Always read the label

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Today's savvy dresser is making waves by wearing designers that remain determinedly under the radar. Harriet Walker searches out the best niche names



Katie Sheridan & Shofolk



Accessories

Shofolk is the footwear arm of Folk, an independent boutique that opened its doors near Russell Square in 2001. The design ethos is casual and pragmatic, but also playful. Shoes come in colourful punched leather, often with upturned "poulaine" toes; buckled brogues are also a recurrent favourite.

Colour is key to bag designer Katie Sheridan's ranges, too: geometric prints decorate satchels and canvas rucksacks with more than a whiff of school-kid charm. Simple shapes combine with chic colour combinations – essential for toting all your new buys home.



Surface to Air

Rock'n'roll

Fashion collective Surface to Air includes film-makers, musicians and artists, and was originally known for its shop and gallery near the Louvre in Paris. Names involved range from Banksy to Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth to the Kings of Leon. These days, though, the label can be found in boutiques dotted around the world.

From distressed and dishevelled knits, to nostalgically crafted denim pieces and printed silks, redolent of Seventies' mums, Surface to Air specialises in rock stereotypes. A strapless scarlet dress, pin-tucked along one side, is a brilliant update of a Robert Palmer-esque look, while graffiti-ed blouses tread the line between girlish and grunge.

The Kooples

Chic streetwear

Everyone wants to dress like a Parisienne, but times have changed a little and two-tone pumps, cropped trousers and a striped T-shirt have become a little – dare we say it? – staid.

French label The Kooples special-ises in that oh-so-French style of couldn't-care-less elegance and heart-stopping, envy-inducing cool. Their ad campaigns feature a selection of impossibly good-looking real-life couples wearing the mens' and womens' ranges, which both take inspiration from the tailoring of Savile Row.

Imagine that tailoring on David Bowie, however, and you have something that resembles The Kooples look: slim-fitting, sharply creased and a little bit rough around the edges. Womenswear is cut in a masculine style but fitted and flattering to the female body – think cigarette pants, shirts, blazers and shorts. It's Audrey Hepburn for the 21st century.



Dress Monster and Mardi Jeudi

Pretty utility



There's a certain modish femininity at the moment that thrives on distinctly boyish separates and rather Spartan pieces. Dress Monster and Mardi Jeudi, two of the latest hit new brands showcased on Asos.com, sum up the look to a T.

Mardi Jeudi is a French label that blends influences from East and West – so simple, utilitarian blouses, shirt dresses and jersey pieces come in a palette of rich and vibrant colours, from khaki green to crimson, and pieces are cut with great effect in purposefully awkward styles: midi-length skirts and dresses, cropped jackets and long-line blazers. It's unusual, but it works.

Dress Monster, meanwhile, is the diffusion line from Korean brand pushbutton. Launched in 2008, the emphasis here is on directional basics, led by trends but created for those who don't follow the herd. Deconstructed tailoring, sports-influenced casualwear and deftly cut stand-out pieces are the basis for their idiosyncratic styling.



Filippa K

Minimalism

Swedish designer Filippa Knutsson founded her label in 1993, under the directive "timeless simplicity with contemporary edge". Already a superstar in her native country, as well as much of mainland Europe, her name is less known in the UK.

But the past few seasons' focus on the trend for minimalism – in particular, a feminine and flattering twist on the theme – means that Knutsson's label is perfect for now.

Layering is key, as is a play on proportion, with long tunics and dresses worn underneath short knits and jackets. Flashes of colour – be they powder blues and pastels or hot pinks and earthy ochres – abound in this collection, making it a sleek and straightforward choice.



Opening Ceremony

Cool and quirky



Since its launch in 2002, Opening Ceremony has become the staple outlet for the ultimate hipster wardrobe. With collaborations from Chloe Sevigny and hot New York label Rodarte, the brand's credentials are sky-high and the OC concept stores (so far, sadly, only in New York, LA and Tokyo) have become tourist attractions in themselves.

Its USP is cool and youthful quirk, from child-like flowery sundresses to chunky knits in zig-zag Aztec prints. Inspiration comes from wistful Seventies influences, as well as the Nineties. Wedges and boots that verge on the orthopaedic and clunky, clog-like sandals are geek chic personified.



Studio Nicholson

Clean tailoring

The current collection from Studio Nicholson, designed by Nick Wakeman, is inspired by menswear, broken down and re-cast for a female buyer. The result is relaxed and nonchalant, but nevertheless elegant and smart.

"I have a much stronger emotional response to menswear," says Wakeman, whose cuts are traditionally masculine, with wider armholes, revealing more flesh, and deeper, draped necklines.

Trousers are slim-fitting but not skinny, cut in the same, rounded way as Japanese denim often is. Shell tops and slouchy blazers make for a fresh and sporty look.

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