Born in 1946 in Surrey, a verdant suburb of London, Ms Howell is one of Britain’s most quietly influential arbiters of style. Currently living between Lewisham, south east London and Suffolk, where she owns a 1960s modernist holiday house, she is an icon of understated taste – the kind of person who collects beautiful pebbles as eagerly as modernist furniture, who finds it difficult to design shoes because, as she told The Telegraph in 2009, “I only like a few things, you see.”
Seemingly unphased by the passing fads of the fashion world, she creates items that will stay in your wardrobe forever, and adapt to many a situation. Consider this spring’s perfectly cut poplin shirts; comfortably worn-in cotton work jackets; a sturdy raincoat in cobalt blue. In short, she has an innate knack for producing understated classic, her perennially stylish collections addressing that most onerous of human design challenges: life.
Ms Howell founded her business with partner Mr Paul Renshaw (they married in 1974 but are now divorced) in the early 1970s, shortly after she graduated from a fine art degree at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She says she was “destined” to be a designer because she relishes a brief: even at art school, it was the project-based investigations of different disciplines such as printing, or sculpture, that caught her interest rather than the do-what-thou-wilt attitude of the latter years. Having said that, her artistic education and love of drawing has always imbued her designs, even on paper, with a sense of emotion and purpose, an imaginative reading not just of how each piece would look, but what the experience of wearing it would be.