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

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
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

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

    £37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

    Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

    £25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

    Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

    £16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones