High street heroes: A new line-up at Debenhams

Debenhams was first to offer designer collaborations, in 1993, and now there's a fresh new line-up of young names at the store. Harriet Walker reports

Nearly 20 years ago, Debenhams invited Jasper Conran to create his "J" range for the store, thereby creating the first designer collaboration on the high street, in 1993.

In the following years, the "Designers at Debenhams" selection expanded to include such stalwarts of British fashion as John Rocha, Betty Jackson and Matthew Williamson, bringing exclusive goods to mere mortals at more familiar prices.

But this season sees the unveiling of another designer concept at the department store: "Editions" features collections from a clutch of fresh, young designers who have already made their mark on the international catwalks and have now set their sights on something closer to home. Preen, Jonathan Saunders and accessories designer Jonathan Kelsey are bringing their signatures to the shop for summer, and will be joined next season by the fabulously elegant Roksanda Illincic.

Jonathan Kelsey

Central Saint Martins graduate Jonathan Kelsey started his accessories label in 2007, after working for four years as a designer for Jimmy Choo. He has also created shoes for Giles Deacon, Luella and Mulberry, and his Debenhams range will be his first foray into handbag design.

"My 'Editions' collection has been designed really closely to my own collection. My points of reference and many of the details are similar – it makes sense for me to be able to offer a similar aesthetic but with a broader appeal.

This first season is a very concise collection, but I definitely think there's something for everyone. I have a mixture of sexy heels that would work with an LBD, flats for summer days and a beach bag and wedges – to be worn with as little as possible!

My two favourite pieces in the range are the white croc-print wedge and the matching beach bag. I love how summery they are, and I can't wait to see them in store.

It's amazing to have been offered this opportunity – I did some freelance work many years ago for Debenhams so it's good to see some familiar faces.

I've always kept an eye on the concept of 'Designers at Debenhams' and been really impressed by the collections from Matthew [Williamson], Henry [Holland] and Julien [Macdonald]. It's fantastic to be able to do my own.

I'll be growing the collection slowly, keeping close to my own style, and I'll add some really beautiful colours – look out for some great deep-claret in the next collection. The bags are also developing into new shapes – hobos and little across-the-body satchels.

Price was important when we worked on the range and we avoided expensive techniques, but I do like to think of this as a unique product and not just copies of my own line."

Jonathan Saunders

Jonathan Saunders returned to London Fashion Week last year, having shown his collections on the New York catwalk since 2008. His comeback was marked by an acclaimed collection of slick and minimal urban sportswear, combining his signature silk-screening techniques with classic, feminine shapes. He is also creative director of Italian label Pollini and has designed sell-out capsules for the US high-street store Target.

"The goal with my 'Editions' capsule was to create a collection that was simple, modern and wearable with a focus on clean cuts and fresh colour. My favourite piece in the range is the dip-dyed top, which you could wear with the white diaphanous A-line skirt. It's day-focused, which is perfect for summer holidays, and an easy and loose shape, layered with colour.

When I'm designing a collection, I always start with the colour palette. For this range I referenced fine art from the Sixties and Seventies, the strong acid colours from paintings of that era mixed with the neutrals that you see in the pieces. It feels very modern, but at the same time, quite soft.

Designing for Debenhams is great – it brings a new collection to a new audience, and the guidance of the company is invaluable. They have such a specific knowledge of their customer – it's an education."


Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi have known each other since the age of 18 and have been designing together under their label, Preen, for more than 10 years. Their style is a unique confluence of modern and Edwardian, with cut-away detailing on skinny bandage dresses made more formal and rigid with flounced sleeves, high necklines and harem trousers.

"We gave it our signature attitude: a sense of rock'n'roll, the mix of feminine and masculine.

When we designed this capsule collection, we had in mind all the styles a modern woman would need in her wardrobe. So many of the styles are transitional day-to-evening pieces – for example, the long maxi-dress works just as well with a cardy and flat sandals as with heels and a belt for evening. The trench is great over jeans and a white T-shirt, the leather jacket is great over relaxed jerseys and jeans or, to add an edge, atop a frilly party dress.

The nude chiffon blouse is a great wardrobe basic and we love the red dress – you can throw it on and you're ready. It's strong, clean and minimal.

High-street collaborations are a great opportunity to reach a wider audience, and they're really fun to work on. We've created a range that offers a contemporary style in keeping with the Preen handwriting."