At the end of the tunnel there is light. And a long grungy tunnel it was, too. The opening of a handful of shops in the West End is proof that real clothes for real women are back. The prices may be prohibitive but the message is as promising as can be.

Enter South Molton Street and find a shop devoted to the wonderfully elegant German designer Jil Sander; saunter down Bond Street and clock a mighty new emporium of Nicole Farhi - both testimony to the special virtues of realism and of women designing for women. No paradox here, women designers are simply more sympathetic to the needs of women and know better how to fulfil them. They're no overnight success. Women designers tend to bide their time before making a major impact. Jean Muir took time before refining her signature pieces. Donna Karan (who also has a new shop opening here next month) worked for others for years before launching her own label. Even Coco Chanel spent a good few seasons making hats and being an ordinary dressmaker before she really found her style.

Jil Sander's style is clean, minimal, never boring, fantastically expensive - but classic. Some would think her above Armani and a worthy descendant of Chanel. She started her own business 26 years ago when she was 25 but even by the end of the seventies she had not quite got it right. Now she is on top of the world - a designer to emulate and follow.

Nicole Farhi is not in the same street and not in the same price bracket either. Familiar as a mainstay of British executive women, she has achieved a success about which there is no mystery. In the 11 years since she launched her own label she has made her number with a constituency that needed her rather a lot. Impervious to meaningless trends and showing a fine sense of line and cut, she indulges no tricksy detail, no mindless whimsy, no whacky notions. There is nothing new about Nicole Farhi but the shop is big big big, a monument to good touch, common sense and a muted palette. The season of derangement is over, the days when women found it difficult to look for clothes because they didn't know where to look. Three cheers for the black, brown and beige.

Jil Sander, 25 South Molton Street, London W1, and Nicole Farhi, 158 New Bond Street, London W1, both open this week. DKNY, 27 Old Bond Street, London W1, opens in October.

(Photographs omitted)

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