Caroline Charles has been designing women's clothes since the 1960s. Her customers include members of the Royal Family, Madonna and Cher. Her shop is in Knightsbridge, West London, and she also sells through selected department stores.

At the age of 11, I suggested to my father that I should marry Christian Dior, so I suppose I was keen to get into the industry fast! My real chance came 10 years later in the Sixties, when London was in full swing and we were all immer-sed in creativity. It was a great time for young designers because of the music scene. People suddenly saw the value of getting the young involved.

I had a wonderful start, and immediately sold work to the US, France and Scandinavia. Countries you thought wouldn't be interested were interested because of the bond between fashion and music.

I left school at 16 and received a valuable training at art school. And then I worked for Mary Quant which was a great experience: I was involved in advertising, editorial work in the photo-studio, and selling to real customers as well as buyers. It gave me a good grounding in the things that matter in the industry. I learnt that business itself can be quite creative.

I was lucky because when I started it was very much a time for the women's movement. Women were trying to stand on their own and be independent and I could be part of that. I had always been passionately in love with the idea of being a dress designer. It never crossed my mind to do anything else.

I think these days young designers are in an even better position because of London's reputation. More and more foreign companies come over every year offering great jobs to students. The difficulty is when you come back from working in Milan or New York: you have to go from a first break to going it alone. One-night wonders fuel the London fashion scene.

To survive you have to be serious and focus on going for the best qualities. High stan-dards really do matter. I think that if you survive it is because you have something to say through your clothes, and people want to hear it.