Fashion From supermodels to society gals, women are developing clothes lines - and cashing in on buyers' hopes that some star allure will rub off on them.
Logically, women should design clothes for women. But, of course, there's nothing logical about fashion. Which might be why, with the exception of a handful of grandes dames (namely Madeleine Vionnet, Coco Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin, Rei Kawakubo and Vivienne Westwood), designing has historically been a job for the boys.
Now, though, a new generation of female designers are bleeping on the fashion radar. Young, gorgeous and from all corners of the globe, these women all share a taste for off-kilter femininity and something infinitely more important in business terms. They embody their aesthetic and, as such, are poster girls for their own brands. "Babe labels" - clothing lines designed by women who personify their labels - are the newest phenomena in fashion. Stella McCartney is arguably the leader of the babe brigade.
"I know what makes a chick tick," she once famously bragged. And indeed she did. Does. Other babe labels include Marchesa, Vanessa Bruno, Luella, Jovovich-Hawk, Issa, Sass & Bide, Alannah Hill, Malene Birger, Velvet, Milly, Tibi, Erin Fetherston, Gharani Strok and Sienna and Savannah Miller, the pretty blonde American sisters behind London label Twenty8Twelve. Having established herself as one of the coolest dressers on the planet, Sienna then seemingly whipped her fashion designer sister, Savannah, from the bag. The result is a collaboration oozing the louche, layered style of the jet-setting babe mixed with vintage.
Of course it helps if you are a tiny size 6 like the Miller sisters, but it isn't essential. In fact, one of the best selling points of all the babe labels is the fact that they do come in sizes other than small, unlike so many designer brands with men at the helm. The real draw, though, is the hope that if we buy into the brand a little of the designer's allure might rub off on us. Witness the success of Elizabeth Hurley's bikinis and Elle Macpherson's eponymous brand. After all, who wouldn't want a little supermodel boost to their swimwear?
In their spare time, babe designers hang out with stylish friends, clubbing in Ibiza, partying in LA. They don't even need fashion campaigns to mock up their fashionable lifestyles - they live it for real. The paparazzi can be relied upon to chronicle it for onlookers and fans. Take Tamara Mellon, the gorgeous and groomed heiress behind the Jimmy Choo empire. The society girl (who has a personal wealth estimated at Dh647,764,038) is the face and DNA behind the babe's favourite shoe. She is photographed from boardroom to private plane to gossip-fuelled lunch, always looking perfect. Even if we can't be Tamara, we can slip on a pair of Jimmy Choo's and buy into the brand.
Being gorgeous and glamorous can't entirely explain the success of babe labels. For this we have to scrutinise the clothes. Stella McCartney's groovy girlie gear is clever. It includes the sort of stuff dreamt up during sleepovers with the girls or sisters: days of the week-embroidered lingerie; vertiginous heels or pull-on thigh boots (all very sexy but practical). As a woman designing for women, McCartney also recognises the need to cut mannish trouser tuxedo jackets with room for ladylike busts, as well as the occasional sloppy long cardigan or tasselled suede luxury poncho for those days when only something roomy and covered up will do.
Instead of creating a wardrobe you have to "live up to", babe designers set out to create pieces, crucially on-trend but, even more crucially, comfortable. The reason the Desperate Housewives actress Terri Hatcher chooses the American babe brand Velvet both on and off set is that the T-shirts are smart enough to be worn for the school run as well as out to a restaurant in the evening. In other words, they fit every woman's lifestyle, whether or not she is a Hollywood star.
Daniella Helayel, a gorgeous globetrotting Brazilian, came up with the idea for her stretchy "Issa" dress because she couldn't find anything versatile enough to take her from Ipanema beach to the Glastonbury music festival. Only a woman could have dreamt up a dress that you could bundle in your hand luggage as well as the washing machine - and that you don't need to iron. So where can you find these labels? A small boutique is often best. Many brands don't start out on the catwalk and are bought in small orders or limited editions, so you won't turn up somewhere with an identical dress (surely every woman's nightmare?).
"Our customers don't want to go to a wedding and everyone instantly recognise their dress is by Matthew Williamson or Prada," says Katie Lopes, co-owner of the online boutique Austique, which specialises in Australian "babe" labels. "A beautiful sequined dress by Alannah Hill costs half the price and is just as beautiful." Anna Park, the owner of the chain of girlie boutiques Anna, makes another point.
"I've always steered towards unknown labels which offer value for money and something a bit different." "Chloe and Gucci aren't for 'real' women," argues Park. "We all know they only look good on women younger than 25 who are skinny and they cost a fortune. "In contrast, babe labels, although not cheap, have sensible sizings and are designed with respect for the women who wear them."