Marks & Spencer probably started the trend when it first let slip that influential designers (such as Paul Smith), had been advising its in-house design teams. Certainly, the clothes looked better for the collaboration, but the M&S label, while trusted and loved, lacks designer cachet; it's all very well that we're told Paul Smith had a hand in the suits, but it would be even nicer to have his name (even if it has to share label space with the Marks & Spencer logo) at your neck. And this is where Debenhams has been so clever: the designers it has liaised with have theirs stitched tightly into place.
It all began back in 1993, when Debenhams invited Philip Treacy, the milliner, not simply to advise on its hats and headgear but also to create an exclusive collection for the chain. The idea was so simple, and so obvious. And, of course, it has been hugely successful (No surprise then that M&S has woken up to the possibilities - rumour has it that a labelled designer collection will be appearing in its menswear departments very soon). Having proved the idea could work other designers were swiftly signed up.
In 1994, BDL was launched, Debenhams' exclusive collection of slinky Ben de Lisi eveningwear. Soon customers were also able to get their hands on stylish tailoring at high-street prices, courtesy of Jasper Conran and his J Collection (trousers from pounds 100 and jackets from pounds 150). The current list of designers "doing a Debenhams" now includes Pearce Fionda, whose Pearce II Fionda label includes sexy everything, from long fake-fur coats for pounds 250, to pretty tops for a mere pounds 35.
Having started with accessories (Treacy's hats; brilliantly stylish and keenly priced bags by Lulu Guinness and Bill Amberg; jewellery by Van Peterson and scarves by Neisha Crosland) and cleaned up with fashion, the powers that be have moved in on the lucrative homewears market.
This spring, Cath Kidston kicked off with a pretty collection of bedlinen and bath accessories, all in her trademark Fifties-style sprigged chintzes (prices from pounds 9 for a small hand towel). The collection was well received and is selling steadily. Last month, Jasper Conran followed with an understated yet stylish selection of desk accessories - photoframes, storage boxes and albums, all covered in navy, black and brown leather - and big fluffy bathrobes, towels and scented soaps. The latter are OK - smart, but pretty ordinary - but the leather storage boxes are incredibly good value at pounds 18 for a box to store computer disks, and up to pounds 22 for one which takes videos. The collection continues with bold navy and white bedlinen which should be filtering into the store this month.
Last week saw the launch of a collection of interior accessories by interior designer de jour, Kelly Hoppen. Loved by her fans for her pared down orientalism - lots of contrasting linens in subdued tones, laquer boxes and chunky stem vases - her range will not disappoint. It comprises chic and expensive- looking linen cushions (complete with large mother of pearl button detailing), chunky candles and simple vases, either in glass with her monogram or ceramic versions with matt glazes. Prices start at around pounds 25 for cushions and pounds 25 for simple laquer chests.
Where once a Debenhams carrier bag signalled a dowdy fashion faux pas, it has now became the mark of the canny shopper who does not need to take out a second mortgage in order to secure a little taste of couture or a helping hand from an interior designer. (OK, so Philip Treacy et al's off the peg collections for Debenhams are still a long way from couture but, in high-street terms, it is as close as we are going to get.)
So, whether it's a new look for your home or something nice for your wardrobe, Debenhams is the place to start your search.
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