In 1972 Howell, who found the functionality and structure of menswear initially more interesting than women’s wear, started making men’s shirts to her own designs, employing one finisher and one cutter. By 1973 her studio and workshop had grown, accepting wholesale orders from designers such as Ralph Lauren and Paul Smith. Howell opened her first shop on South Molton Street, London with Joseph Ettedgui (1936–2010), the Moroccan founder of the label Joseph, whose understated aesthetic mirrored the simple lines and functionality of Howell’s own designs.
Fundamental to Howell’s design is quality, fabric, construction, fit, and comfort. Her philosophy is based on the way the clothing feels and the fabric’s relationship with the makers and the places of origin. Howell’s process is to source manufacturers who share her passion for make and quality of fabric.
In 1980 Howell introduced her first range of women’s clothing and opened her first wholly Margaret Howell shop in St. Christopher’s Place, London. Two years later, fashion journalist and former model Grace Coddington nominated a Howell outfit for the “Dress of the Year” at the Museum of Costume in Bath. The same year she was licensed to manufacture and sell clothing throughout Japan, where her commitment to quality fabrics, British manufacturing, and traditional production methods continue to be popular; in 2013 there were over ninety Margaret Howell outlets in Japan. Howell showed at London Fashion Week for the first time in 1995, opening a flagship store on London’s Wigmore Street in 2002.
Howell is a supporter of British modernist design and in 2002 embarked on a series of exhibitions promoting British designers, such as “Modern British Sculpture” at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (2011). She also collaborates with other designers she admires, exploring design in the modern world, culminating in the production of a garment.
In 2007 Howell was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) for services to the fashion industry and the Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of Designers. In the early twenty-first century, Howell continues to work between London and Tokyo.