By  on June 14, 2005

LONDON — It's a big dress season here, with a small crowd of London-based designers winning praise for ultrafeminine styles that hark back to earlier decades — and to the shapes and materials of Diane von Furstenberg, Jean Muir and even traditional Nigerian costume.

"A lot of women are tired of wearing power suits during the week, and then slouching into jeans over the weekend," said Marigay McKee, general merchandise director for fashion and beauty at Harrods. "Dresses offer a whole other option." She said for fall, dresses are becoming more tailored and fitted, with designers celebrating the female form. Here, four names that are making their mark.

Brazilian-born Daniella Helayel always had trouble finding dresses that flattered her curvy figure — except in the secondhand shops and vintage markets of Manhattan.

"I always found loads of silk jersey dresses and thought they were the coolest thing ever. So why couldn't I find them new?" she asked, sitting in her home studio near Paddington Station. So the Rio di Janeiro native, who had spent a career sourcing fabrics, finding factories and buying clothes and accessories for Brazilian companies, decided to start a label of her own. After a rocky first few seasons, Helayel is lighting up wardrobes around London with her bright jersey dresses with prints inspired by everything from Las Vegas casinos to medieval tapestries to Damien Hirst artwork.

Her label, Issa, which comes from the sound that Rio's surfers make when they catch a great wave, now counts Madonna, Scarlett Johansson, Kylie Minogue, Jemima Khan and Jasmine Guinness among its fans. And it's clear why: "We cut the dresses to enhance the chest, hide the hips and make the waist look small," said Helayel. Issa's wrap dresses aren't really wraps; they're made from a ballerina-like top that's attached to a skirt, which improves the overall fit. "The whole point is to make comfortable clothes that enhance what's beautiful and hide what's not," said Helayel, who sources and produces her all-silk dresses in China.

For fall, she'll be doing long wrap dresses, and for spring 2006, she plans to work lace and crochet details into the styles. The dresses retail for about $540 and are sold at Harrods, Selfridges, Liberty, Browns and Matches in London and at Fred Segal and Calypso in the U.S. Issa expects to do $1.8 million in sales this year.

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