Catwalk shows always start fashionably late. In fact, it's almost seen as bad form if any of the fixtures in the packed schedule of London Fashion Week begin on time. Come 7pm on this particular February evening, however, and a queue of fashionistas is already snaking around the corner of David Gill Galleries in south London, waiting for the unveiling of the new autumn/winter collection from the lauded Scottish designer Jonathan Saunders.

Suddenly, a clipboard-hugging PR appears through the huddle of bouncers to inform the assembled throng that the show won't be starting for at least another 45 minutes. A murmur of groans passes through the queue, standing in the shadow of a particularly grim housing estate; then eyes begin to turn towards the grotty-looking pub across the road. Five minutes later, the Pilgrim bar is bursting with flighty, overdressed individuals in thin suits and white fake fur, ordering spritzers from the bemused bar staff.

Backstage at David Gill Galleries, Saunders and his team are not exactly sitting around, idly sipping Bellinis. A mass pre-show panic is ensuing. Three of the models are late, their flight from New York having been delayed.

And two outfits have been dropped from the collection, one - featuring miniature printed beading that took weeks to get right - because a frazzled dresser ended up getting it tangled behind a model's ears.

Nearly an hour passes before the queuers are back shivering in the south London drizzle.

The pecking order of the fashion world is made only too apparent as a French-accented aide stalks the line, calling out: "Any buyers?"

Those who identify themselves as such are swiftly escorted towards the door. Once everyone's inside, close to 90 minutes after the show's intended start time, waiters service the seated front row with champagne as the tiered photographers stand behind them getting noisy and impatient.

Then the show begins. To a mashed-up soundtrack of Peter Gabriel and the Human League, a procession of models finally reveal Saunders's new designs, which forsake the stark Bauhaus-inspired geometry he's used before in favour of impressively blurred melanges of navy, black and burnt orange.

Fifteen minutes later, to a hail of applause, the bespectacled 27-year-old Glaswegian appears for a fleeting, sheepish bow - and it's all over.

The following afternoon, Saunders sits chain-smoking in a restaurant alcove in Covent Garden, confessing that he always suffers from a sense of post-show anticlimax.

Today, he admits, he's feeling it more acutely than ever.

"I've never been as worked up as I was last night, " he says, "just because it wasn't the way I'd visualised it. You're so tired and you just analyse everything so much. All you see is this row of girls with outfits that've been put on the wrong way. You're so stressed trying to get the image you had in your mind expressed, and it just leaves you flat. You work so hard towards it, then 15 minutes and it's done." He must have been bowled over by the reaction, though?

"Oh, yeah. Everybody came backstage and said, 'That was brilliant, it was so smooth.' And you have to take it with a pinch of salt, they could just be saying that. But I've never seen such a positive reaction to it. And I've never been so unhappy."

Artistic agonies aside, Jonathan Saunders continues to consistently wow the ever-fickle fashion world with every successive collection, and win star clients on the level of Kylie and Madonna. Which isn't bad going considering it's less than three years since he graduated from Central Saint Martins College in London (admittedly with an MA show that led to him being commissioned by Pucci and Alexander McQueen).

As an individual, perhaps partly as a result of his Glasgow upbringing, Saunders certainly doesn't conform to the widely perceived image of the fashion designer. Chatty and selfeffacing, with a sharp sense of humour and a knowing glint in his eye, he can be passionate and serious when discussing his work and then come over all self-conscious, fidgeting and saying: "God, I cringe sometimes when I hear myself." Ask him whether he ever hits the champagne before a show to combat the stress and he erupts with laughter. "Tell you what, if I had a drink, I'd be like, 'Oh, she looks fine.

On you go.'" Comment that he seems the antithesis of the designer type who lingers on the catwalk, hugging the models at the end of a show, and he squirms and says: "Come on, I'm from Glasgow."

The intense six-month preparation for a season show is only part of Saunders's current workload, which also involves the day-to-day running of his still-independent label. "At the same time you've got to be creative and it's got to be the best collection of London Fashion Week, so you have to juggle all of this. It's only the six weeks before a show that you get a chance to just purely concentrate on that collection. Two weeks before, you're still getting all the last collection ready for the shops and it's madness. If I had six months just for making the collection, it'd be 150 looks."

Inspiration for the winter collection, he says, came from such diverse sources as African skin scars and the pop-art brushstrokes of the artist Allen Jones. He admits it was a conscious move to get away from the angular prints of previous seasons. "Each collection is a reaction against the last one or a development from the last one, " he says, carefully considering the motivations behind his work. "This was about the way a tonal colour change affects the shape of the body.

But it's a real fine-art-meets-business kind of odd combination. And I don't think that happens in any other field. If you're a furniture designer, yes, there's a creative element to it, but fashion and clothing are regarded in a very art-based way. Then you have to sell it and the cost price has to be affordable when it's marked up at Harrods. So you always have to take those two things into consideration."

He winces, suddenly self-aware again. "It's a funny thing, but through my youth it was never my aim to become a fashion designer.

Not at all. It was never a childhood dream, by any means."

Raised in the Burnside area of Glasgow, the son of parents who are both Jehovah's Witness ministers, Saunders is slightly reluctant to discuss his upbringing, but goes as far as to say of his mother and father: "They're really good people. Very different life from me. A lot of what I learned from them is really good. You know, they're really moral people. But I mean, our lives are completely different.

"I always loved art and craft and design, I loved hands-on things. They were kind of my strong points. I was quite a troublesome kid - I wasn't a good boy by any means. I think because my mum and dad are such upstanding people, I was just a nightmare from the word go. If my teachers at school knew that not only do I do the collection, but that I run a business, they would be quite surprised."

That said, he prefers not to go into detail about the nature of his rebellious ways. "Oh, I can't say that because it's a bit debauched, " he says, smiling. "It's just about self-destructive rebellion, basically from the age of 16, because I'd come from such a structured religious upbringing. I was pretty bad, got into trouble."

Having left home and moved into a onebedroom flat in Glasgow's Gallowgate ("above Rita's Fashions"), Saunders discovered his own individuality. He says he finally found a focus for his life when he entered his third year of studying textiles at Glasgow School of Art.

"I'm surprised that I got myself through my first two years, " he says wryly, "because I was just wrecked all the time. But as soon as I got older and really passionate about what I was doing, it all changed. I suppose it's like anybody, but it was quite extreme in my case.

Doing what I'm doing has really focused me."

At 20, he moved to London after landing a place at the prestigious Central Saint Martins.

He says he's "worked ever since, all the time, every day basically". Under the tutelage of fashion design director Louise Wilson, he came down to earth with a bang, before growing in confidence and finding his stylistic identity. Still, he recalls that for a time his workload was so intense he slept in a cupboard at the print studio.

"Louise Wilson at Saint Martins is renowned for making or breaking people, " he says. "There were so many tears at that place, so much trauma and drama over creating seven outfits of clothing." He pauses. "It sounds ridiculous. They're never happy with what you produce, everything's always criticised and torn to shreds. But it kind of sets you up for the industry because so much of it is to do with politics and who you know and who you're associated with.

"It's the most difficult part because there are so many talented young designers, but if it's just not quite commercial enough or it doesn't hit the right buttons or they don't have the right friends, so many of them go by the wayside. It's so much about hard work. You can't just be a purely creative person, you have to be a strong person. I don't think it's got that much to do with luck."

For his celebrated graduation show, Saunders was inspired by Warhol and Hockney, the poster for A Clockwork Orange and the bright surrealism of the Beatles' animated film Yellow Submarine. His acidically hued collection made him the revelation of his year. "I've never really been inspired by printed textiles, even though that's what I do. It's other things.

Every collection has different starting points, but it's usually a mish-mash of loads of different elements of design, " he says.

Did he know before the show that Alexander McQueen was in the audience that night? "Oh, yeah. I knew him before anyway. It's quite a small industry. But working with him was an amazing thing to happen so quickly after graduating, and it really showed me what it's like to work in fashion because it wasn't the most pleasant experience by any means. It showed me how tough it can be in terms of working with these personalities."

Is McQueen a hard taskmaster? "He's got a reputation for that, even if I think a lot of it's hyped up. But ? yeah, he is."

Helped in no small part by his association with McQueen, Saunders ascended to the dizzying heights of consultancy work for international fashion houses, working for Chloe and under the direction of Christian Lacroix at Pucci. "Every big fashion house has its own aesthetic, and as a freelance textile designer you have to fit the aesthetic of that label, " he says, talking the talk of a major-league designer while in some ways still appearing every inch the student. "As a textile designer, it's about taking the aesthetic of that designer and doing it the way you want it. It's meeting a brief. It's a very different thing from what I do for my own label."

When left to his own designs, Saunders continued to develop the aesthetic direction of his label by employing the same hands-on approach of his Central Saint Martin years, creating his work through elaborate screenprinting processes on individual panels of fabric, rather than cutting them from prepared rolls. "I had a very strong idea that if you pick *FASHION SPECIAL one thing to do, you have to do it to its best. So I didn't want prints to just be a needless decoration of an overall garment. My whole thing was that these prints shouldn't be like an allover repeat that you can cut out whatever way.

I wanted to engineer them so that one skirt looks like it was made for one print. That was the whole ideology behind it."

Equally strong-minded when it comes to the business side of things, Saunders has so far resisted the advances of international fashion backers. "As soon as I finished at McQueen, I met this Italian backer and they were like, 'Oh we'll produce your collection and pay for it all.' I went to stay in Milan and then suddenly realised what a bunch of arseholes they are.

They're just there to take an image and abuse it and make money out of it. You know, some people get it right and eventually have a good relationship with their financial backer. But I've not met anybody yet that hasn't had a nightmare with them. So I got my fingers burnt with that experience."

Most of the financial assistance he gets these days comes through sponsorship, but he says he is still frequently approached by financial backers wanting to inject money into the business.

"And it's very tempting, because of the stress me and my business partner Sam [Logan] go through trying to get money together for the show and trying to make a viable product that gives us enough money to live on. It's tough.

That's a job in itself. It's sometimes tempting to say, 'Oh, I wish somebody else could deal with all of that.' But I think to keep it independent as long as you possibly can is the way to do it."

Saunders appears keen to distance himself from the more cartoony aspects of the fashion world, and he admits that's certainly his intent. Is it just as bitchy and daft as everyone imagines? "Yeah, but it's nasty too, " he grimaces. "There are a lot of nasty people. But you have to deal with it to a certain extent, and it's something that always makes me question my line of work. The actual designer has a very different life from the majority of people that work in fashion - stylists, editors. It's that bunch that create the stigma. Designers are too busy. They're all stuck in their studios."

In listing what he feels have been his career highs to date, he puts achieving the cover of Vogue in January 2004 at number one ("the advertising value of that is hundreds of thousands of pounds"), but he isn't so sniffy as to turn down sponsorship from the high-street chain Topshop in return for creating a budget collection. "You've got a much, much lower budget, obviously, and the challenge is how to produce something that you're proud of that costs much less. So you simplify the silhouette, you simplify the print technique. It's just about working with what ingredients you have. And it makes your product more accessible to a different person."

While Saunders has proved a hit with A-list celebrities, he admits that many of the famous people who wear his clothes are at odds with the vision of the women he carries in his head when he's designing. "Kylie Minogue is not my kind of person, " he says, grinning. "I remember reading an article that said we were best mates.

Cate Blanchett and Samantha Morton are kind of more like the women that I imagine wearing the clothes - all those kind of confident, intelligent women who don't wear clothes to get a man, they wear clothes for themselves. Because I think whoever wears my clothes has to be quite a brave person. I mean, it's not a shy, retiring type that wears the collection.

"You look at me, I'm not like some crazy, wacky designer. In my mind I see a print, but as soon as you put it on to clothing it can be 'interpreted as a bit crazy, a bit wacky. I've heard people say about the clothes that they're not that sexy, whereas with a print label like Pucci it's a sexy, pretty dress. The woman who wears my stuff isn't prettifying herself. But I don't care who wears it in terms of famous people. I don't have my PR busting a gut trying to get it to somebody. I say no to a lot of people, and I think that it's right to do that."

The last time Jonathan Saunders was in Scotland was when he was invited back to Glasgow School of Art to give a lecture. He feels he was a bit of a let-down: "It's just so odd, because the way people perceive my life is very different. I think a lot of the students thought I'd be a bit more glamorous." He smiles. "It was like, 'Sorry to disappoint you.'" A disappointment or not, Saunders is probably a strong role model in terms of successfully negotiating the fashion world on your own terms. He drains the last of his second coffee, stubs out his cigarette and gets ready to get back to work. There are people to meet, deals to be done, new ideas to conjure up. It's a familiar mantra. "Take the orders, confirm them, get the deposits, do all the quantities for fabric orders, get them in, make the clothes and then ? next show."

Before he leaves, I ask if his formerly rebellious self has so far managed to resist the legendary excesses of the circles he now moves in. "What are they?" he wonders, with mock innocence. "The drink and the drugs?

That doesn't exist as much as people think. It's not some glamorous coke-infested life that I lead, by any means. Who'd print all those metres of chiffon if I was doing that?"

*Turn the page to sample the spring/summer season from Jonathan Saunders.