M’s Dresses at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery

A couple of weeks ago I visited the Harris Museum and Art Gallery with M (see my posts about her collection here). She had donated quite a large selection of her Horrockses Fashions’ collection to the museum which has the largest collection in the country (and probably the world!)

M chatted with curator Caroline Alexander about her memories of wearing her Horrockses and Caroline showed her the permanent display and the rest of the Museum’s extensive collection.

The dresses donated include this summer dress which was worn to a garden party in the mid-1950s. It is made from a plain blue cotton which is overlaid with a white broderie anglaise fabric. And this daisy print sun dress (unfortunately without its little jacket).

M was able to provide some images of her wearing some of the donated items, including this pink and white spotted towelling jacket which she wore often. She can be seen sporting it her on a Mediterranean cruise ship. She took a trunkful of Horrockses on this trip.

When she travelled to New York on the Queen Mary  in the early 1960s she wore Horrockses again. The photograph below shows her wearing a late 1950s empire-line dress.

One of her favourite dresses was this 1953 black and white check nylon evening dress with its striking fuschia pink sash. She remembers wearing it to a dance where she waltzed with her brother (who worked at Horrockses Fashions), a rather grumpy Princess Margaret was in attendance.

Continuing the non-cotton theme, there are a number of items in the donation that reflect Horrockses Fashions’ practice of devoting about 20% of their production to other fabrics. This includes a purple and black silk dress and this amazing yellow negligee/gown (which M never wore), a hounds tooth cheque winter dress, and a pink silk day dress with pleated flounce at the hem and a red velvet strapless outfit.

One cotton dress has been given to the Harris as it uses the same fabric design as one already in its collection. This illustrates the deliberate strategy Horrockses Fashions adopted of enhancing the perceived exclusivity of the brand by using fabric strategically, to help disguise the scale of production. So the usual practice was to aim to style each fabric ‘twice in quite different types of garments.’

One of the great aspects of the donotion is when one can cross reference with other items in the Harris collection. They have a number of books that include fashion sketches and fabric samples. One match is M’s dark pink coat lined with a strawberry cotton print (she originally had the dress too – as shown in the image from Homes & Gardens magazine March 1954).

The donation also includes fabric samples and hats (you can read more about these here).

The donation includes a Horrockses’ evening dress worn by M’s mother (brown satin) and a number of other items illustrated below.

M decided to give such a large donation to the Harris as she was determined her dresses should be available for study by researchers. If you want to look at any of the Harris’s collection please contact them to make an appointment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas is Coming!

I have been busy making coasters and key rings for the past couple of weeks having acquired some lovely vintage fabrics.

If you have friends who are into vintage these make the perfect Christmas gift. There are examples by Lucienne Day, Mary White, Michael O’Connell and others. You can find them here festival-of-pattern-coasters-nov-2016 – and there is a selection available in the Festival of Pattern Esty shop

 

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Talented designers from Jutland and Skipton

I have seen two notable exhibitions on my travels this summer – both focusing on textiles and both featuring talented women designers – who are new new to me.

The first was  ‘Marie Gudme Leth: Pioneer in Print’ at the Danish Design Museum in Copenhagen (until 25 September 2016). Gudme Leth had a long life (1895-1997) and a prolific output and the exhibition foregrounds her role as a designer who the raised ‘the status of printed textiles to the level enjoyed by other branches of applied art’. A designer-maker she was born in the Danish town of Aarhus, Jutland. She attended the local technical school before graduating from the Women’s School of Drawing and Industrial Art in Copenhagen. She later attended the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and worked at the Danish Museum of Decorative Art drawing objects for the Museum’s accession lists. She spent most of 1930 studying in Germany at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Decorative Arts) in Frankfurt am Main, and here she honed her printing skills, but returned to Copenhagen to take up the post as a teacher of textile printing at the School of Applied Art – she continued to design and print her own work.

The exhibition includes a large number of her fabrics – beautifully displayed in long lengths without the restriction of glass cases. This means that you can view each fabric at close quarters – a treat, when so often textiles have to be display in cases, but this means that museum staff have to be vigilant – touching fabric is a terrible temptation for many visitors!

Marie Gudme Leth’s work is organised into three stylistic periods. Fabrics from the first are hand-block printed, the patterns arranged simply in few colours and on unbleached linen. The earliest designs are from the 1930s and several were inspired by her stay in Java between 1921 and 1924 where she encountered the batik technique, such as ‘Jungle’, 1932 and ‘Chameleon’, 1938.

Gume Leth’s focus on hand printing was paralleled in England with designers like Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher pioneering its revival in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1935, with external financial support, she established Dansk Kattuntryk (Danish Calico Printworks), printing her own designs. The work of her company was retailed through the the Copenhagen shops MagasinBO,  Selskabet for Haandarbejdets Fremme (the Danish Handcrafts Guild), Magasin du Nord and Den Permanente.

In 1940 a disagreement caused Gudme Leth to leave Dansk Kattuntryk and for three years she was prohibited from using her own print designs and dyes that she formulated there. This set back, however, did nothing to dampen her creative output – the 1940s and 1950s were her golden years and work displayed represents the second phase of her output

The exhibition devotes a text panel to printing process and outlines the emergence of the hand-screen printing process, which Gudme Leth encountered on a study trip to a German textile printworks in 1930. The technique, was also taken up by a number of British textile firms during the 1930s, particularly for the production of avant-garde and more experimental designs it allowed larger and more complex repeats as well as the better reproduction of mark-making and painterly effects. This focus on printing techniques left me a little disappointed that identification of the printing method was not included on the object labels.

This apart, I have nothing but praise for the show – Marie Gudme Leth’s work was a revelation particularly in terms of pattern and colour. Her ability to develop as a designer can be seen clearly in the range and quantity of work on display – from the simple early repeats, to the sophisticated pattern-making of the mid-period and then her  experiments with colouration and colour composition during the last phase of her career. Her work of the 1960s is characterised by overprinted patterns of pure geometry. She continued to print textiles until she closed her workshop in 1963-1964.

I am finishing with an image of her 1945 fabric ‘Friendship’ printed on vistra (a cellulose fabric – used by the designer frequently when natural fibres were difficult to obtain during World War 2). Shown alongside the work of Sheila Bownas they illustrate some of the subject-matter that these two very different designers shared.

 

‘A Life in Pattern: The Life and Works of Sheila Bownas’ at Rugby Art Gallery (closes on 3 September 2016) showcases an archive bought by Chelsea Cefai in 2008, it brings together examples of the designers’ work from this collection and from her family. Unlike the Gudmen Leth show – there are no fabrics – rather, there are dozens of designs on paper, examples of drawing and painting, sketchbooks and family photographs.

Sheila Bownas (1925-2007) was born in Linton, near Skipton, Yorkshire and her roots are reflected in several pieces on display. She attended Skipton Girls High School and then Skipton Art School and won a scholarship to attend The Slade School of Fine Ar. She moved to London in 1946 where she studied until 1950 becoming a skilled painter – several examples from this period are included in the exhibition.

Bownas is typical of so many designers – she was successful as a freelancer but her name remained hidden from the original consumers who bought her textiles and wallpapers from well-known names such as Liberty, Crown Wallpapers and Marks & Spencer. Apparently she did apply unsuccessfully for staff jobs and for three years she worked as a part-time teacher at Huddersfield School of Art (incidentally where I had my first job teaching design history!)

Her work shows her versatility and her ability to adapt her styles to suit different clients. The exhibition explains her design process (through objects and explanatory text), often a design began life as a doodle in a notebook, the idea was then developed as a scaled design on baking parchment and in repeat before being transferred by hand to paper and coloured in gouache.

The subject matter of her work ranges from novelty designs to florals – in a variety of stylistic treatments -to geometric and mid-century contemporary style patterns that stand comparison with some of the greats of textile design.

Chelsea Cefai, the curator of the exhibition, is also now the custodian of the Bownas archive. She has spent the last few years raising the Sheila Bownas’ profile and working with contemporary designers to make her work available in new products. You can see more on the Sheila Bownas Archive website. Some of these new products were included in the exhibition.

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I caught the exhibition in its final week and unfortunately the catalogue was sold out – it is hoped that the exhibition will be shown elsewhere and that the catalogue will be re-printed.

There are so many talented people (particularly women), who are yet to be identified and their work studied. In recent years a few have been recognised and in some cases their work reproduced. Lara McKinnon and Sylvia Chalmers’ work can be bought from the Glasgow School of Art’s Vintage Textile Collections (the Bownas fabrics are also printed there). In my work on Horrockses Fashions I have written about Joyce Badrocke, Wendy Simpson and others – but there is much work yet to be done.

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Festival of Pattern Etsy shop – Sale

The Festival of Pattern Etsy shop currently has a 10% sale on all vintage fashion items. Visit the shop at https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/FestivalofPattern?ref=hdr_shop_menu

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Kid in a Sweet Shop: Part Four

This is the fourth and final part of my amazing trip last week to help M sort out her collection of vintage clothing

Horrockses Fashions’ first collection launched in April 1946 included ‘Dresses, Hostess Gowns and Beach Wear all made from Horrockses Fine Cottons’. Cotton was the ideal fabric for summer-wear and as the sale of the parent company’s cotton cloth was the reason the Fashions brand was created – it made perfect sense to produce collections of beach wear too which were included in collections from the very beginning. Here we see an outfit from their 1947 collection in a Picture Post piece  (top right) from May of that year and some examples from the late 1940s.

M’s collection includes Horrockses Fashions’ beachwear from the 1950s. The most stunning is this playsuit that was included in the exhibition at the Fashion & Textile Museum in 2010. Made from white cotton pique with a small repeating design in blue – the suit has a coordinated jacket, which was a common feature of this kind of ensemble.ftm-horrockses-139

The button-through skirts produced by Horrockses provided the perfect cover-up for beach clothing and leisure wear.

There are a few unpicked outfits, for example, this red ensemble with an overdress.

Horrockses Fashions produced a number of designs using towelling fabric as can be seen in the pink and white spotted beach robe. The candy striped stole in cotton from 1956 sports a capacious fringed pocket (it bears the Horrockses Fashions and a size 12 label – why?)

Not everything M has saved is by Horrockses. This exquisite swimsuit with embroidered flowers has no label and was discovered in the attic. It has never been worn as M thought it was just too beautiful.

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Well this ends the Kid in a Sweet Shop adventure – I can’t imagine ever repeating the experience. Now the real work starts, some of M’s collection will find its way into a number of museums, some will be sold and some will be kept and treasured. I hope in time to be able to record which items will be accessible in museum collections and I also hope to be able to publish contemporary photographs of the garments being worn – so watch this space.

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Kid in a Sweet Shop: Part Three

This Part Three of my amazing trip last week to help M sort out her collection of vintage clothing.

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Actually, this post could be titled ‘Kid in a hat shop’. Amongst the treasures that M had saved for the 1950s and ’60s were a collection of hats. Most belonged to her mother and some came from Horrockses Fashions’ Mayfair headquarters where they were probably used in fashion shows and photo shoots. A hat (and gloves) were an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe in the 1950s – especially for an autumn/winter outfit. Here is a selection of Horrockses Fashions’ worn with fashionable hats.

From its establishment in 1946, Horrockses worked closely with milliners to produce hats that would enhance its fashion products. When it first presented its designs to the press and buyers the accompanying hats were supplied by Pissot and Pavey and shoes by the Hutton Shoes company and then by Joyce (all were made using Horrockses’ cotton). I have never seen a hat or shoes in Horrockses fabrics – do any survive?

 

Later it seems that the company used hats from a number of different milliners. Otto Lucas is well represented. Lucas was a German-born milliner based in London. He created hats for members of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers (IncSoc) and his clients included Greta Garbo and Wallis Simpson. He had his own salon on Bond Street and this 1958 British Pathé film Heady Stuff shows the workroom and the man himself creating a hat.

This is my favourite, a fine straw which is similar to the one in the fashion phot0graph which accompanies a Horrockses’ outfit.

Here are two more by Lucas:

We associate the cloche hat (right) with the 1920s – but they were popular in the fifties t00, although usually worn higher on the head. There are several in the collection.

Other hat brands and designers are represented – the black cloche above is by Peter Shepherd for Woollands and the blue petal design is by Bermona; there are many others, unfortunately, without labels. Would love to know who the pink and black one is by.

One designer who I am keen to research further is Graham Smith. Smith is a Royal College of Art Graduate (1958-9) and worked in the studio of IncSoc designer Michael of Carlos Place for seven years and later designed for Kangol. Three hats in the collection were made during his time there. Each has an beautiful sketch and a sample of fabric which presumably was used to indicate which outfit the hat would accompany.

This Horrockses Fashions’ publicity image is from 1960 – the hat on the right is straw with brightly coloured ribbon around the crown and was designed by Smith for his first collection after he returned to London from Lanvin-Castillo where he worked in the millinery studio.

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There are shoes in M’s collection – not from Horrockses – but items she bought, including these, the glorious gold and silver boots which were worn after skiing!

And finally – the most interesting  hat (at least to me) is this very small beautifully constructed piece that belonged to M’s mother and she is seen here (on the left) wearing it in Jerusalem in 1939. The hat, off the head, appears as just a small flat piece of cloth – it’s almost like a piece of origami. There’s no label – but it reminiscent of Schiaparelli, or perhaps Charles James. (If anyone knows more – do let me know).

My final instalment will be dedicated to beachwear!

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Kid in a Sweet Shop: Part Two

This Part Two of my amazing trip last week to help M sort out her collection of vintage clothing – Part One can be found here.

Horrockses Fashions were renowned for their pattern designs, produced by salaried designers, bought from freelancers and studios, or,  occasionally from well-known artists. M’s collection includes a varied range. The patterns were designed exclusively for the brand – you couldn’t buy them to make a dress yourself – although the parent company did produce cotton fabric sold by the  yard. (See my interview with Wendy Simpson).

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This strawberry design appears in several forms in M’s collection: the lining of a coat, an unpicked skirt and some small pieces. It was designed in 1952 by the freelance designer Brigette Dehnert.

Another freelancer well represented is Ursula Hertz Sternberg (1925-2000). Born in Cologne (Germany) she emigrated to Holland and then Belgium during World War II where she designed fabrics and clothing for Forma. In London she worked for Zika Ascher and was introduced to Horrockses Fashions by Elspeth Juda of The Ambassador magazine.

Pat Albeck was employed as a designer from 1953 to 1958 and produced a fantastic variety of patterns – but her superb drawing ability is what really stands out. This is particularly evident in her Apple & Blackberry design which was produced when she was still a student at the Royal College of Art, Horrockses manufactured it in 1953.

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M has two colourways of Pat’s grape and vine pattern, also beautifully drawn, as is the nut design used here for a dress (with wool jacket).

One of Pat’s most popular patterns with Horrockses’ fans is her lobster design – here we see it in a summer skirt. Pat worked closely with Horrockses’ fashion designers and it was John Tullis who asked her to produce something using a lobster motif, the original design (in the V&A) was altered considerably for the final fabric.

 

You can read more about Pat’s work for Horrockses in my book and on her website.

When we think of Horrockses we think florals. But the firm’s use of plains, checks and stripes were also important to its success. Striped dresses in crisp cotton, checks combined with plains provided consumers with practical dresses for all kinds of occasions. M’s collection includes bolts of fabric, there are metres of checks, there’s tartan, stripes, plains, cottons, wools and some fabrics I am struggling to identify (see the blue textured below).

Quirky, or novelty prints are here too. Including this Margaret Meades’ design produced by Horrockses to commemorate the Queen’s coronation in 1953. This was a popular design and examples survive in the collections of both the V&A and the Harris Museum, Preston.

The cotton printed fabrics that were the mainstay of Horrockses Fashions’ production were originated and printing organised by the firm, other kinds of material were obtained from other sources. For example, embroidered fabric including broderie anglais, was purchased from St Gallen in Switzerland, while silk, satin and nylon came from West Cumberland Silk Mills in Whitehaven.

As a textile-lover, one of the joys of this collection are the examples of different colourways of the same design.

So that’s Part Two – if you follow this blog you will receive a notification of future posts which will include a piece on hats and one on sun/play suits.

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