10 Best under-the-radar brands
Published 29/01/2014 | 11:34
It may sound like a back-handed compliment to describe the labels on these pages as "under the radar".
A number of them have deliberately adopted a low-key presence because they believe that not every woman wants to be wearing the ubiquitous "must-have" that's advertised everywhere.
Some, such as Suzannah, who have discovered a craving among women for one-off bespoke outfits that, satisfyingly, cost around the same as ready-to-wear from the big brands, want to stay niche. Others have just started, or in the case of Bimba y Lola, only recently launched in Britain.
From made-to-measure cocktail and wedding dresses to slouchy weekend wear, via breezy chic pieces for the office, they all deliver - we believe - value for money, and prove the dynamism of the fashion scene.
Even if you're someone who likes the reassurance of shopping with established names, there are plenty of reasons for investigating our selection here, not least their size and service.
You're unlikely to spot your favourite item from them on dozens of other women - yet. None of the companies here have the clout to promote their designs endlessly. We think that's a good thing. In an era where big brands seem to dominate, here are 10 reasons to take heart
The low-down: Ultra-luxurious, impeccably made to measure for those who think discretion is a key part of being beautifully dressed.
What makes this different from the rest: All pieces - and some of the fabrics - are designed and made in-house. Her studio is in a picturesque mews in London's Marylebone - clients are treated like royalty. But then some of them are.
What's the damage: Think Céline but more luxurious and less ubiquitous - very pricey, but timeless. From £850 for made-to-measure knitwear.
What you should know: Valentine, a trained ballerina, set up her business in 1986, and has assiduously avoided the limelight ever since. Although her clothes are beautiful, they never dominate the woman wearing them.
Bottom line: Best known for streamlining the Duchess of Cornwall, who never puts a sartorial foot wrong in Valentine, Valentine also has a rigorously modern, minimalist side.
The low-down: An unstudied edit of everyday staples for men, women and children, with a whiff of Scandi functionality.
What makes this different? John Lewis's own brand, Kin, offers well-cut separates in smart, clean fabrics. We're taken with the culottes and quilted-jersey bomber jackets.
What's the damage? That famous never-knowingly-undersold promise holds true: from £25 for a slubby jersey T-shirt and £120 for a tuxedo jacket.
What you should know: This season Kin does shoes; metallic-heeled sandals look school-run-appropriate but not mumsy. We're undecided on the mini-me looks - adult lines available in child sizes.
Bottom line: A simple roster of basics.
The low-down: Classic, beautifully made-to-measure dresses, suits and wedding dresses with a vintage-but-not-too-vintage vibe.
What makes this different from the rest? Whether you visit her boutique in London, near Selfridges on Oxford Street, or online, the first thing you'll see is ready-to-wear styles. If you're looking for modifications or want to ensure you have a one-off, that is available. All customized pieces are made in London.
What's the damage? From £295 for an off-the-peg jacket, £425 for a silk tea-dress, up to £900-plus for bespoke, depending on fabrics. Wedding dresses are under £2,000.
Why you should know: Suzannah Crabb worked for both M&S and Karen Millen. Made-to-measure takes a up to 12 weeks and requires a couple of fittings. It's worth the investment, these are deceptively simple dresses in silks and satins that won't date, glamorous yet playful. No wonder they appeal to all types, from fashion editors to young royals (who look their best when wearing her).
Bottom line: Because her bespoke is adapted from her ready-to-wear, you get a clear idea of what your made-to-measure will look like; that takes the stress and fear out of ordering.
The low-down: Relaxed, easy-to-wear pieces that play with ideas of androgyny.
What makes this different from the rest? Atea's focus is well-cut wardrobe building blocks that can be worn every day and to everything. All fabrics are sourced in New Zealand - origin of creative director Laura Myer - and colours are refreshingly muted.
What's the damage? What they call "affordable luxury". T-shirts in the softest modal jersey are £80, cotton shirt dresses £235. Tailoring is the priciest part, at £500 for a lined, double-breasted blazer.
Why you should know: Only in its second season, Atea is gaining a cult following. These classics won't go out of fashion.
Bottom line: Simple, timeless and well-made.
The low-down: Good-sized leather bags made in the factories used by the designers.
What makes this different from the rest? Desa has stuck a balance between size, weight and price. The bags are fashion-led but aren't painfully cool.
What's the damage? Reasonable, for leather - £117 for a mini bag and go up to £529 for a large leather tote.
Why you should know: Set up in the Seventies, Desa has made bags for Marc Jacobs, McQueen and "premium French, English and Italian houses" for years.
Bottom line: The website's photos do not do them justice, so go to one of the London stores.
The low-down: Everyday basics that extend beyond skinny jeans and oversized jumpers - although they're there too.
What makes this different from the rest? Although clearly put together by someone who keeps an eye on Céline and Givenchy, this is about easy, chic style that works at work and at the weekend, rather than one-season trends - and genuinely likes to keep it real. Clare Hornby (related to Nick Hornby), the founder and creative director, has a blog on the website in which she models looks.
What's the damage? Nothing major. Block-coloured merino knits around £90, trousers £120, jackets £200 and the clothes are generally better quality than you'd expect at this price range.
What you should know: You may have stumbled across this website a few years ago when it was a "lounge-wear" range, selling upmarket jogging pants and wrap cardigans in modal and silky jersey. It's come on a long way, but the comfort remains: this is effortless smart-casual dressing.
Bottom line: If you like modern, understated androgyny, you'll like most of this. If you live near the Blairs in London, check out its first shop.
The low-down: Cashmere that doesn't look like it's been festering in a golf club locker.
What makes this different from the rest? Cashmere snobs abound in these jumper-clad times, but Madeleine Thompson's look cool and keep you warm. Her pieces come with a twist: boxy jumpers with a slit at the hem, arm-warmers in neon pink, draped cardigans with asymmetric hems.
What's the damage? Cashmere this soft doesn't come cheap. A neon beanie will set you back £95, a full-length silk-cashmere mix dress £370 (and the silk means it holds its shape). There are still sale bargains left.
What you should know: Hong Kong-born Thompson founded the line in 2008. Tamara Mellon saw her collection and bought the whole lot. Sienna Miller's a fan.
The bottom line: Sophisticated loungewear that's not just for the sofa.
The low-down: Eye-catching shoes that don't cost the Earth. They're comfy too.
What makes this different from the rest? The price of shoes seems to have risen faster than that of London houses, but Loeffler Randal bucks the trend. Founder Jessie Randall makes them elegant but fun. Lots of British designers have the same idea; expect to pay twice the price for theirs.
What's the damage? From around £100 for leather sandals. Court shoes and heeled sandals sit at £200, boots at £300-400.
Why you should know: Started in 2005, the brand has 200 retailers worldwide but is yet to crack Britain. Made in Brazil, their shoes are a step above US brands often found wanting in quality. Celebrities and numerous New York fashion editors swear by them.
Bottom line: Great for the office and black tie. Available at selected department stores.
BIMBA Y LOLA
The low-down: Another style hit from the Spanish, who seem to excel at affordable chic
What Makes This Different from the Rest? Excellent though Zara and Massimo Dutti are, Bimba y Lola has a more niche feel. That's partly thanks to them only having two UK stores (so far), both of which have an unrushed, upmarket feel. The Notting Hill branch, with its dark wooden floors and airy green views is particularly luxe.
What's the damage? Less than you'd imagine. A viscose crepe blouse costs around £65 (£52 in the sale); Tailored jackets, around £175 - this is upper end high street but with a niche approach.
What You Should Know : Founded by two sisters, this covers every base - from hats to shoes, casual to cocktail - and offers a huge choice. There are bags too, although these are somewhat marred by the logo. Stick with the clothes and belts. Minimalist or maximalist you'll find what you want here.
Bottom Line; Look a million euro without spending anything like that. Savvy fashionistas line up - this won't stay secret much longer.
The low-down: If you like Margaret Howell, you'll love Studio Nicholson.
What makes this different from the rest? A nonchalant cut in light fabrics; we like the softly tailored trousers, oversized wool T-shirts and cotton shirting. You can throw these on, knowing you look like you've given it some thought. Phoebe Philo has made this sartorial torpor her signature - Nicholson's prices are more palatable.
What's the damage? A panelled wool top is £240 (£120 in the sale); a fleeced wool car coat is £572 (now £286).
What you should know: Launched in 2010 by a menswear designer, Nick Wakeman, the designs are reworked from a masculine silhouette. They work better on taller women - curves and hips are less catered for.
The bottom line: Girls who like borrowing from the boys can add it to the list.