You know those long hot days are numbered when the high street reveals its autumn collections. And this time there's an exciting new crop of designers to encourage you to part with your money, says Tamsin Blanchard. Photographs by Sheridan Morley
Fashion runs on a calendar all its own; autumn wear hits the high street at least a month before the official end of summer time. This month, retailers could barely contain their excitement before wheeling out the new season's merchandise. Consumer spending is at an all-time high. The big autumn spend can begin. It might be 30degC and searing sunshine outside, but inside it's time to invest in a new coat, some knee-high boots and a winter suit.

What makes fashion constantly interesting, and shopping endlessly entertaining, is the constant turnover of new labels and collections. This autumn there is a crop of new labels to help entice you to part with your money. Three names to look out for are Jean-Philippe Bouyer, Sonja Nuttall and Ruti Danan.

Liberty in London's Regent Street does not shy away from testing obscure new labels. Buyers Angela Quaintrell and Lynette White have a keen eye for clothes that will give the customer something different, desirable and - most of the time - wearable. The new collections include French designer Jean-Philippe Bouyer and Sonja Nuttall, the British designer who has been out of circulation for three seasons while concentrating on the consultancy side of her business.

Bouyer, 38, is a definite winter designer, indulging in rich velvets, intense berry colours, and clothes that elongate but fully cover the body. He has worked for Karl Lagerfeld, shoe designer Charles Jourdan, Sonia Rykiel, and Paco Rabanne. He launched his first collection under his own name in 1994.

If you want to invest in a great grey suit, the must-have buy of the season, Sonja Nuttall is your woman. The thirtysomething designer staged her comeback at London Fashion Week last February.

"Tailoring is where my heart is," says Nuttall. "This collection is more grown-up than before. We've signed a manufacturing deal and I know the finished product will be really beautiful when it hits the stores in a couple of weeks." The clothes are inspired by the style of Second World War photographer Lee Miller, with her tomboyish utilitarianism. They might seem expensive, but once you feel the cashmere and try on a jacket, you'll understand the price, even if you can't afford it.

Nuttall's collection spans the gap between the cutting edge and the luxury classics market perfectly. Nowhere is this more apparent than at fledgling designer emporium Koh Samui in London's Covent Garden. If you want to find out what's new, just take a trawl through the rails and become familiar with the collections of Clements Ribeiro, YMC, Justin Oh, Earley Palmeiro, Copperwheat Blundell, David Purves, Hussein Chalayan and Elspeth Gibson amongst others. Nuttall's refined, no-nonsense pieces are there alongside a newer name in tailoring, Ruti Danan.

The buyers and owners of Koh Samui, Paul Sexton and Talita Zoe, see new collections constantly. Anyone who rings up for an appointment gets seen.

Ruti Danan, an ex-assistant of Alexander McQueen, is one of their most promising finds. What attracted Koh Samui were the luxurious fabrics, the sharp tailoring and the unashamed femininity. This autumn is the first season Danan has designed a whole collection. "Her clothes are really well made and they flatter the female body in a way that is sexy, elegant, classy and tasteful all at the same time," says Sexton. "They go in and out in all the right places."

Prices are high, with a low-cut evening dress costing pounds 500. But according to Sexton and Zoe, there is a market for her clothes. Women are more inclined to spend upwards of pounds 500 on a gold brocade jacket if it looks like it's a one-off. If you gauge the value of a garment by the time it has taken to make it, Ruti Danan's clothes are a bargain: she makes each piece by hand from start to finish. Similarly, the necklace shown here with the jacket was made by one of Koh Samui's young artisans, jewellery designer Sarah Weiss. A single necklace can take up to three months to make. A simple bracelet is more affordable at pounds 79.

If you are in the market for a big winter wardrobe splash, now is the time. But hurry. Before you know it, there will be snow on the ground and the high street will have moved on to spring.

Comments