15 secret go-to brands loved by fashion insiders



Photo: Freda

It may sound like a back-handed compliment to describe the labels below 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.

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 15 reasons to take heart.

FREDA (main picture)

The low-down: Matches Fashion’s own brand, which is the perfect complement to the store’s designer edit.
What makes this different from the rest? The finely tuned range of everyday wearable pieces, such as shearling biker jackets and double-breasted coats, nod to winter’s trends but in a more muted way.
What’s the damage? Linen tees £65, knits £275, coats £695 and the sheepskin jacket, £1,200.
What you should know? The stand-out piece this year is undoubtedly the cobalt-blue trapeze coat.
Bottom line: The pit stop for sophisticated women on-the-go.


The low-down: The in-house label of Net-a-Porter’s outlet store, the Outnet.
What makes this different from the rest? Launched two years ago, it specialises in making the season’s key pieces wearable. Cable-knits are cropped to work with this year’s high waists; slouchy leather trousers come perfectly unadorned and its blouses kick out at the waist to dress up jeans.
What’s the damage? Blouses £115, cable-knits are £255 while the slouchy leather trousers are a competitive £320.
What you should know? Its thick silk blouses are ideal for the office and great quality for the price point.
Bottom line: For fashionable girls who want to tick off the trends but can’t quite afford NAP’s prices.


Blue dress £495 , red dress, £420 , navy jacket, £595

The low-down: Looking for dresses with sleeves? Head to Goat.
What makes this different from the rest? The British brand has made a name for itself crafting easy-to-wear, simply cut dresses, blouses and coats that offer a timeless appeal for a woman of any age.
What’s the damage? Its collarless coat is £595 and its wool shift dress £495 – not cheap if you are buying the whole outfit, but good quality.
What you should know? Its first store is due to open on Regent Street this month.
Bottom line: A no brainer for event or work dressing.


Grey dress £275 , blue jacket £750 , cream pants £275 , cream blazer £495

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.


Shoes, £99 , red bag, £299 , black bag, £259

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.


Burgundy cashmere wrap, £340 , cream cashmere wrap, £365

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. Oh, and wonderful bags.
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.


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 euros 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.


Leopard dress, £245 , printed dress, £265

The low-down: Key traditional British basics but with the twist of East London cool.
What makes this different from the rest? House of Hackney’s focus is about being made in England and inspired by England, from British traditionalism to a youthful East London vibe. So from peony red prints to leopard print lilac, there’s an injection of cool in each standout, high-quality wardrobe essential.
What’s the damage? You can nab yourself a lovely little pencil skirt for just £165. Prices for chiffon dresses range from between £250-£355 and you’ll be able to pick up a cashmere jumper for around £245.
What you should know? The husband-wife design team began the company as an interiors label and the bold signature prints of the clothing are inspired by those used on their wallpapers, bed linen and furniture.
Bottom line: Be careful – once you’ve bought the clothes, you’ll want the wallpaper.


Top, £295 , waistcoat £380 , skirt £380

The low-down: Basics you can get really quite excited about.
What makes this different from the rest? Founder, Rachel Wilson, begins each collection by picking a fabric and colour rather than starting with a theme. This adds to the excellent cut and feel of the final garment, making for excellently made and very unique staple pieces.
What’s the damage? Prices start at about £185 – for which you can pick up a white shirt – and get to around the £600 mark for a printed jumpsuit or wool coat.
What you should know?
Regardless of your personal style, garments are designed to be the key building blocks of any look, so embrace the versatility in these elegant staple items.
Bottom line: London through and through – with everything designed, cut and sampled in the brand’s Baker Street showroom.


The low-down: Defining the middle-ground between mass market and designer in a Manhattan cool manner.
What makes this different from the rest? Simple, modern and luxurious pieces but with a twist of unexpected colour combinations from candy blues to mint greens.
What’s the damage? A textured wool blend coat will set you back £773, but you can nab a jumper for £268 and will pay around £300-400 for a skirt or pair of trousers.
What you should know? Amy Smilovic began the line in 1997 with no formal fashion training, just a desperate need for clothing that did not exist. Inspired by dress-down Fridays in the office – finding the line between smart and casual, designer and high street – the label was born.
Bottom line: If Olivia Palermo, Leandra Medine and Hanneli Mustaparta are kitted out in Tibi, there’s no reason you shouldn’t want the whole collection hanging in your wardrobe.


Coat, £695 , culottes, £265

The low-down: Bold colours, bold prints, bold silhouettes.
What makes this different from the rest? Clean sharp silhouettes, graphic bold prints and colours make for interesting, standout pieces that will make any wardrobe pop. Think a sharp navy coat with a bright yellow stripe down the back and finished off with fur.
What’s the damage? £295 for a bold knitted jumper, £325 for structured silk trousers, around the £400 mark for a dress and if you want a coat, you’re looking at spending £600 – £900.
What you should know? A relatively young label (started in 2011), it has made serious waves and been seen on the likes of Suki Waterhouse, Jennifer Lopez and even Pippa Middleton.
Bottom line: Wardrobe basics brought to life with a futuristic feel.


The low-down: Timeless pieces, reinvented each season.
What makes this different from the rest? There’s a free and feminine feel to it. All are wardrobe essentials but finished with delicate prints like lace and mesh or reborn with a fun twist, for example, a sequined pencil skirt or a gold bomber jacket.
What’s the damage? Although you can pay up to £950 for a fur coat, prices tend to be pretty reasonable. Skirts, trousers and dresses sit between £150 – £300 and you can slip into a silk blouse for just £135.
What you should know? Claudie Pierlot is French and hails from the same brand as Sandro. The collection has an undoubtedly Parisian feel.
Bottom line: Your basics just got fun.


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