The Intelligent Consumer: A lounge-wear wizard does the business

People in fashion; Fashion designers deal in ideas not balance sheets, don't they? Imogen Fox meets the exception who proves the rule
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Guessing the profession of Anita Jenkins would be extremely difficult. Doctor, maybe, solicitor, teacher, perhaps. Certainly, she does not fit into any stereotype of a fashion designer. Jenkins, 28, designer behind the 3F label, has been involved in every aspect of fashion retail since leaving school at 18. She has made sure that she can sew, cut a pattern, market her own designs, buy in other people's collections, run a shop, sell clothes, do the books.

This complete competence is apparent on meeting her - she looks efficient, somehow. Her studio is tidy and clean, with an obvious attention to detail, the single pink flowers in clear vases which line the windowsill emphasise an ordered creativity. Jenkins is well aware of both her creative and business sides: "At 20, I knew I wanted to design, but I knew I wanted to do the business side as well, spewing out designs all day wouldn't have made me very happy. If I spend a day just doing business, I can't wait to get back to fiddling with fabrics."

After various retail jobs, including a stint at Harrods, Jenkins joined Graham and Green, a triple-sited clothes and interiors shop, in London's Notting Hill in 1992. It was here that Jenkins was first able to utilise her creativity as well as her business sense. While managing and buying for the shop, Jenkins saw a gap in the market between what she could buy in and what she wanted to buy in.

Accordingly, she went to Antonia Graham, one of the shop's owners, and suggested that she might be able to design the "cement between the bricks" - own label clothes that would sit well between the other collections. Graham agreed. "She really took a flyer," recalls Jenkins. "She's extraordinary, she gave me a chance right at the beginning with no design experience." Graham remembers Jenkins as very dynamic, always moving very quickly and likely to move on if Graham and Green didn't move as quickly.

Jenkins produced two collections of "Anita Jenkins at Graham and Green" before deciding to create her own label, 3F, in 1994. She was designing "every other minute, lunchtimes, evenings" and at the same time continuing to work in Graham and Green, who bought her first 3F collection. Working seven days a week, on 3F and at Graham and Green, finally took its toll in December 1995 when Jenkins decided to devote all her time to 3F, a move she describes as "a jump into the unknown, into a business where most fail." 3F has, in fact, done extremely well, selling to such diverse places as Selfridges and Tokio in Brompton Cross. The clothes are cleanly cut, but are often made with brightly coloured fabrics. She loves colour - a result, she believes, of childhood summers spent in the then Yugoslavia (her mother is Croatian, her father British). Indeed, all Jenkins designs start from a colour that she has in her head.

Jenkins quickly scribbles a Venn diagram to further explain her particular approach to designing. "I've always been heavily influenced by all sorts of things. In each design, I try to bring in different elements rather than just working with clothing and fabrics and purely fashion. I'm not a purist in any sense of the imagination." Jenkins thrives on the idea of what she sees as a blurred area between fashion design and interiors design. She believes firmly in broadened horizons - her newly appointed assistant, Sophia, has an art rather than a fashion background, something the designer sees as a real asset to the business.

The recently launched 3F Home - Jenkins's latest venture - is also intended to ignore any distinct "rules" about fashion design. The idea for this home-wear range came about in April last year, when Jenkins was approached by The Conran Shop with the brief of re-designing its sleep-wear range. Her unisex white linen pj's (they did up the men's way) and kimono-style robes created for Conran sold at "a phenomenal rate".

This sparked an idea for Jenkins of a collection of lounge-wear - fabrics and shapes and colours which make the intended purpose of the clothes ambiguous. Jenkins sent out samples to her female friends and relatives and asked them how they used them. "Some people travelled in them, some went to lunch in them with a little T-shirt, some slept in them." Jenkins herself often travels in her drawstring trousers, but they aren't too pj-like that she can't dress them up for an evening meal.

Despite Jenkins abundance of design theories, it is unlikely that she will get carried away on a gust of her own ideas, her buying experience enables her to swiftly edit her own collection. But she hasn't finished yet. Jenkins's conception for 3F is only partly realised - to find out more, you'll have to wait for the new year.

3F is available at Selfridges and Tokio in London. 3F Home is available at Liberty, The Conran Shop and Whistles. Enquiries: 0171 437 6822.

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