Work wear with women in mind

Clean, well cut and, above all, wearable: Tamsin Blanchard praises ICB and Unity, two new labels for stylish career girls
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It is not often that you find new fashion labels that have working women in mind: usually "new" means innovative and, consequently, unwearable for everyday. But this summer there are two new names to look out for and both are liberated from the egos of the designers (who remain anonymous) and the unaffordable prices that usually follow.

Londoners may already be aware of ICB, the brand that features the ugly duckling model Kristen McMenamy in its advertising campaign, which is currently plastered all over red double-decker buses.

ICB stands for International Concept Brand - very corporate - and is the brainchild of Akira Baba, president of the huge Japanese distribution and manufacturing company, Onward Kashiyama. The company has licensing deals with numerous fashion labels including Jean Paul Gaultier, Dolce e Gabbana, and Paul Smith's women's collection as well as distribution agreements for Gaultier and Helmut Lang.

Onward Kashiyama also has its own store in Paris where cutting-edge labels like Martin Margiela are sold to the more experimental well-heeled dressers. You get the picture then, that this is a hugely powerful company, capable of clothing the world; between the combined contacts and experience gathered in its 20-odd years of business, Kashiyama's own clothing line cannot fail.

The design consultant for ICB is the critically acclaimed New York designer, Michael Kors. His own range is clean, beautifully cut, very wearable and, by the time it crosses the Atlantic, extremely expensive. ICB shares all the qualities of Kors' own line, except that it is eminently affordable and accessible. Within a year of launching, the range is already available in Japan, New York, Paris, Milan, and Hong Kong, as well as Harvey Nichols and Selfridges in London, and Brown Thomas in Dublin.

At the ICB shop within the career wear department in Harvey Nichols business has been brisk. These are the perfect clothes for women who need to look both serious and fashionable. Singer Lisa Stansfield recently stopped by and spent over pounds 1,000, which at ICB will buy you a neat trouser suit, a couple of crisp cotton shirts, a clingy knitted dress, a pair of shorts, a stripy top and a satin shirt - a whole summer wardrobe in fact.

Prices are not cheap but they are cleverly positioned to bridge the gap between the top end of the high street and designer wear. Jackets cost around pounds 280.

The other name to look out for is Unity, a collection designed in Singapore by Susan Bailey who used to design for Whistles' own label. There are sleeveless shift dresses and matching jackets, neatly tailored jackets and trousers, relaxed knitted tunics, and bias-cut shirts. Colours can be mixed or clashed and range from minty blues, pistachio green and dusty pink to chocolate brown and white.

Like ICB, Unity is the own label of another distribution and manufacturing conglomerate, Club 21, the company that owns the retail space for Emporio Armani, DKNY and Prada stores in London as well as the distribution of labels including Industria, Miu Miu, and Armani underwear.

Club 21's owner, Christina Ong, is very well placed to launch her own label. The idea was to produce a collection that would bridge the gap and complement the designer collections on sale in the Club 21 boutiques around South-east Asia. It is a collection designed to have something for everyone, and for a wide band of ages. There is a danger it could end up looking bland. But somehow, it works. With several stockists around the country, in its first season Unity promises to be a label that will come as a welcome relief for women who have busy lives but who still like to look fabulous.

Lilac knee-length skirt with side splits, pounds 72, and pale green concealed-button jacket, pounds 175, both by Unity available from Harrods, Knightsbridge SW1; Strand, 22 Queen Victoria Street, Leeds; Square, 3-4 The Corridor, Bath; Trapeze, 50 Regent Street, Cheltenham. Stockist enquiries: 0171 823 9829

Photographer: Heather Favell

Stylist: Jo Adams

Hair & Make-up: Denise Lilly using Cosmetics a la carte and hair for Smith's Salons using Sebastian products

Model: Ruza at Select

Pale green bias-cut fitted silk shirt, pounds 99, lilac loose-fit trousers, pounds 110, both by Unity as before.

Blue rib-knit dress, pounds 125, by ICB at Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge SW1, tel: 0171-823 1145 and Selfridges, Oxford Street W1; blue and white double-strapped sandals, pounds 89.50, by Russell & Bromley, 24-25 New Bond Street, W1, and branches nationwide, tel: 0171-629 6903.

Cream single-breasted one-button jacket, pounds 285, and matching trousers, pounds 150, blue and white stripe, cropped short-sleeve top, pounds 65, all by ICB as before; blue and white sandals as before.

Khaki green short-sleeve polo sweater, pounds 75, cream linen shorts, pounds 125, both by ICB as before.

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