Harriet Free, the marketing director, sold shirts in the dealing rooms of the City in those halcyon days before Black Monday. That would not be such an easy task these days, she admits - 'the security is much tighter, and City people are feeling the pinch like everyone else' - but there is still a clear gap in the market for well-cut, well-made shirts for working women.
Workshop buys the best quality linen and cotton fabrics it can find from the Italian mills, and has the shirts made in Ulster in clean, unfussy designs (praise be, there are very few stripes). Its first shop opened in Cheltenham in 1988. The new shop in the City is small and simple: light beech fittings, shirts packed from floor to ceiling in see-through boxes. Samples are displayed on a rail so you can have a thorough look at the designs and try them on.
The shirts are not cheap ( pounds 39.95 for stonewashed chambray, pounds 69.95 for linen), but the quality is impressive. They are superior to many shirts stamped with a designer label.
Cuffs are a strong feature of the generously-cut shirts. Best-selling styles include a fly-front and double-cuff shirt in linen (ask for the Metropolitan), and a soft cotton shirt with cuffs that can either be worn single or double (the Brompton). I also liked the collarless Roma shirt with a half placket front and the long Milan overshirt.
Each shirt is sold in up to nine colours: some were too gaudy for my taste, but the softer taupes and rusts were tempting.
Workshop is knocking pounds 10 or more off the usual prices during the summer sale, which lasts until the end of August. The autumn collection will carry through most of the best-selling styles and new designs, including a silk georgette evening shirt with flamboyant gathered arms ( pounds 110).
It makes good sense for mail-order companies to have a shop of their own: it serves as a public showroom for their products. It is also good news for those of us, potential customers, who never feel satisfied shopping for clothes by catalogue.
Workshop, 52 Bow Lane, London EC4; 20 Regent Street, Cheltenham. Phone 071- 498 5878 for a catalogue.
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