GEOFFREY Gillow is celebrating its 50th anniversary in the fashion business – and yet there are many who think the high-class clothes store is a newcomer to Darlington town centre. The town’s premier menswear and ladieswear destination has had a loyal customer base throughout its existence, but a stylish refurbishment has opened it up to a younger clientele.

Bill Gillow, who succeeded his father in running the Grange Road business, realised how much the perception of the shop had changed when a young, professional woman called in during her lunchbreak. Impressed by the light, modern feel of the shop, and the array of high-end fashion brands on display, she told Bill she was delighted to have stumbled across it. “Do you know what this placed used to be?” she asked him. “Until recently, it was an old-fashioned gents’ tailors.”

Bill smiles at the memory. “It was at that moment that I really saw how much the image had changed,” he says. “In the past, it was seen as a shop for older people, mainly men. Now, we’re viewed as a vibrant fashion store, catering for the younger market as well as our existing clients.”

Admitting he was resistant to change, he credits his wife Marianne and manager Jane Davison for masterminding the reinvention. “They cooked up a plan to make it more contemporary and open, so it was easier to show off the merchandise,” says Bill.

And the merchandise is certainly well worth seeing. For women, exciting new brands have been added, including Spanish labels Bariloche and the funky fashion of Vilagallo. And from Italy, Geoffrey Gillow now stocks the exquisitely elegant Ottod’ame brand, as well as the top end Pennyblack and Marella, from the Max Mara stable.

The men’s section has also been given a breath of fresh air with the most striking Italian shirts from Giordano and Campione, while beautiful Italian jackets from Santinelli are well worth pulling out of the rack. “Tweeds with a twist,” Bill calls them and it is the perfect description.

These new brands are the icing on a rich cake, coming on top of the classic brands Geoffrey Gillow has always been known for, such as Gant, Brax and Fynch-Hatton. Fynch-Hatton happens to be the name of the character played by Robert Redford in “Out of Africa” and the range is displayed at the back of the shop, where it is appropriately overlooked by Rupert, the leather Liberty rhino. Geoffrey’s wife bought Rupert when the shop was opened 50 years ago, and he’s now been joined by Paco the pig, given to Bill by Marianne after the refurbishment.

Oh, and whatever you do, please don’t leave the shop without taking a look at the luxury, fun range of Barker shoes – some of them hand-painted – which are a real treat for the feet. English shoemakers since 1880, Barker shoes combine traditional excellence with contemporary appeal.

And come to think of it, that’s exactly what the new-look Geoffrey Gillow store has achieved.