Despite what you read in the papers (other papers, that is), fashion designers are not an airy-fairy breed of anguished creators. Students tend to believe the more outrageous their catwalk shows, the more likely their chances of work. It does not work that way. For every Christian Lacroix, there are 999 anonymous toilers making their companies far more financially successful than Lacroix, an infamously unprofitable house, could ever hope for. So you almost certainly won't have heard of Carolyn Freeman. She is Scottish, lives in New York and is vice-president of design for Episode, part of the SAR-based Toppy Group. Freeman joined Episode in 1987, resigned in 1994 but went back in time to put her touch on the 1998 autumn/winter collection which will appear in the shops next month. She is sensible, direct, unflappable and completely focused on what the Episode customer wants. When she was a student at London's Royal College of Art, she says she was probably the most mainstream of her class. 'I'm not flattering myself by saying that. It was a very . . . other worldly group. I could never go wild. For me it always had to be wearable, to stay within certain parameters. That's what makes a good designer.' One of her tutors, a head designer for the British high-street chain Wallis, thought so, too, and snapped her up the moment she graduated. She worked for Wallis for seven years and then moved to several more mass-market companies, including Liz Claiborne, before joining Episode where she also stayed for seven years. 'One of the reasons I felt it was necessary to leave Episode was that I had a huge workload, I didn't have time to think about it, and I realised that I had a formula. It was the same groupings time and time again. Sometimes you can get stale and I had to stop and break the cycle.' She went to work on a freelance basis for Nino Cerruti on the Cerruti 1881 womenswear line. He was based in Paris, the factory was in Germany and Freeman continued to live in New York, so the travelling was hectic. Mainstream fashion was also on the move. 'The silhouette for women began to soften and change. At Cerruti, I was very involved in trying to change the structure of jackets as fabrics became more drapey, more like knits.' After three years, Episode rang her to sound her out about going back. Freeman was beginning to tire of freelancing and felt she wanted to return to being involved in projects from beginning to end, so she said yes. 'That was November which was pretty late to do the autumn collection, because I hadn't done the fabric research, so I whizzed in and did one group. 'It's the last group of autumn going into the holiday collection. Holiday is for the festive season - Christmas and Chinese New Year in Hong Kong - so there's a feeling of mixing daywear fabrics with slightly dressier touches. A silk camisole under a suit will take you on into the evening.' There are plenty of well-cut trousers. 'We've really been working on pants. They were very clothy before, now they're clean and simple. I'm so fussy about that myself and we wanted to make them sexy.' Freeman says she has to like everything she designs, which was not always the case - a striking indication of how the world of mass-market fashion has changed in the past 20 years. 'I used to design for people and I'd think: 'I'd never wear this but it'll make a lot of money.' We used to say in companies I'd worked for 'ugly sells' because, in cheaper companies, that was true. 'But people are far more educated and sophisticated now. They know what looks good, they know about fabric and they're parting with a lot of money. Now you buy less but what you buy has to have quality.' Freeman is keen to expand Episode's lines. The Toppy Group is owned by S. C. Fang Brothers, whose original expertise was in knitwear, and she wants to exploit the manufacturing advantages of that background. 'These days there are jackets that are knits and suits that are almost knits. We're Fang so we might as well make use of that look.' She wants to focus on relaxed dressing - the sort of clothes a woman might choose to wear at home or on a plane - and spa dressing. She would like to bring in more accessories and is contemplating home furnishings which are what all the big designers in the United States (in particular, Calvin Klein and that patriotic flag-restorer, Ralph Lauren) are diversifying into. In between these long-term plans, she's sourcing yarns, collating colour groups, analysing the results of laboratory tests with dyes, organising merchandising and creating the Episode collection for autumn/winter 1999. 'If I feel I'd get too tied up with administration or merchandising, I flick through magazines or I go to a museum and become, you know, more of a dreamer. And that's okay. But I don't know anybody these days who sits in a garret and thinks: 'I'll do one chiffon dress today.' '