 8220), Capolito Roma, 163 Marsden Way, Arndale Centre, Manchester; Union Street, Glasgow; Unit L97 City Plaza, Cannon Street, Birmingham; 1 Clayton Square, Liverpool. Versai, 1B, Nile Pavillions, Nile Street, Brighton. Monty Smith, 2 Little Promenade, Cheltenham.