Shy Stella McCartney strides into top Paris house of fashion

Stella McCartney, 25, daughter of ex Beatle Sir Paul, has succeeded Karl Lagerfeld as chief designer at the French house Chloe, to the amazement of the British fashion establishment.

The appointment of Ms McCartney has come as a complete surprise because of her apparent lack of experience. She graduated from St Martin's college in London only two years ago, has never held a catwalk show and has only produced three small collections available exclusively through London and New York boutiques. Though she has never been one to seek the limelight personally or professionally, with her best friends including the models Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss she doesn't need too.

In fashion-land new design appointments are big news. John Galliano's appointment to Christian Dior last October, which was closely followed by Alexander McQueen's arrival at Givenchy, pushed British fashion pundits into a state of hysteria, and the French establishment into shock.

Ms McCartney's collections to date have been a fusion of the mannish tailoring techniques she picked up on Savile Row, and the lingerie-style dresses and skirts inspired by her time at Christian Lacroix and her collection of vintage underwear. "I am not a chick for seasonal dressing," she has said, "and it's important to have the feminine and masculine thing combined."

Kate Moss loves her clothes as do the top American fashion editors who swoop on her west London flat every time they visit Britain. They invariably buy her wispy slip dresses sprinkled with beads and team them with long- tailored jackets that have "Whistle and Flute" embroidered into the lining. Katie Grand, fashion editor of the magazine Dazed & Confused is also a big fan. She said: "I think it's brilliant news. Chloe are obviously taking a risk with her, and good for them."

Some cynics may well be thinking that Ms McCartney's appointment is a PR exercise, riding on the Brit-fash wave and using the illustrious McCartney name. To some extent they would be right. It worked for Bernard Arnault, owner of Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), when he orchestrated the Dior and Givenchy deal with Galliano and McQueen which revived the fortunes of both companies. Vendome, which also owns Cartier, Piaget, the Karl Lagerfeld line and Alfred Dunhill, are using McCartney in the same way, but with a long-term goal - to revive interest in the company which was worth pounds 524m in 1994.

Chloe embodied fashion in the late Seventies. It was diaphanous, colourful and served as high fashion's interpretation of the gypsy look. Throughout the Eighties Lagerfeld's kudos kept the label going, but in 1988 Martine Sitbon changed the mood from floaty and ethereal to more toned-down tailoring.

Ms McCartney's appointment will fuse the two key elements that have kept the company going - the masculine and the feminine - and could well attract the young customers lured away in recent years by hot new labels such as Prada and the re-vamped Gucci.

Yesterday Ms McCartney made her first visit to the Chloe atelier at the Rue du Faubourg St-Honore in Paris. A spokeswoman said: "She is so excited about this post, Stella has been meeting everyone today, and practising her French." The deal, for five years, is for an undisclosed sum, but she will be on a very healthy salary, probably in the region of pounds 100,000. Her first collection showing this autumn will make her the youngest chief designer in Paris. Her own label will be discontinued, but one thing is for sure: this McCartney will be bringing a breath of fresh air to the label, and a bevy of supermodel fans.

Lagerfeld's swan-song for Chloe took place in Paris last month to a backdrop of kitsch props with models wandering around like lost sheep. It was seen by many as an exercise in frivolity by the Chanel, Fendi and own-label designer who had worked for Chloe from 1965-1983 and then from 1992. As a result, there was little speculation on a successor, but many believed it would be Peter O'Brien, head designer at Rochas, who worked at Chloe in 1986-87 or the Brit, Antonio Berardi, who was also approached by directors at Vendome, the company who own the label.

McCartney clan determined to stay out of the limelight

Sir Paul McCartney has determinedly shielded his children from the showbusiness limelight.

Nevertheless, with an ex-Beatle for a father and the nation's best-known vegetarian for a mother, they inevitably make the headlines: Heather, 34, the eldest and Linda's daughter from a previous marriage, makes designer pottery; Mary, 27, is an accomplished photographer and picture editor with her father's music publishing company, MPL Communications and James, 19, is a student who has yet to choose a career.

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