Style: Toughing it out in taffeta: Tamsin Blanchard on two young designers with a realistic approach to fashion

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Indy Lifestyle Online
This weekend's London ready-to-wear collections for spring/summer 1994 are being given a boost by two new events. Both Space NK, the mini design emporium that opened in Covent Garden this summer, and Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge are hosting fashion shows of their own. And each will highlight the work of a promising young British designer: Sonja Nuttall at Harvey Nichols and Sophia Malig at Space NK.

Sonja Nuttall left Central St Martin's College of Art in London in May after completing a three-year BA and an MA. Tomorrow she shows her work to press and buyers at Harvey Nichols' New Generation graduate show, alongside six other recent graduates from the Royal College of Art, Ravensbourne, and colleges in Paris, Berlin and Antwerp.

Preparing for the show in her studio in north London, Sonja Nuttall - unusually for a fashion designer a week before a big show - was calm. And this despite the fact that, as well as the Harvey Nichols event, she is preparing for her own open days for press and buyers.

She shares the bright basement studio with the textile designer Nigel Atkinson.

'Sonja is brilliant at clearing garbage,' says Atkinson, who spent several seasons working with Romeo Gigli in Milan. He asked her to work with him after she graduated. The first thing she did was clear out his studio. 'It was just a white room with a piano in the middle by the time she had finished,' he says.

She applies the same approach to her work, which is pared down, simple and pure. 'I start with just the basic ingredients,' she says.

Between them, the pair produce two labels, one bearing his name, the other hers. The Nigel Atkinson collection of heirloom scarves, cravats and waistcoats in textured velvet sell at the most exclusive retail outlets including A La Mode and Whistles.

Nuttall's own collection, her first, is based on Death in Venice; there will be 10 dresses on show at Harvey Nichols in shades of white and chocolate brown. It is very simple and very beautiful. 'I have called the collection 'Adagio in No 5' - a slow, romantic movement. I wanted it to have a floaty, ghosty, timeless feel,' she explains.

The dresses, all cut on the bias, are made from Atkinson's finely textured velvet, webs of muslin, and silk. Some are see-through, but there are simple little slips and knickers in muslin to be worn underneath.

'My priorities are proportion and craftsmanship,' says Nuttall.

Since leaving college, she has been lucky and well looked after. Simon Wilson, of the jewellery company Butler & Wilson, has supported her by giving her commissions to work on both personal and promotional material for him.

She has also landed a job designing menswear for Gallagher & Egan. 'That's my bread and butter,' she says.

The collection is sold in Jones, Harvey Nichols and Liberty, among others. Billy Gallagher has now agreed to back Nuttall's dress collection.

Part of the reason for her success lies in realism: she is in no rush to become a star designer: 'We're here to run a business. My clothes have to be commercial, but commercial in the sense of offering timeless wearability.'

Sophia Malig lays the same emphasis on textures as Nuttall. She, too, is a graduate of Central St Martin's MA course, and she will have her first major show for press and buyers at the London collections on Monday.

Buyers saw her work when she was part of Comun, a small collective of designers that showed last year in a studio behind King's Cross, north London. The response was encouraging - her clothes are already on sale at Whistles and Liberty and a buying agency from the United States expressed interest. Her autumn/winter collection, entirely in black, is inspired by Victorian girls who worked in the coal mines.

'Pictures of these women always show them neatly presented, even though their clothes were ripped and frayed,' says Malig, explaining why all her traditional evening- wear fabrics have been treated and professionally 'creased'.

Her vision of women is romantic, but luckily her brand of romanticism accommodates all shapes and sizes. 'The styles are easy to wear, not tight and restricting,' she says.

Realism has helped her, too: along with Sonja Nuttall she was among the few fashion graduates to be offered a job straight after graduating. She works as part of the team that designs the successful Ghost label, which sells internationally. 'The work I do for Ghost is a lot more structured than my own line,' she says.

Before her MA, Malig studied fashion design at college in Middlesex and before that she was at Cordwainers, where she learnt shoe design. The collection she will show on Monday at Space NK's 'Innerspace' show is much lighter in feel than her pit-girls collection.

Softly tailored waistcoats and jackets are mixed with fluid, easy dresses, all in natural fabrics. Colours are white, navy and cream, with a touch of raspberry.

Sonja Nuttall: address inquiries to Kim Blake 071-935 7309, or

071-284 0316.

Sophia Malig: 071-608 1700.

(Photographs omitted)

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