New romantic: fashion for all ages and audiences

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Tanya Sarne won the loyalty of thousands of women as the designer behind Ghost. Now she's set to reach a new audience with a range for John Lewis. She tells Carola Long about her breezy approach to dressing

Oh, but you must try it on," says Tanya Sarne, as she shows me designs from her new 30 piece capsule collection for John Lewis. About three seconds later – these really are clothes one can slip into – and I'm in a little Thirties-style cropped jacket in aubergine satin. Undeniably perfect for concealing less-than-toned arms, it's the kind of piece Susannah and Trinny or Gok Wan might hail as "problem solving," yet looks like a sweet floppy vintage jacket that Kate Moss might wear to a wedding. "I thought it's a perfect cover up for a wedding or dinner," confirms Sarne, "I can see a younger woman going for this, while an older woman might choose the version with the frill."

Sarne, who founded Ghost in 1984 sold it in 2006, and started her current label Handwritten last year, is so keen for me for me to try the collection because her design philosophy is as unashamedly about comfort and ease as it is about high fashion. In fact, these dresses are so fluid and the fabric – which is the same unique material that Sarne has used all her career – so breathable, that Monica Seles used to practice tennis in a Ghost dress.

Sarne's success has been built on what many of her devotees might declare a miracle fabric. She uses a type of viscose that initially resembles a stiff net curtain until it is boiled, dyed and shrunk to about a quarter of its original size, when it takes on the appearance of vintage crepe. It has a natural stretch that fits women of all shapes and sizes from the very slender to the heavily pregnant particularly well, and, crucially for any busy woman, can be "thrown in the washing machine." "They are also perfect for travelling," she adds, "because you can roll them in a suitcase then just give them a bit of a shake or get rid of any slight creases by hanging them in a steamy bathroom." This instantly recognisable fabric became the foundation for Ghost.

Under Sarne's leadership, Ghost had an almost cult following. Ghost shows – and parties – were a highlight of New York Fashion Week, where Naomi Campbell and Helena Christensen would appear in her shows as favours, in return for clothes.

Rumoured to have provided some of the inspiration for Edina in Absolutely Fabulous, Sarne's biography is overflowing with drama and glamour. A former model – now in her early sixties she is still strikingly beautiful with blonde curls, olive skin and sultry, kohl rimmed brown eyes – she married the arthouse film-maker Michael Sarne, with whom she travelled the world. Their circle of friends included Jack Nicholson and Roman Polanski.

When Sarne split up with her husband, she has said, the catalyst for founding Ghost was the imperative to "feed the kids and pay the rent." As such, she understands the need for fashion to be practical and, one of her favourite words, "multifunctional." "I'm not an Alexander McQueen or Vivienne Westwood," she says, "You wouldn't wear the clothes I make to the Oscars. I try to make clothes that are multifunctional for women of all ages, shapes and sizes. Wearable, good quality clothes. For me John Lewis is about quality and I wouldn't have done a collaboration like this for anyone else." The fabric is made in the same family-run Italian mill that Sarne used to create her first collections in the Eighties and the designs evoke the soft, ultra-feminine, often Thirties-inspired shapes that she is best known for. Highlights include a loose painter's smock, wide pyjama style trousers, tea dresses and mock wrap dresses, while the range also includes slip dresses and strappy camis.

Sarne's talent as a colourist is apparent in the romantically muted – and flattering – shades of aubergine, orchid (a dusky rose colour) and alabaster. "Pantone has nothing on me," says the designer, whose hobby is painting. Forthcoming colours for her designs include a "sea foam-y green," and a, "lovely earthy sage," carmine and an inky blue for autumn.

Jo Hooper, head of womenswear buying at John Lewis notes that some of the designs don't look overly striking on the hanger but that they come alive when worn. Similarly, such simple silhouettes will benefit from clever styling, and allow the wearer to add their own touches. Team the wide trousers with a thin black knit and a long necklace, and – voila – Ginger Rogers-style pyjama dressing. Throw the aubergine tunic over denim shorts or cigarette pants, add a patterned cotton scarf, and you have the kind of low key chic that would work everywhere from Notting Hill – where Sarne lives – to Salisbury, where she often spends weekends. She designed the collection to appeal to, "the smart, stylish women I see shopping in John Lewis in Salisbury. They are incredibly well-dressed women with style and elegance, but not in thrall to super high fashion. They are busy, independent women of all ages." And for once, all ages means all ages. Sarne recounts a letter from a woman who had read an article saying that she made clothes for women up to the age of 70. The letter-writer said, very indignantly, that she was 80 years old and still wore Ghost. "That's the kind of thing I want to hear," says Sarne.

Tanya Sarne for John Lewis is available in 10 stores nationwide, for information call 08456 049 049

peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
Life and Style
Could you tell the difference between this and an organic alternative?
food + drink

Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'

Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Today's Liverpool Echo back page
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
Life and Style

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
One of the 'princesses' in the video
videoYouTube reinstates sweary video after takedown for 'violating terms'
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Arts and Entertainment

Marvel has released first teaser trailer week early after it leaked online

Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Business Intelligence Consultant - Central London - £80,000

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Intelligence Consultant - C...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    £70 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Group: SEN Teaching Assistants needed in...

    Year 4 Teacher required for 2 terms

    £21500 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

    Accounts Assistant - Sales Ledger, Sage Line 50 - St Albans

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful and w...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?