The Intelligent Consumer: A long way from Leyton

People in fashion: Sylvia Young's Soho boutique sells classical clothes for women with curves alongside pieces by young artists - rotten vegetables included. Linda Taylor reports

ROTTEN ONIONS and classic-cut clothes might seem an incongruous mix but not if the boutique doubles as a gallery, the onions are an installation, and the couture is Beau Monde.

Sylvia Young - no-nonsense creator of Beau Monde, a thriving fashion business/art gallery in the heart of Soho - is no stranger to incongruity. She was born and raised in the East End of London. Her mother did everything from rat catching to delivering babies, her pioneering great aunts left leafy Leyton to run a tea plantation in India, her father gave up the Scots Guards at 40 and became a self-taught accountant, so for Sylvia, "getting up and out of the East End, where careers weren't really thought about" was simply a matter of following in the family's intrepid footsteps.

It's Monday. She is tall, cool and punctual. On the way to her club, she tells me about her morning. Up early, hug for accountant husband, daughter to nursery, call in at the factory, open shop, doodle a few designs, and on to a meeting. As a member of the Soho Parent's Committee she's just finished thrashing out ideas on how best to implement the latest initiative outlined by the Government on working mothers and childcare.

We snake effortlessly through the backstreets of Soho, bound for Charlotte Street, sharing views on childcare, work, art, fashion and Sylvia's pet passion - women's curves.

Over lunch, she explains how the shop came about. "I'd spent all Saturday shopping, with money in my pocket, but I couldn't find a thing to buy. I went home depressed. When I woke on Sunday I knew I had to open my own shop. I ran the idea past my hairdresser, as one does, and he put me in touch with a couple of young designers. Rents back then were fairly cheap [she's been in Soho for 11 years], which allowed me to make a few mistakes in the first few years. Even so it was hard, and for a while I barely covered my outgoings. But I had a lot of supportive people around me who believed in me and helped me out. Initially I carried a range of different designs but after a few years I began to develop my own. "

So where did it all begin? In Sylvia's words she has simply "gone with the flow". She has sold fashion, managed it, styled it and worn it. So it was inevitable that one day she should design it. She studied shop design and point of sale at the College of Design and Technology (CDT) on the Charing Cross Road, part of Central St Martins, where, incidentally, she saw the first Sex Pistols' gig. Her first job was to dress the windows of Harrods. She moved on and up to run a concession at Dickins & Jones. But it still wasn't exactly what she wanted. A shop was the only logical conclusion.

Looking back over the past 11 years she has never been happier. "It's hard work. I'm here six days a week. But I love it. I like girls to look good. I like to flatter girls ... to accentuate their curves." And it seems the girls like Sylvia. Customers from all over the world return time and again. "My designs are for women like me, business women, working mothers, busy people with no time to shop around. Typically, a client will rush from Heathrow for a 10am fitting, then on to a meeting, back at six to collect the outfit and on to Heathrow, all the time juggling children, nannies and the rest of it. More and more these days women are breadwinners and carers, with heavy schedules and no time for themselves. So I'm here to pamper them."

Her designs are aimed at the 24-40 age group and about 90 per cent of her customers are regulars. She dresses all sorts, from scientists to socialites, advertising execs and media types to Ascot ladies. She even transformed one woman's love life after persuading her to wear a skirt, her first since her school days.

While other labels have come and gone - not many shops survive the rigours of fickle old Soho - Sylvia's designs have endured. They are timeless, elegant, formal and, with the right accessories, sexy. The fabrics are exquisite, the colours earthy and natural - burnt siennas and ochres - the cut is elegant Fifties and early Sixties. "My mother was a great inspiration. She's gone now but I have these photographs of her looking so smart in those sharp suits."

Most importantly, however, the clothes are affordable. A dress suit costs about pounds 400 and a skirt suit, pounds 300. Sylvia pitches her prices at "less than the average monthly mortgage repayments". Not bad for a suit that she reckons will "last four years".

But back to the onions. Sylvia believes in "cross fertilisation" and is a dedicated follower of modern art. "There are a lot of young artists out there who have just left college. They need to show and sell their work but may not have enough pieces to exhibit in a mainstream gallery." Her shop space is booked up until October 2000. "Everyone benefits. My shop gets redesigned every six weeks. The artists find buyers for their work and my customers enjoy the paradox. After all, where else can they buy outfits more frequently seen on the backs of Ascot ladies alongside mad organic installations or framed by tortured oils on canvas?"

And her plans for the future? "To see my outfits selling countrywide." To this end, and in keeping with her patronage of new young artists, Sylvia has just employed the services of the radical Submerge Advertising to redefine the Beau Monde image. "It was a great job, the new look is brilliant. So now we're all set for a concession with ... well, who knows, perhaps Austin Reed! I think they'd like my customers."

Beau Monde, 43 Lexington Street, London W1, 0171 734 6563

Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Head of IT (Not-for-Profit sector) - East Sussex

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + 5 weeks holiday & benefits: Ashdown Group: Head of...

    Nursery Nurse

    £25 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse needed in th...

    Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

    £21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

    KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

    £110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape