The art of stand-up comedy

Kathryn Jackson's three-dimensional collages are a triumph of wit and observation
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The Independent Online
For women in their thirties and forties who no longer conform to model sizes, and care about stylish comfort rather than slavish fashion, Egg is heaven sent. This extraordinary shop, on the site of a 19th-century dairy in a quiet residential street at the back of Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge, London, has attracted a steady stream of loyal clients, including Barbra Streisand and Donna Karan.

When a few paragraphs appeared in The New York Times mentioning that Ms Karan had scooped up a collection of clothes from Egg, dozens of American tourists arrived at the door, holding up the cutting in awe and panting to see the collections.

Inside, Egg does not resemble a shop, and certainly not a high-fashion boutique. Whitewashed walls with blue tiles - remnants from dairy days - and a cobbled floor provide a background on which the owner, Maureen Doherty, has draped her intriguing collection.

Maureen, in partnership with the designer Asha Sarabhai, has concentrated on using natural fabrics in plain colours. Spring shades of white and indigo will gradually give way to pastel shades of pink, purple and mauve in the summer. The predominant designs are from India and China, and coats, jackets, dresses and drawstring trousers - you really can try clothes on after eating lunch - are made in hand-woven cotton, linen and silk.

A popular seller is the Khadi cotton shift based on a French design for a work shirt, which looks like the kind of artist's smock often worn over trousers. Indian designs based on a man's straight-cut coat are regularly bought by women; they sell for pounds 160 in hand-woven cotton, and up to pounds 640 in silk. For hand-embroidered silk coats the price can rise to nearly pounds 2,000; many of these are bought for weddings.

While the clothes are undoubtedly unisex, most of Egg's clients are women, though men favour the Mandarin-style round collared jackets. Also available are tie-dyed scarves, woven bamboo Indonesian fishing bags, pin-tucked silk cushions, embroidered cotton bedspreads and practical ceramic pottery.

Katie Acornley, a sales assistant, explains that the concept of Egg grew because Maureen felt there was a need for shops that didn't follow fashion to extremes and reinvent themselves every month. "Women need a place where they are made to feel welcome. Our clients often spend hours trying things on, and friends meet here to shop together. There are no assistants who make them feel inhibited, and, yes, we do offer people a cup of tea. We may be just behind Harvey Nichols, but it is a quiet street and customers can feel they are away from the bustle of the city."

Egg is at 36, Kinnerton Street, London, SW1X 8ES (0171-235 9315). Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm.

In the two-dimensional world of art, Kathryn Jackson's work literally stands out. Her witty three-dimensional paper collages are not only affordable, they are charmingly personal. Each is unique, since it's the personality and interests of the recipient that determine what goes in to it. One of her most recent commissions, for instance, was for Paul Bradley, who plays Nigel in EastEnders, who had a scene of the video shop and Queen Vic with a market stall in front as his leaving present from the show. Another client, an opera-lover whose wife doesn't share his passion, ordered a scene of the two of them in a box with him watching the stage and her reading Hello!

In order to produce one of her imaginative pieces, Kathryn first needs to know what it is for - a wedding present, a birthday, a retirement? - along with as much information as possible about the planned recipient and his or her interests. She also asks the giver to collect items that could be incorporated into the final piece: eg airline tickets, perhaps, for a frequent flier. Indeed, she often uses unusual bits of paper such as old banknotes, bonds and passports in her work; a scene of San Gimignano in Tuscany, for instance, was made entirely out of local wine labels. Once that's done, it takes Kathryn about two or three weeks to produce the final piece, since she may be heavily booked up with commercial work.

What impresses her in particular are the efforts her customers make to ferret around for things and keep the whole idea of the gift a secret. "I enjoy doing private commissions, because people put such a lot of time and effort into making their partners happy," she says. "It's great to see that side of life." She has no doubts that romance is alive and well, and cites as fairly typical the man who gave his wife a scene of the Empire State Building with a small plane trailing a banner with "Marry me?" on it as a wedding present, to remind her of where he'd proposed.

The price for such sympathetically individual art is more than reasonable. The smallest pieces cost from pounds 230 to commission, with the more usual- size scenes in 16-in-square frames costing pounds 600. Ready-made works in her small gallery in the Oxo Tower building in London cost less than this; the smallest are priced at around pounds 125.

Kathryn began making her 3-D collages at Maidstone College, where she was doing a graphic design degree. After graduation, she worked for six months for a small graphic design studio in Camberwell, south London, but soon found herself making so many collages for friends and anyone else who asked her that she decided to become self-employed. Some time later she was looking for a new studio space, and saw a sign advertising rooms for craftspeople and designers in the Oxo building. She became one of the first tenants, and is plainly delighted with her glass-fronted gallery with its spectacular view of the river.

The gallery has a small sample of her previous work, though she admits it's not as large as she would like, as she hasn't had time to replenish the stock. Among the pieces on display is one of the Taj Mahal, but when I ask her whether she's been to India she roars with laughter. "I've been to the library," she confesses. "They think I'm the best-travelled person in south-west London, because I get out all these books on Hong Kong and India."

That said, she has been abroad a great deal. The models she made for the opening credits of the BBC2 programme The Travel Show were created with the help of her collection of sketch books from past journeys in Italy, the south of France and elsewhere. The BBC is not the only commercial organisation to appreciate her talent for creating genuinely witty work. Past clients include Harvey Nichols, for whom she abandoned her attachment to strange types of paper in order to make a window display entirely out of food.

A breadstick horse has a limited shelf life and is not an obvious present, but the same cannot be said for Kathryn's paper collages. Witty, personal and an easily kept secret until the last minute, they are, like diamonds, for ever ... but a great deal less expensive.

Kathryn Jackson is at The Cube Gallery, 1.11 Oxo Tower Wharf, Barge House Street, London SE1 9PH (tel: and fax: 0171-401 8118; mobile: 0973 419272).

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