Margaret Howell is the first to admit that there is nothing much new under her sun: "Our formula doesn't change from year to year," she said. "What we do is find the right fabric, the right details. How it's worn depends on the attitude of the wearer." It's this ethos that has kept the brand ticking for over forty years. It has also earned Howell a remarkably loyal fan base—most notably in Japan.

The London fashion set crushed into her shop on Wigmore Street this morning to see her offering of workman's denim shirts, sensible anoraks, boxy suits, and baggy white trousers. The collection bore all of her hallmarks: a lot of gray, beige, and navy; fabrics in contrasting weights; and a spartan lack of fuss (a sailorlike hanky tied loosely around the neck was as fancy as it got).

"It's hard to explain, but you can have a gray T-shirt from three years ago that you loved and wore to bits and all of a sudden, this year it may not feel right. I am here to tweak that for my clientele and set it right," the designer said. But with younger labels (like David Bradshaw's Hunter Gather a few shops down), shouldn't Howell up the ante a bit in the name of competitiveness? "Not in my case," she insisted. "I have been doing this since the seventies and am really fortunate my clients understand me and, in turn, I understand them. We are just striving for quality and continuum."