Back to granny's attic (Filed: 15/07/2004) Designer Nicholas Knightly has brought a soft, vintage eccentricity to Mulberry's autumn/winter collection, says Heath Brown Zara Phillips might be heralded, by some, as the most fashionable member of the Royal Family, but it is her mother, the Princess Royal, who has inspired Nicholas Knightly's autumn/winter collection for Mulberry. "She is the best - so confident and so elegant," says the camera-shy designer. "Her Edwardian/Seventies princess style has become personal to her, and she has stuck with it for years. I love it." Knightly is fascinated by the subtle quirks that he feels many English women have when it comes dressing. "I love a combination of the spontaneous and the eclectic," he says, "whether it is a young girl in Hoxton or a country lady in Hampshire. The way the English like to mix and wear things out of sync can be so fashionable and individual." Knightly, 35, is leading the way with the trend for ladylike styles. "This is very much my thing," he says, although he is wearing a simple outfit of slouch jeans and a Ralph Lauren polo shirt. "I have been doing variations on this theme since I began. It is attic dressing - a look that never bends to commercialism and is always inspiring." Floral-print, empire-line blouse, £250. Tweed pedal pushers, £175. Thong-toe sandals, from a selection at Office; tel: 08450 580777 Knightly began his fashion career as a Saturday boy in the menswear department at Harrods. This inspired him to apply to the Ravensbourne art school to study fashion design. "It was the mid-Eighties and fashion was so much a part of popular culture - it excited me," he says. After graduating in 1993, aged just 24, he set up his own company, to critical acclaim. Four years later, he began designing a special range of blouses for Harvey Nichols. However, tired of struggling with business plans and bank loans, he closed down his company shortly afterwards and decided to work for a design studio, first with Tanya Sarne at Ghost, then as design director of Margaret Howell, where he updated the brand's image. Initially, when asked to join Mulberry in March 2002, Knightly was reluctant to be part of a company that he felt was old-fashioned and stuck in a rut. But the company's chief operating officer, Lisa Montague, persuaded Knightly to be part of the subtle rejuvenation of the brand's staid image. "He took some coaxing, but he realised that we were dusting off the old Mulberry," she says. "We told him that we wouldn't stifle his creativity and were serious when we said that the only way to push the company forward was to make the product king." Knightly has taken the stereotypical image of Britons and translated it into a more modern concept. "People want to see soft, subtle eccentricity coupled with a true sense of romance - all highly desirable and idyllic." He enjoys the fact that many young women are currently dressing like their grandmothers. "It all comes from another time, but is put together in a different context." However, Knightly hasn't rejected Mulberry's heritage. "It is such a well-conceived company," he says, "and I often refer to the archives and the early days, back in 1971, when Roger Saul and his wife made Mulberry a whole lifestyle around themselves. That was wonderful." As well as designing the clothes collections, Knightly has been working on the accessories and, particularly, the bags, which are the backbone of the label. Styles to look out for next season include the vintage Darwin leather "Jaquetta", an unstructured shoulder bag, and a pretty, gold, sequinned, small-framed, vintage-look bag named the "Aimée". "It is great to apply my experience to this genre, which is new to me," he says. "I am also exploring new uses for the traditional bags and luggage. For example, why can't the 'Braxton', a fishing satchel, be used as a handbag?" Knightly has helped to reinvent the classic British brand and, with its increasingly healthy financial results, it looks set to rival the likes of Burberry. "I think I've made it more relevant and more fashionable," he says, looking a little embarrassed about being so self-congratulatory. "And I hope I have opened up Mulberry to a more diverse selection of people of all generations. This was desperately needed, as it is not by age that you can judge a customer these days."