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Style: Back street chic for the Soho smart set: For original, one-off designs, try the small shops and rooms just off the beaten track

IN THE pre-war years, Soho in London was full of shops with workrooms upstairs where tailors and seamstresses produced the garments. These days you need to hunt hard around the back streets. Mark Powell, for instance, operates from a top- floor room in D'Arblay Street, dressing club people and pop stars; John Pearse, the laconic veteran of Meard Street, designs for media types and old rockers.

In Brewer Street, Jay Musson has just opened a little shop selling knitted waistcoats, collarless jackets and dresses made from fabrics of his own design. 'It's starting all over again in Soho,' he says. 'But the best shops are in the in-between streets.'

The new popularity of Old Compton Street with gay men has given a boost to the fashion shops, although most make a point of selling clothes for gay and straight men and women. Christopher New, a designer-retailer, sells brightly coloured embroidered and printed shirts to all sorts from his green, red and blue emporium in Dean Street. An assistant points out this summer's best-seller: a white shirt decorated with dolphins.

In Old Compton Street itself, American Retro is an institution. The shop sells sturdy workwear basics such as Levi's and Smith's jeans, US-made OshKosh jackets, and the shop's own-label T-shirts. There are also stretch tops, more obviously intended for gay men, and interesting T-shirts with rubber patches on the front by Scott Steinberg, the British designer.

On the same side of the street, Janet Fitch last year opened a well positioned jewellery and accessories shop serving all tastes and budgets. Cross the road and head for Wardour Street, where Ally Capellino does comfortable linen and jersey pieces (mostly) for women, in natural colours and simple shapes.

Next door, Nick-Nack sells fashionable labels, including omnipresent Levi's, Converse basketball boots and chunky Caterpillar 'walking machine' boots - a hot seller this summer. But Duffer of St George in D'Arblay Street is the real end of the pilgrimage for men's casualwear.

A checklist of pieces for this summer: a Joe Caseley-Hayford jumper with stitches dropped in strategic places, a pair of Adidas shoes, a T-shirt from Karen Savage printed with lips.

Mark Powell, D'Arblay Street, London W1, enquiries on 071-287 5498; John Pearse, 6 Meard Street; Jay Musson, 2 Brewer Street; Christopher New, 52 Dean Street; American Retro, 35 Old Compton Street; Ally Capellino, 95 Wardour Street; Nick-Nack, 87 Wardour Street; Duffer of St George, 27 D'Arblay Street.

(Photograph omitted)