Britain has always been directional in its fashion. We have spawned such designer greats as John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, Katharine Hamnett and Rifat Ozbek. They are now firmly established and successful. Then we have the next layer, people like Hussein Chalayan and Alexander McQueen, now several seasons into notoriety: Chalayan for his unusual use of "fabric" (paper) and his first claim to genial madness, burying his clothes for weeks; McQueen for his subversive tailoring and introducing "bumsters" - trousers so unforgiving in the pelvic department they gave a whole new slant to a bikini wax. But the designers profiled here are the newest wave yet, tipped for the top by three fashion experts: Tamsin Blanchard, fashion editor of The Independent; Wendy Dagworthy, course director of BA Hons Fashion at Central St Martins (coincidentally the fashion college all our "youngsters" are from) and Joan Burstein, co-owner of Browns in London's South Molton Street (called "fairy godmother" by Galliano, she gave him his first window in Browns 10 years ago and she did the same for Chalayan two years ago). One interesting point this piece threw up is how many designers - great, nearly great or fledgling - are of foreign blood, though all those featured here are British born. Maybe fashion, with its theatre and drama, attracts those of a passionate nature, not something normally associated with Anglo-Saxons.

SHELLEY FOX, 29, graduated 1996

Fox has just graduated from Central St Martins. Liberty is helping to finance the production for her first collection (autumn/winter 96) and will sell it exclusively for that season. Her entire collection is in pure lambswool. The fabric is knitted and felted and then embossed and scorched. In fact, the yellow colour of the outfit shown was arrived at by scorching - initially by accident. Its original colour is ecru. The scorching is done very gently with special machinery and the fabric is covered to protect it so it doesn't go hard (her clothes are butter soft). "It's a very clean process, almost like a very clean way of printing. The scorches put creases in and change the colour of the fabric," Fox explains. Her clothes have an engineering quality to them. Creases where the arm bends at the elbow, and where the neck would crease the fabric in a high-necked style, are scorched in. "It's almost like using what the body does to the clothes and using these ideas in the fabric. The creases are scorched in and placed in a certain way, so it's quite a long process," she says.

Nominated by Tamsin Blanchard: "Simple ideas are often the best. Shelley works with pure wool and makes it into something really special. She's got staying power. She's not going to change the pace of fashion, but she will stick to her own vision."

FINTAN WALSHE, 25, graduated 1995

He has been heralded as the new designer - his name came up again and again. He says: "Designing clothes is an art form. I know it's a business as well but I see it as an art form. It's a difficult balance of commercialism and creativity and it's quite easy to be totally slated if your clothes are considered unwearable or un-understandable, but maybe these restrictions fuel creativity. You can wear my clothes, you can put them on, but you can't go down to Safeway in them. But what can you go down to Safeway in?" The outfit shown is from his graduation collection entitled "Digital Dreams and Delusions". He also designed a "digital dream" dress that ran on watch batteries and had red light sequences running through it. "I'm striving for a new classicism," Walshe says. "I don't like to eliminate any possibilities of what is considered bad taste."

Nominated by Wendy Dagworthy and Joan Burstein. Dagworthy says: "I like his questioning attitude to design. It's very individual and has a wonderful sense of wit. It's very tongue in cheek and he has great colour sense. He challenges fashion and goes his own way." Burstein says: "Fintan understands modern glamour and cuts for a modern girl, and I think what stood out about his collection is that it's very on the edge, almost vulgar, almost tacky but not. He's redefining taste and has a way of making something that could be vulgar and flashy work in a very contemporary way. It reminded us of a Damien Hirst piece."

ANTONIO BERARDI, 27, graduated 1994 Berardi wanted to be a designer or a priest when he was growing up. But he got disillusioned with the Church: "I saw one priest with houses all over the place, brand new cars and loads of money and I thought, 'That's not what it's all about'. But I loved all the pomp and ceremony. In Sicily [where his parents are from] you'd get this small town and 16 churches." He graduated from Central St Martins in 1994; he now teaches five days a week and designs for a young, clubby label in Japan to enable him to finance his own label. Pryesh Shah is his commercial director and he deals with the everyday running of the business to enable Berardi to be creative. "I think people can sometimes get fooled when they have a degree collection that is fabulous, thinking they can be a designer, but it's not that simple," says Berardi. His influences are "music, clubs and my family. Sicilian women are strong. There is nothing anti-women in my collection, nothing that would make a woman feel inadequate. They are all powerful pieces." The dress featured is in wool, but it looks like satin. "The idea behind the autumn/winter 96 collection," explains Shah, "is a mix, from Sloaney women who talk to themselves in Waitrose and smell of wee, to Victoriana, to a Japanese influence in some of the jackets."

Nominated by Wendy Dagworthy: "He's very individual and an excellent cutter and this comes over in his clothes. He makes glamorous clothes that make women look beautiful in the old sense of the word. He's very brave, and an exceptionally hard worker and he has wonderful colour sense."