Whistles – still hitting a high note

It has a reputation for being quirky and having a sense of humour. Jill Armstrong finds Whistles in a party mood.

When Lucille Lewin opened a small fashion boutique in Marylebone in London in the 1970s, she called it Whistles, from the Cockney rhyming slang for suit: whistle and flute. She searched out the work of young designers who went on to become leading names in fashion. Jean Paul Gaultier, Dries Van Noten and John Galliano were all making their way in the world when Lewin snapped up their designs for her small shop.

Thirty years on and Whistles is still known for its eclectic mix of fashion and its sense of fun. "I've been shopping there for 20 years," says brand director Amanda Burrows. "I think the reason people go there is to find something different. It's always very quirky and there's always an interesting twist about a garment and a sense of humour."

A perfectly simple grey trouser suit, for example, will turn out to have pink stitching or a pink lining – what it won't do is follow any obvious fashion trends.

Lucille Lewin continued to support young design talent and also developed Whistles' own label designs, a mix which has given the store its boutique feel. There are now 30 stand-alone stores plus concessions in department stores throughout the UK. She sold up in 2001 and Whistles had a number of different owners until it was acquired in 2004 by Mosaic, which also owns Karen Millen, Oasis and Coast.

"We feel very strongly about the heritage of Whistles and we want to celebrate that," said Amanda Burrows. This year they have opened several new boutique-style stores, including one in York, and more are planned.

This season, tailoring makes a strong return including cigarette pants and boxy jackets and trousers with a trademark twist. The shift dress continues to be an important staple and there are dresses with a more delicate feel as well as embellished cardis.

New this autumn is a limited edition range, called Collectables, of 20 pieces with only 100 made of each design. These designs will be available at only eight stores nationwide.