Business is a dream when you shop with Tasneem

Tamsin Blanchard meets a designer who puts the comfort of working women first, creating clothes that look serious, but will knock 'em dead at the office
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Power-dressing was an Eighties phenomenon. Now no smart woman wants the shoulders of a grid-iron rugby player to accompany her into the workplace. But the mid-Nineties dilemma is, with shops full of girly dresses in baby colours, what is the woman who needs to exude authority supposed to put on?

Some women have found the answer in a bright and airy shop opposite St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London. Most of the women who buy at Tasneem Haberbeck's shop have the kind of jobs that allow them to step through the doors of the ritziest shops in Bond Street and leave laden with bags.

But that is not all they want from their clothes. They have little inclination to dress in the latest trend from the catwalks of Paris. They want to go to work feeling comfortable and looking as serious as their jobs, yet still looking "right".

Ms Haberbeck gets it right for them. While at college (she went to Saint Martin's followed by the RCA in the late Seventies), Ms Haberbeck completed a short placement at the late Jean Muir's design studio. Miss Muir taught her the importance of comfort in clothing design. "If you couldn't touch your toes in a toile, the pattern had to be recut," she remembers.

The comfort factor has stayed with her and is now a major selling point with her core clientele of solicitors, bankers, accountants and barristers. Customers range in age from 28 to 60 and in sizes from 10 to16. All are looking for clothes to wear, rather than clothes that threaten to wear them.

Ms Haberbeck's post-college history includes a stint working at a magazine in Saudi Arabia, and a marriage to a solicitor, which is now over but brought her into contact with legal and City women whose clothing concerns she learnt first- hand. She offers clothes that never make women look like "little men" and don't demand too much of those who have to get up for work early, falling out of bed and throwing on a suit without thinking about it.

Ms Haberbeck uses what she calls "lunch sizing" when designing her suits, which are cut to fit in all the right places, both before and after lunch, and have armholes with enough room to move comfortably in. One loyal customer, Melanie Clifford, 31, a dealer at Daiwa Bank, is grateful. She has to keep her jacket on all day.

Sue Dinwiddy, a product manager at Reuter, is a fan because "I haven't got the money for a Chanel suit, but anyway, they look too hall-marked. And you just don't wear a Versace suit in the standard office environment. It's not appreciated - people would think you were frivolous." Projecting the right image at work can be important. "You've got to go in with a uniform - men have to see you equally smart and up to the grade," says Ms Dinwiddy.

"Tasneem's clothes fit well," says Ms Clifford. "Ninety per cent of women in this country must be pear-shaped with size 10 waist and 12 hips and her clothes are cut with that in mind. The skirts are shaped for proper women." At about pounds 400 apiece, they do not come cheap (although they are much cheaper than many designer versions).

"Men in the office spend pounds 500 to pounds 600 on a suit from Boss, but if I spent that on a suit, they'd die," says Ms Clifford.

Ms Haberbeck knows the way to a City woman's heart. Time is precious, and weekends are often inconvenient for clothes-buying so she opens her shop until 8 o'clock most nights. And the requirements of after-work dressing are not forgotten. Tasneem loyalists also rely on her for sparkly, sequinned pieces, all served up with the minimum of fuss and bother.