LONDON (AP) _ When she was a teen-ager, Dawn French couldn't find attractive clothes to fit her more-than-ample curves.

''I bought terrible things, anything that fitted,'' she said. ''I was angry because I wasn't able to be fashionable. It was impossible to find a single garment that would fit you, other than a floral dress for a 50-year-old.''

So when French grew up to be a famous actress and comedian, she opened a clothing shop for large women. She calls it 1647, for the 47 percent of British women who are size 16 - U.S. 14 - or larger.

French said it thrills her to see women ''reborn because of such a ludicrously simple thing as being able to wear clothes they feel happy in.''

Sometimes there is a line outside the small store in a trendy north London neighborhood. French started a mail-order business in 1991 and the catalog has grown from a postcard to 12 pages. Mail orders now account for 40 percent of the business.

Clothing sizes start with small (bust up to 48 inches, waist to 44 and hips to 50) and run through large (bust up to 66 inches, waist to 60 and hips to 70).

All members of the staff are large and there's a bowl of heart-shaped chocolates for clients of the guilt-free haven.

The clothes are designed by Helen Teague, 38, who was born in Manchester but spent much of her youth in Ghana, a West African country where big women are celebrated.

Teague has an exceptional eye for current fashion, color and style, and uses natural fabrics Whenever possible. Her linens, wools and silks contrast with the cheap fabrics used for large sizes by many mainstream stores.

Cuts are soft and full without being tent-like. The collection includes comfortably casual, sleekly professional and elegance for evening.

A chambray denim jacket with tie fastenings attached by tiny brass buttons is teamed with matching pallazzo or tapered pants. A chambray dress wraps over a black tunic. For the office, a simple tunic dress in oatmeal pinstripe is worn with a silk satin shirt.

French's shop is more like a salon. Some women spend hours trying on clothes.

''It's all about inspiring confidence,'' said Denise Darlow, an employee.

A customer, Barbara Bartram, said, ''They indulge us, they make us feel good.

''Just because we're large doesn't mean we don't want to look good. I'm nearing 50. My husband is younger than I am. I'm sure he doesn't want me looking older than I am.''


For catalog, write: 1647, 69 Gloucester Avenue, London, NW1 8LD.