Posted in Event, Exhibition, Fashion History, Historical Hair and Make-up, Museum, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War Two

Interview: Gloria Holloway From Vintage Hair Lounge

Glamourous vintage pin-up model, Miss Scarlett Luxe with the co-owner of Vintage Hair Lounge, Gloria Holloway. ©Come Step Back In Time
Glamourous vintage pin-up model, Miss Scarlett Luxe, with co-owner of Vintage Hair Lounge, Gloria Holloway. ©Come Step Back In Time

Southampton-based Vintage Hair Lounge, is one of southern England’s leading providers of vintage hair styling and make-up.  Founded in 2010 by mother and daughter team, Gloria and Sharon Holloway. Sharon originally worked as a top criminal barrister but retrained, in the early 2000’s, to work as a  hair and make-up artist in film, television and theatre. Gloria has been a hairdresser all of her life, spending many years as head of hair and beauty at Isle of Wight College.

Gloria and I at Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers
Me interviewing Gloria at Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers

In 2015, I had the privilege of interviewing Gloria at the vintage extravaganza that is, Goodwood Revival.  Gloria has had a long and illustrious career in the hair and beauty industry, spanning over 5 decades.  I am delighted to share with you here, highlights from my interview with Gloria.

In 1960, aged 16, Gloria began her training in historical hair and make-up for television at the BBC’s prestigious in-house academy. Gloria explains:

It was an excellent 2 year training scheme. We were taught to do everything ‘properly’, paying particular attention to historical accuracy and techniques. Unfortunately, in the year I finished my course, the BBC raised the age they employed training academy graduates, from 18 to 21. I was very disappointed that I couldn’t begin working for the BBC straightaway and would now have to wait 3 years to put my skills into practice.

However, this early setback didn’t stop Gloria from continuing with a career in hair and beauty. Returning to her family home on the Isle of Wight, Gloria set-up her own salon, with help from her parents. Gloria has fond memories of these early years:

We opened the salon in 1962/63. I really enjoyed working in a salon environment, chatting with customers and finally getting to use the skills I learned at the BBC. The 1960s was also a very exciting time to be a hairdresser. Hairstyles were changing so fast. Clients became more adventurous with their choice of cut, colours and styles. When I first started working, ‘beehives’ were very popular.

  • British Pathe film, ‘Luxury Hairdressers’ (1964). Uploaded to You Tube, 13.4.2014.

Gloria’s beehive updos are now legendary amongst her Vintage Hair Lounge clients. Quite simply, Gloria is the Queen of Beehives. Afterall, Gloria learned her techniques first-hand, back in the 1960s. In the last few years, Gloria has seen the beehive hairstyle make a comeback. This is thanks, in part, to being popularised by a number of celebrities from the entertainment industry.

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  • British singer, Amy Winehouse, performs at the Glastonbury Festival 28th June, 2008. AFP Photo/Ben Stansall. Amy’s iconic hair style was a modern-take on the 1960s beehive.

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  • British singer Adele was also a fan of the beehive hairstyle. 24th February, 2013. Credit: Jason Merritt.

At Vintage Hair Lounge’s pop-up salon, the beehive is still one of their most requested styles. Luckily, the team has Gloria’s first-hand knowledge of how to recreate the original look. Gloria advises that:

A traditional beehive doesn’t have a French pleat! A common mistake with modern-day versions. The hair should be smoothly swept upwards, blended at the top and sides, it should also be teamed with a fringe. Backcombing is the key to a really good beehive.

It was such a joy speaking with Gloria about her career, she is a remarkable lady with an indomitable spirit.  As a social historian, I had many questions to ask relating to various aspects of hairdressing in the latter half of the 20th century. Gloria explains:

Dressing hair properly was very important in the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1950s, hats were worn high on the head with hair in a French pleat. In the 1960s,  Vidal Sassoon liberated women’s hairdressing.  Haircuts were less complicated and a modern-take on the 1920’s ‘bob’ became popular too. Hats were still worn in the 1960s but less fussy and not so old-fashioned. In the Swinging Sixties, young people liked wearing berets and ‘baker boy’ hats.  I used a lot of ‘Plix’ by L’Oreal setting lotion in the salon. I also remember creating the unusual ‘cottage loaf’ hairstyle quite a lot. 

Advert for Plix setting lotion by L'Oreal. The setting lotion of choice for professional hairdressers in the 1950s and 1960s.
Advert for Plix setting lotion by L’Oreal. The setting lotion of choice for professional hairdressers in the 1950s and 1960s.
Gloria Holloway creating the perfect 'beehive' hairstyle at Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers
Gloria Holloway creating the perfect ‘beehive’ 1960s hairstyle at Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers

When I teach 1960s hair styling techniques on courses at Vintage Hair Lounge, I am very particular about backcombing. Nowadays, backcombing is often taught incorrectly. If not done properly, the hair will become tangled and impossible to work with. Each section of hair should be backcombed in stages all the way from root to tip and in one direction. Don’t drag the hair. This method ensures that you create strength and structure in the hair. This gives you a strong base from which to build your style. Backcombing is important when creating 1940s Victory Rolls too. You don’t need rollers to create them, just backcomb, control and shape the roll.

Example of Gloria's technical expertise in creating the perfect Victory Roll. Model is Miss Scarlett Luxe. Goodwood Revival 2015. Gloria with one of her former students, Mellisa Holme. Mellisa was working at Vintage Hair Lounge's pop-up salon at Goodwood Revival 2015. Mellisa now runs her own salon on the Isle of Wight, Six Hair Studio and Upper Six, Ryde, Isle of Wight. ©Come Step Back In Time
Example of Gloria’s technical expertise at creating perfect Victory Rolls. Model is Miss Scarlett Luxe. Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time

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  • Miss V. Neels of Southsea, Hampshire works on a model to create the ‘cottage loaf’ hairstyle during a teen hairdressing competition at the Park Lane Hotel, London. 25th April, 1960.

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  • British hairdresser Vidal Sassoon (1928-2012) creates a long bob with a soft fringe for actress Janette Scott (b. 1938). 4th January, 1963.

  • British Pathe film ‘Artists in Hair Styles’ (1962). Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.2014.

Beehive hairstyles emerged in the late 1950s, peaking in popularity during the early 1960s. Although, according to trendsetting booklet, with it: trends for ’63 (1962) : ‘Out for the with-its are bouffants and beehives. Out, too, is back-combing: it’s harmful to the hair. In are blonde and light brown shades to tone with the natural look of the new fashions’ (p.19).

Also in the early 1960s, new setting lotions, hair sprays and colourants began to emerge for professional as well as amateur home stylists. Hair spray had been around since the 1940s but by the 1960s it was mass-produced and very cheap.

Colouring your hair at home, in a wider range of shades than before, also become a reality. I found a wonderful article, ‘What it’s like to colour your hair’, in my vintage magazine collection. The article appears in a popular British weekly, Woman, (11.3.1961). Unlike today, in the early 1960s, there were only 2 options for colouring your hair at home, temporary water rinses and semi-permanent rinses. Permanent tints had to be done at a salon.

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  • A selection of popular 1960s hairstyles. Images from my own private collection of magazines, Woman (March, 1961) and Woman’s Day (April, 1964).

The article in Woman magazine has the following advice for the home hair styling enthusiast: ‘Girls who “go a new colour,” say they feel new personalities too. It’s fun to experiment first with rinses, before going a new colour for keeps. Colour choice is huge….. If you want to dye, check that your skin-tone won’t quarrel with the new colour… check that your hair isn’t too dry…check that you can afford the upkeep…check that you and your hairdresser are the best of friends.’

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  • Gloria Holloway during the 1960s. All images courtesy of Gloria Holloway.

Gloria married in 1966. In 1969, Gloria was approached by the Isle of Wight College who were setting-up a new hairdressing department. Gloria explains:

By the time the college approached me, I was managing 2 salons on the Island. I thought that the new department at the college was an exciting development in hairdressing education. I had always enjoyed teaching in my salons. I accepted the position at the college, initially working there part-time. When I started at the college there as no in-house salon but eventually I set one up.  I was Head of Department and Head of Student Services at the college for 26 years.

Until the end of the 1980s, Gloria was the owner and innovator of 4 Isle of Wight salons (Marina Dawn, Monroe Hair). Today, Gloria is still a highly regarded lecturer and trainer in hairdressing, continueing to work closely with hairdressing training providers in both college and salon environments to improve industry skills.

Gloria with one of her former students, Mellisa Holme. Mellisa was working at Vintage Hair Lounge's pop-up salon at Goodwood Revival 2015. Mellisa now runs her own salon on the Isle of Wight, Six Hair Studio and Upper Six, Ryde, Isle of Wight. ©Come Step Back In Time
Gloria with her former student, Mellisa Holme, at Vintage Hair Lounge’s pop-up salon, Goodwood Revival, 2015. Mellisa runs her own salon,  Six Hair Studio and Upper Six, Ryde, Isle of Wight. ©Come Step Back In Time

Gloria’s passion for passing on her knowledge to the next generation of hair stylists has never diminished. Gloria now regularly teaches students about historic hair styling and techniques on Vintage Hair Lounge’s wide range of courses. Gloria tells me:

Hairdressing is a fantastic career! It allows you to be creative, meet new people and travel the world. It is never too late to master the skill. It is a wonderful thing to be able to make someone ‘feel good’ about themselves by simply doing their hair nicely.

Gloria's former pupil, hairdresser Mellisa Holme, creates the perfect 'beehive' at Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers
Mellisa Holme, creates the perfect ‘beehive’ thanks to expert tuition from Gloria. Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers
Mellisa's client is utterly thrilled with her 'beehive'. Gloria's former pupil, hairdresser Mellisa Holme, creates the perfect 'beehive' at Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers
Mellisa’s client is utterly thrilled with her authentic ‘beehive’. Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers

When Gloria and Sharon started Vintage Hair Lounge, in 2010, they had a salon in Southampton High Street but in 2012 they closed that salon.  Going forward, this enterprising and dynamic duo, now operate their business, predominantly, as mobile specialists and trainers in vintage hair and make-up. Their HQ is based at Southampton’s Solent Business Centre, facilities include an in-house photographic and training studio.

That’s Solent TV, ‘Talk Solent’, chat show, pictured (L-R) presenter, Shan Robins, myself, Gillian Tully (CEO of Film Expo South), Sharon Holloway (Co-Owner of Vintage Hair Lounge). November, 2015.

There are many unique aspects to Vintage Hair Lounge’s business model. It comes as no surprise that education and training still remains at its core. Gloria and Sharon run courses for both professionals and the general public. Keep an eye on their website for forthcoming courses as they sell-out very quickly! Click here.

Sharon Holloway with model, Miss Scarlett Luxe at Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers
Sharon Holloway with model, Miss Scarlett Luxe. Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Scott Chalmers
Model, Miss Scarlett Luxe. Hair and make-up by Vintage Hair Lounge. ©Scott Chalmers
Model, Miss Scarlett Luxe. Hair and make-up by Vintage Hair Lounge. ©Scott Chalmers
  • ‘Vintage Hair Lounge to be stocked in the British Museum’.  Film by That’s Solent TV.  Uploaded to You Tube 20.1.2016.

Vintage Hair Lounge also has a sister company, VHL Distribution an independent cosmetics distributor based in the UK. VHL Distribution has recently formed new partnerships for distribution in Europe with Australian based brand Eye of Horus Cosmetics (Twitter: @eyeofhorus_mu), and French brand Féret Parfumeur (Twitter:  @FeretParfumeur) for distribution in the UK. Other heritage brands on VHL Distribution’s portfolio include: Papier Poudré Limited (Twitter: @papierpoudre) and Barba Italiana (Twitter: @barbaitalian #barbaitaliana).

©Scott Chalmers
Eye of Horus Cosmetics display. Goodwood Revival, 2015. ©Scott Chalmers

These beautifully packaged, extremely high quality, heritage brands can be found on-sale at vintage retailers, salons and barbers, museums and gift shops.  A selection of these products can also be purchased at Vintage Hair Lounge’s online store.

©Scott Chalmers
Eye of Horus Cosmetics display. Goodwood Revival, 2015. ©Scott Chalmers

Exciting times are ahead for VHL Distribution (see film above). The British Museum has recently selected award winning Eye of Horus Cosmetics to be sold in the gift shop, later on this year, during their major new exhibition, Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds which opens in May.

Regular readers of Come Step Back In Time will know that interest in Egyptology is currently at an all time high.  In July 2015, British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves, published a paper that claims Tutankhamun may not have been alone in his burial chamber. A series of ultra-high-resolution images of King Tut’s tomb (subsequently designated KV62) have revealed what is believed to be the outlines of two doorways, previously blocked and plastered over.

Reeves has suggested that behind these hidden doors there may be a lavish secret tomb belonging to the legendary Queen Nefertiti (the 14th century wife of Akhenaten, step-mother to Tutankhamun). Tutankhamun died at the age of 19, and it is thought that, due to his unexpected death, he may have been buried in a chamber of his step-mother’s tomb.

©Scott Chalmers
Eye of Horus Cosmetics display. Goodwood Revival, 2015. ©Scott Chalmers

Continued interest in Egyptology ensures that Egyptian Revival products, such as Eye of Horus Cosmetics range, will remain popular with beauty professionals and the general public alike. It is interesting to note that Eye of Horus Cosmetics range of illuminating eye makeup is actually based on sacred formulas passed down from the ancient Egyptians.

Gloria Holloway at Goodwood Revival 2015. Model is Miss Honey B'Zarre. ©Scott Chalmers
Gloria Holloway at Goodwood Revival 2015. Model is Miss Honey B’Zarre. ©Scott Chalmers
Model, Miss Honey B'Zarre. Hair and make-up by Vintage Hair Lounge. ©Scott Chalmers
Model, Miss Honey B’Zarre. Hair and make-up by Vintage Hair Lounge. ©Scott Chalmers

Eyeliners in the range are all made with natural waxes and oils and the incredible organic Moringa Oil, a tell-tale product found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Check out the entire Eye of Horus range at Vintage Hair Lounge’s online store.

There are many ways to connect with Vintage Hair Lounge:

Gloria and Sharon Holloway in their pop-up vintage hair and beauty salon at Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time
Gloria and Sharon Holloway in their pop-up vintage hair and beauty salon. Goodwood Revival 2015. ©Come Step Back In Time


Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Film, History, Literature, Maritime History, Motoring History, Rural Heritage, TV Programme, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War One, World War Two

Rye, East Sussex: Hideout For Smugglers & Haven For Writers

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  • Mermaid Street, Rye, East Sussex.
Illustration of Mermaid Street, Rye from Rye and District Holiday Guide (1950).
Illustration of Mermaid Street, Rye from Rye and District Holiday Guide (1950).

Through the ages – sackings and burnings, invader and pirates, smugglers and highwaymen, Kings and Queens, statesmen and reformers, and, in more recent years, threats of invasion, bombs and incendiaries, to say nothing of “doodle bugs.”

And yet through it all Rye seems to stand quite imperturbable and seemingly unconcerned with the passage of time, for we read that in 1263 the Friar of the Sack were allowed “to dwell in peace and quietude… in the Town of Rye,” and we can stand in the same street to-day and feel the same sense of “peace and quietude” and realize that nothing seems to have altered in the last 700 years. The peculiar appeal of Rye is that inasmuch as other towns take you back to the past, Rye brings the past ages right into the present day.

(Handbook and Guide: Rye, Winchelsea & Northiam by L.A. Vidler and W. MacLean Homan, 1950)

I spent my childhood in East Sussex, it is a picturesque county with a fascinating history dating back to the 5th Century AD when South Saxons settled there following the Romans’ departure.  The ancient town of Rye, close to the East Sussex coastline, was once contained in the Manors of Rameslie and Brede. I visited Rye many times with my family and is a town that remains close to my heart.


In my collection of vintage publications there is a 1950 copy of the Rye & District Holiday Guide. It is a joy to dip in and out of this little book, a slice of nostalgia from post-war Britain. For a majority of Britons, 1950 was not a time of prosperity, food rationing was still in place and petrol rationing did not end until 26th May that year. During the early 1950s, many Britons chose to spend their holidays or days out close to home. Guidebooks, such as this one, became an invaluable resource. It was not until the end of the decade that one in three British families owned a car and venturing outside of one’s locality became the norm.

Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).
Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

The guidebook is jam-packed full of advertisements promoting local tourist attractions as well as establishments offering that ever popular British staple, afternoon tea. In the back section there is a comprehensive accommodation list, some of the descriptions given are so charming, I thought it would be nice to share some of my favourites with you:

Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District  Holiday Guide (1950).

The Mill, Iden-by-Rye. An old Millhouse all on one floor, rooms of good size and comfortably furnished. On Bus route 2 miles from Rye and situated in country surroundings. Our own farm produce. Sandwiches willingly packed. Inclusive terms. 

Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

Monastery Guest House, High Street, Rye. Principal rooms overlooking secluded garden flanked by the original old Monastery Chapel wall (1379). Spend a restful holiday in a happy atmosphere with comfort, courtesy and consideration.

Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

Thornton House, Northiam (near Rye). Ideal for country holidays. Good food, a happy atmosphere and every consideration. Bus and London coaches pass the gate. Inclusive terms from 4  1/2 guineas weekly.

Robin Hill is a Guest House unusual – antiquity with fine old oak beams and timbered rooms with cosy chimney corners, yet possessing every modern convenience.

Rye as a touring centre is ideal for walkers, cyclists and motorists. Rolling wooded country North and West of the town, the sea to the South, and the wonderful Romney Marshes to the East. Good roads radiate in all directions with country lanes and paths in profusion.

Advertisement from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).
Advertisement from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

Rye together with its surrounding area, has long been a mecca for literary types.  Playwright John Fletcher (1579-1625) was born in Rye in 1579 at the Old Vicarage House and at which his father, the Rev. Richard Fletcher, then resided as minister and preacher during the vicariate of Rev. Richard Connope, an absentee; as he would not resign in Mr Fletcher’s favour, the latter left Rye when his famous son was two years old. John Fletcher’s birthplace was pulled down in 1699 and a new house re-erected in 1701.

Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

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  • Henry James poses outside Lamb House c.1900. (Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images).

Lamb House (National Trust), Rye was home to American novelist Henry James (1843-1916) from 1897 until his death. James wrote The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904) in house’s garden room (destroyed by a bomb in World War Two). Lamb House featured as Mr Longdon’s home in The Awkward Age (1899).

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  • E. (Edward) F. (Frederic) Benson, c.1915. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

E. F. Benson (1867-1940) moved to Rye in 1919 and lived at Lamb House. He wrote six novels and two short stories in the popular ‘Mapp and Lucia’ series. These quintessentially English novels depict life in a 1930s provincial market town. Four novels are set in Tilling, a fictional location based upon Rye. Lamb House became the model for Mapp’s, as well as for a little while, Lucia’s home, ‘Mallards’. Benson was Mayor of the Borough of Rye from 1934 and accorded Honorary Freedom of the Borough on March 22nd, 1938.

The main protagonists of Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books are two sharp-tongued, well-healed ladies, Elizabeth Mapp and Emmeline Lucas (Lucia) who both jostle for pole position in Tilling society. Newcomer to Tilling, Lucia, sets out to topple the town’s resident queen bee, Mapp. There are plenty of jolly japes and cutting remarks along the way too.

A new adaptation of Mapp and Lucia aired on BBC One, Christmas 2014. A three-parter written by Steve Pemberton (who also plays flamboyant Georgie Pillson, Lucia’s sidekick) and directed by Diarmuid Lawrence (Desperate Romantics, Anglo Saxon Attitudes, Little Dorrit).

  • ‘On location with Mapp and Lucia’, behind the scenes with the BBC cast and crew in Rye. Uploaded to You Tube (17.12.14) by National Trust Charity.

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Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District Holiday Guide (1950).

In 1773, theologian John Wesley (1703-1791) visited Rye, East Sussex, and wrote in his diary: ‘I found the people willing to hear the good word at Rye but they will not part with the accursed thing, smuggling.’ During the eighteenth century, Rye and nearby Romney Marshes were awash with smuggling activities. Bandits would smuggle goods such as brandy and tobacco in at night by boat from France to avoid high import taxes.

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  • Arthur Russell Thorndike (1885-1972), English actor and novelist, early 20th century. Thorndike was the brother of Dame Sybil Thorndike (1882-1976). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

One of the most notorious gangs of smugglers was the Hawkhurst Gang who frequented The Mermaid Inn, Mermaid Street, Rye. Actor and author Arthur Russell Thorndike (1885-1972), born in Rochester, Kent, wrote a series of books, known as the Dr Syn series, based upon eighteenth century smuggling activities on the Romney Marshes. The main protagonist is the swashbuckling Rev. Dr Christopher Syn who leads a rebel band against the King’s press gangs.

Books in the Dr Syn series are:

  • Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh (1915)
  • Doctor Syn on the High Seas (1935)
  • Doctor Syn Returns (1935)
  • Further Adventures of Doctor Syn (1936)
  • Courageous Exploits of Doctor Syn (1938)
  • Amazing Quest of Doctor Syn (1939)
  • Shadow of Doctor Syn (1944)

  • Clip from The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh , a television adaptation of Thorndike’s concluding Dr Syn novel (but written first). This television series aired in three parts in 1963. Uploaded to You Tube 23.4.11.
Illustration from Rye & District Guide (1950).
Illustration from Rye & District History Guide (1950).
Posted in Activity, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Literature, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War Two

Rationing Fashion in 1940s Britain – Make Do & Mend

The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time

  • June 1943, Berketex Utility Fashions. Those shown in the picture were designed by Norman Hartnell (Photo by James Jarche/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

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  • World War Two Utility clothing for women, c.1942. Photograph by James Jarche. (Photo by Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)

Every now and again, scavenging in local charity shops pays dividends. Lurking behind a glut of seventies kitsch my mum (Queen of retro scavenging!) found two cloth-bound publications. She had a ‘hunch’ they might be something special and was right.  The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Needlecraft (1946) and The Complete Book of Sewing: Dressmaking and Sewing For The Home Made Easy by Constance Talbot (1948). Both books cost the princely sum of £2. Mum had struck gold again and I am very grateful that she combs her local charity shops on a regular basis.

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  • ‘Make Do & Mend’ World War Two poster. (Photo by The National Archives/SSPL/Getty Images)

These books are superb examples of the 1940s ‘Make Do and Mend’ culture. A trend borne out of economic necessity and inspired by government legislation. Home dressmaking became extremely popular in the 1940s. In recent times, this approach to needlecraft has returned, although is now referred to as ‘upcycling’ or the ‘pre-loved, re-loved’ trend. Whatever term you choose, it still makes perfect economic sense.

During World War Two, clothes rationing come into effect in Britain on the 1st June, 1941, lasting until March, 1949. Initially, clothes were rationed on a points system and no clothing coupons were issued. Britons were asked to handover their unused margarine coupons if they wanted a new item of clothing.

  • ‘Mrs Sew and Sew’ (1944) British Pathé, Ministry of Information Government film. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.

When clothes rationing first began, the government allowed each adult enough coupons to buy one new outfit a year. However, this standard issue soon became unworkable, as the years of rationing progressed you would be lucky if your coupons purchased you a coat, let along a whole new outfit!

  • ‘Make Do & Mend Trailer’ Aka Clothing Coupons Trailer (1943) British Pathé. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.

Coupon values for women: lined coat over 71 cm in length (14), jacket or short coat (11), wool dress (11), non-wool dress (7), blouse, cardigan or jumper (5), skirt or divided skirt (culottes) (7), overalls or dungarees (7), apron or pinafore (3), pyjamas (8), nightdress (6), slip, petticoat or combination undergarment (4), corset (3), stockings (2), ankle socks (1), pair of slippers, boots or shoes (5).

  • A book of clothing coupons dated 1947-8, plus three sheets of coupons

Coupon values for men: unlined cape or mackintosh (9), raincoat or overcoat (16), jacket or blazer (13), waistcoat or cardigan (5), wool trousers (8), corduroy trousers (5), overalls or dungarees (denim) (6), dressing gown (8), pyjamas or nightshirt (8), wool shirt or combination (one piece undergarment) (8), shirt or combination, not-wool (5), socks (3), collar or tie or two handkerchiefs (1), scarf or pair of gloves (2), slippers or rubber galoshes (4), pair of boots or shoes (7).

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  • ‘Deft Darns’ by Mrs Sew and Sew, 1939-1945 (Photo by The National Archives/SSPL/Getty Images)

In order to make a purchase, the shopper handed over their coupons as well as money. The more fabric and labour that was needed to produce a garment, the more points required. Children’s clothes had lower points value, pregnant women were given an extra allocation for maternity and baby clothes. Furnishing fabrics were also used for dressmaking until they were placed on the ration too.001

The government tackled the problem of clothing civilians in three ways, rationing, Utility and Austerity. In 1943, the British Ministry of Information issued a Make Do and Mend pamphlet which was:

…intended to help you to get the last possible ounce of wear out of all of your clothes and household things…No doubt there are as many ways of patching or darning as there are of cooking potatoes.

(Hugh Dalton’s Foreword from Make Do and Mend by The Ministry of Information (1943))

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  • Mannequins parading before service women are showing the latest Utility fashions and the ‘731’, an artificial silk-plated stocking called ‘Mr Dalton’s Stocking’ after the President of the Board of Trade, Hugh Dalton. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

During the first week of February 1942, the Utility Apparel Order came into force, all garments produced would now be marked using a ‘CC41’ label (‘Controlled Commodity 1941’).  It carried a reference to 1941 because the mark had been designed by artist Reginald Shipp during the early planning stages for Utility dress. In 1942, 50% of all clothes produced came under the Utility scheme by 1945 this number had risen to 85%.

Clothes have simply got to last longer than they used to, but only the careful woman can make them last well. If you want to feel happy in your clothes as long as they last, start looking after them properly from the very beginning.

(Make Do and Mend by The Ministry of Information, 1943)

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  •  June 1943. Models wearing Berketex Utility fashions designed by Norman Hartnell (Photo by James Jarche/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

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  • Utility Clothes,1943. A model leans against a window sill as she shows off her mustard-coloured wool Spectator dress, costing eleven coupons. She is also wearing a dark-coloured turban and holding a handbag with a large metal clasp. (Photo by Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer/ IWM via Getty Images)

Top 10 Make Do And Mend Tips

A selection of tips and hints from Make Do and Mend (1943), advice that is just as useful in today’s cash-strapped times. Upcycle your wardrobe don’t go out and buy something new, most importantly, look after the clothes that you do have:

  1. Mend clothes before washing them or sending them to the laundry, or the hole or tear may become unmanageable. Thin places especially must be dealt with, or they may turn into holes;
  2. For grease use a hot iron on a piece of clean white blotting paper placed over the stain [brown parcel paper is excellent when used this way to remove candlewax from fabric];
  3. Use dress shields to protect clothes from perspiration, but don’t leave shields in when putting clothes away for any length of time [this also cuts down your dry cleaning bills for silk/satin dresses/blouses. Simply remove the dress shields and wash those in hot soapy water];
  4. When folding clothes, put bunched-up newspaper [or tissue paper] between the folds to prevent creases;
  5. Never hang knitted wool or silk clothes, wet or dry. Store them flat in a drawer, and dry on a flat surface. Spread them out flat in the open air after shaking them gently, to air them;
  6. Remember that even the smallest scraps left over from your renovations will come in useful for something: patching, tea-cosies, coverings for buttons, hanging loops, binding for buttonholes, trimmings, kettle holders, polishers, and so on;
  7. Open the front of a blouse which has become too tight, and put in a contrasting button band, complete with collar. Or, if it has long sleeves, make them short, and use the material left over for your button band;
  8. A useful skirt can be made from a dress, the bodice of which is past repair. Cut it away at the waist, make a side placket and mount it on a Petersham band. The best parts from the bodice can be cut into a belt to finish the waistline or to make patch pockets on the hips. Pocket patches would hide any defects in the front;
  9. A man’s discarded waistcoat can be made into a woman’s jerkin by knitting a woollen back and sleeves. Beige with chocolate-brown, or canary coloured sleeves and back on a black pin-striped waistcoat would be very effective;
  10. Felted or matted wool. Have you a hopelessly-looking, thoroughly shrunk and matted old jumper or jacket? Unpick the seams carefully, don’t unravel it. You can then treat it just like cloth, cutting it out from a paper pattern. If, of course, it is not matted all over, you must tack the parts where stitches are likely to run, before cutting. Machine round the edge of the pattern and join up by hand. This keeps the garment firm and stops it from stretching. This cloth will make boleros, waistcoats, children’s coats, caps, gloves, capes, hoods, indoor Russian boots and many other articles. Old white wool, dipped in cold, clear coffee, will make attractive accessories.
From my copy of The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time.
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time

How To Make A Wrap-Around Turban (The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948))

Use soft woollen, a wool jersey, or a very firmly woven rayon crêpe. A yard of 40-inch material will make two turbans. Cut the turban 36-inches long and half the width of the material. Fold at A and seam the folded end. With a series of gathers, gather this seam into a 2  1/2 inch measure. Place the gathered material at the beginning of your hairline in the centre front, mark the turban, as shown at B. Split the unfinished end through the centre of the fabric up to the mark on the material, so that the ends can cross and wrap around the head. Tie the turban and make sure you have split it so it ties at the most becoming angle. When the effect is just what you want, hem the unfinished edges.

  • February 1943. Model wearing a dress, Green Park is the colour and herringbone allies with plain yoke. The dress costs sixty shillings to buy. (Photo by James Jarche/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

How To Make A Pill-Box Hat (The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948))

Cut a band and a circle of buckram as shown in the diagram. To get the size, measure the head with a tape measure. Use this measure on line A of the diagram, and cut a strip of paper, shaping it as shown in the diagram. Join the ends of the band and place it over a piece of paper as you can outline on that paper the circle formed by the band. This circle is the top of the crown. When you have fitted the paper band to the head in the effect you like, cut a band and a circle from the buckram with these patterns. Cover them with fabric and join the two pieces with small stitches which do not show. Line the hat with pieces cut by the same patterns and seamed together.

  • Hats Aka ‘Make Do & Mend’ Hats (1942) British Pathé. Some Utility fashion ideas from Anne Edwards, fashion editor of Woman magazine. Uploaded to You Tube 13.4.14.

The term ‘Mend and Make Do’ – a familiar phrase – sums up all possibilities for helping a worn garment to last just a little longer. This chapter, devoted to all aspects of garment renovation, shows how imagination and the application of small fashion touches can make the repaired garment still a pleasurable one to wear.

(Extract from The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Needlecraft (1946)

The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time

Replacing Frayed Collars (The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948))

Collars can be turned by ripping the seam which holds the collar in place. Reserve the collar, turn it over, and replace it. Baste it before sewing and try it on to see that the collar fits properly round the neck. Or a new collar of contrasting material or fur can be sewn on top of the old one, and in that case the trimming can be extended down the front edge of the coat.

Imperial War Museum London – ‘Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style’ Exhibition

 A new exhibition, ‘Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style’, opens at the Imperial War Museum, London on Thursday 5th March, 2015 and continues until Monday 31st August, 2015. Artefacts (300 of them) include accessories, photographs, film, artworks, interviews and clothing. On display will be key pieces of uniform from the men’s and women’s services as well as more unusual items such as gas mask handbags, blackout buttons, a bridesmaid’s dress made from parachute silk and an underwear set made from RAF silk maps for Countess Mountbatten. Click here.

  • April 1944. (Photo by Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)

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    The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Needlecraft (1946) ©Come Step Back in Time
The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Needlecraft (1946) ©Come Step Back in Time
The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Needlecraft (1946) ©Come Step Back in Time

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  • Lady Reading using a sewing machine at the Women’s Voluntary Services headquarters during World War Two.
My grandmother's 1948 Singer sewing machine. ©Come Step Back in Time
My grandmother’s 1948 Singer sewing machine (Serial No. EE617052). My grandmother ordered this machine as soon as World War Two ended in 1945. Due to the shortage of materials following the war, she had to wait three years before taking delivery of her beloved sewing machine. This machine was my grandmother’s pride and joy which resulted in many, many years of home dressmaking. Home dressmaking in our family is a tradition that has been passed down from my mother to me. ©Come Step Back in Time
Detail of my grandmother's 1948 sewing machine. ©Come Step Back in Time
Detail of my grandmother’s 1948 sewing machine. ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot (1948). ©Come Step Back in Time
Posted in Decorative Arts, Event, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, History of Medicine, Horticultural History, Literature, Maritime History, Motoring History, Mrs Beeton, Theatre History, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War One, World War Two

Mary Evans Picture Library – Celebrating 50 Years

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©Come Step Back In Time

In October 1964, in the Evans’ small Blackheath home, Mary clambered onto a stool to reach the top shelf of a clothes cupboard in order to retrieve an engraving for the BBC. By this time, every last corner of their home was stuffed full of the antiquarian books, prints and ephemera that were the personal passion of Mary and her husband Hilary, and became the foundation of Mary Evans Picture Library; thus valuable engravings were forced to share a home with Hilary’s casual wear.

The library grew rapidly throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 1975 was a key year when Hilary and Mary were founder members of both the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA), the industry’s trade organisation, and the Picture Research Association. In the same year they published the first edition of The Picture Researcher’s Handbook, which ran to eight editions.

Hilary and Mary’s daughter, Valentine, joined the company in 1992 and her three young children are frequent visitors to the library.

(Above extracts from Mary Evans Picture Library’s website)

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This year, Mary Evans Picture Library celebrates its 50th anniversary. Earlier in the Summer I received an invitation to attend an Open Day at the Library’s premises in Blackheath, London. Such a wonderful opportunity to visit this unique, family-owned, historical picture library whose core philosophy since opening, in 1964, has been:

to make available and accessible all the wonderful images created for people to enjoy over the centuries which were originally published in books, on posters, in advertisements, or as prints.

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

The Library have more than half a million images currently available online and five hundred new images are added every week. A quick glance at the end credits of a documentary or pictures featured in an editorial will reveal Mary Evans Picture Library to be one of the main contributors.

The building that now houses this priceless collection was formerly the Parish Hall of All Saints’ Church on Blackheath. It is designed in the Arts and Crafts style by architect Charles Canning Winmill (1865-1945).

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

There is something really quite special about the Library. Upon entering you are immediately transported into a maze of corridors and staircases leading to room after room of historic treasures. This vast collection is presided over by a team of friendly, knowledgeable staff who are passionate about the priceless ephemera they are custodians of:

Few working offices feature desks surrounded by a fine collection of coronation mugs, a melted wax fruit display, an original Edison Phonograph and a broomstick in full flight suspended above the heads of staff.

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The set-up of our office is unashamedly individual, and the archive of postcard folders, rare books, boxes of ephemera and racks of bound magazines is as integral to the working space as the computers and desks, squeezed, as they are, into the last available corners.

©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

The main room downstairs will always be known as Mary’s office…. Conducting a tour of the library invariably involves squeezing past colleagues, step ladders, Missie the dog, someone preparing lunch or a private researcher hidden behind five large volumes of Illustrazione Italiana from the 1880s.

(Fifty; 50 Pictures for our 50th Birthday , 2014, Mary Evans Picture Library)

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©Come Step Back In Time

Mary Evans Picture Library also manage a number of private collections. At the Open Day I was thrilled to meet some of these contributors which included:

Me with Anne Zielinski-Old at the open day. ©Mary Evans Picture Library
Me with Anne Zielinski-Old. ©Mary Evans Picture Library

 Anne Zielinksi-Old

Fashion artist Anne worked for a range of prestigious clients during the 1980s and ’90s.  Anne studied fashion and design at the University of Brighton (1970-73), St Martins School of Art (1975-1976) where she was trained by Elizabeth Suter and Colin Barnes. In 1993 Anne studied at the Royal College of Art, London, undertaking a Research Degree by project. During her long and high-profile career Anne’s clients have included Harrods of Knightsbridge, Fortnum and Mason, Garrards Crown Jewelers, Burberrys, the Sunday Times, Vogue, Cosmopolitan Magazine and more.

One of Anne’s many career highlights includes working for Mattel Inc. in California (1997-1998) as an Art Director for Barbie Collectibles. During her time at Mattel Inc. Anne created a Princess Diana Doll and an Elizabeth Taylor Auction Doll which was purchased by actress Demi Moore. I had the pleasure of speaking at length with Anne about her extraordinary career.

  • For further biographical information about Anne, click here.
  • For more information about Anne’s career as a Doll Designer, click here.
  • Browse Anne’s Air Kiss Collection which is managed by Mary Evans Picture Library, click here.
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

London Fire Brigade (LFB)

The archive of the LFB (The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority) is managed exclusively by the Mary Evans Picture Library. The collection contains extensive documentation of the fire service in London from the nineteenth century to the present day. Subjects covered by the images include: World War Two, the Blitz, 1936 fire at Crystal Palace, fire-apparatus from Selfridges Department Store (1966), historic fire-fighting equipment and vehicles.

  • For more information about the LFB archive, click here.
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

Grenville Collins Postcard Collection

Grenville Collins’ collection comprises over ten thousand images, mostly from before World War One. Grenville has one of the world’s most comprehensive selection of postcards depicting Turkey and the late Ottoman Empire. In the 1960s, Grenville managed rock band, The Kinks, following which, in the 1970s, he lived near Bodrum in Southern Anatolia, Turkey. Included in his collection are several books of postcards by Max Fruchtermann who published Turkey’s first commercial cards in 1895. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to Grenville, his collection is outstanding.

  • Browse the Grenville Collins postcard collection managed by Mary Evans Picture Library, click here.
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time

H. L. Oakley Silhouettes

One of the more unusual collections managed by Mary Evans Picture Library are the silhouettes of Captain H. L. Oakley (1882-1957). Oakley’s great nephew and biographer, Jerry Rendell, attended the open day with some fine examples from his private collection. Jerry has written a book about his great uncle’s work, Profiles of the First World War – The Silhouettes of Captain H. L. Oakley  (2013, The History Press).

Oakley was known as ‘the man with the magic scissors’ who began cutting silhouettes aged just seven years old. He trained at the Royal College of Art. During World War One, he served with the Yorkshire Regiment, the Green Howards, transferring to the 96th (Lancashire) Brigade in May, 1918. Oakley contributed silhouettes and drawings to the trench newspaper, The Dump. His work also appeared in The Bystander (8th March, 1916, ‘Trench Life in Silhouette’).

  • ‘The Man with the Magic Scissors: Oakley of The Bystander‘s Western Front in silhouette’, by Luci Gosling (Mary Evans Picture Library), published 27.8.2013, click here.

Mary Evans Picture Library – A Few Fascinating Facts

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  • Mary Evans’ lifelong passion for dogs influenced her collecting habits which has resulted in an eclectic mix of books, objects and assorted ephemera. Mary eventually acquired the Thomas Fall Archive in 2003;
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  • The library represents some of the best historical sources of material from around the world. They have exceptionally detailed coverage of the history of many countries, with notably large collections from Germany, France, the United States, Spain and Italy;
  • The library recently launched a superb First World War blog (Picturing The Great War)dedicated to showcasing some of the more unusual and surprising content from the period which is currently held in the collection, click here.
  • In October, 1965, London Life, launched. Although the magazine only lasted fifteen months (closing, Christmas Eve, 1966), it is a wonderful record of swinging sixties London. The library has a complete run of London Life, in five volumes. Each publication reads like a who’s who from the world of sixties music, fashion, media and photography (Terence Donovan, Twiggy, Gerald Scarfe, Jean Shrimpton, Terence Stamp, Ian Dury, Vidal Sassoon, Joanna Lumley, Celia Hammond, Peter Akehurst, the list goes on). These iconic individuals helped shaped London as a vibrant cultural hub during one of the twentieth century’s most dynamic decades. London Life was edited by Mark Boxer, founder of the Sunday Times magazine, the managing editor was David Puttnam (now Lord Puttnam).
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  • The Illustrated London News (ILN), launched on 14th May, 1842, is one of the library’s high profile collections. Although the ILN Picture Library (which also includes The Graphic, The Sphere, The Tatler, The Bystander, The Sketch, The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, The Illustrated War News and Britannia & Eve) remains under the ownership of Illustrated London News Ltd, the back catalogue of publications are housed at the Mary Evans Picture Library in Blackheath. Due to the importance of this world-class collection, it was once known as the ‘Great Eight’.

    ©Come Step Back In Time
    ©Come Step Back In Time
  • Hilary Evans was a world-renowned authority on paranormal phenomena. The library has an excellent selection of images on this topic in addition to Hilary’s own publications in this field: Seeing Ghosts: Experiences of the Paranormal (2002), Panic Attacks: The History of Mass Delusion (2004), and Sliders: the Enigma of Streetlight Interference (2011).
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
  • Vintage fashion is well-represented in the library’s collection with a number of rare publications. They have: a six-volume Le Costume Historique by A.Racinet; Strutt’s Dress and Habits of the People of England;  French fashion journals, Gazette du Bon Ton and Art, Goût, Beauté, both with pochoir fashion plates. The  library also represents designers Hardy Amies (1909-2003) and Victor Stiebel (1907-1976).
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  • Ninety plus volumes of A & C Black colour books, published between 1901 and 1921, are held in the collection. These books have distinctive cover designs which are decorated in gilt and inside, plates have been produced by adopting a three-colour process which was popular at the time.
©Come Step Back In Time
©Come Step Back In Time
  • Mary collected several hundred different editions of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, including a first edition.
©Mary Evans Picture Library
The perfect habitat for this social historian to while away the hours. I truly did get to ‘step back in time’. ©Mary Evans Picture Library
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100 year old stereoscopic viewer which allows the user to see two separate images as one single three-dimensional picture. ©Come Step Back In Time
100 year old stereoscopic viewer which allows the user to see two separate images as one single three-dimensional picture. ©Come Step Back In Time

Think History – Think Mary Evans

Closer to History

Centuries of Inspiration

From Antiquity to Modernity

The Specialist History Source

Visual Documentation of the Past

Picturing the Past

The World of Images

First Choice for History

(Fifty; 50 Pictures for our 50th Birthday , 2014, Mary Evans Picture Library)

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Selection of retail merchandise which has featured images from the collection at Mary Evans Picture Library. ©Come Step Back In Time
Selection of retail merchandise featuring images from various collections managed by Mary Evans Picture Library. ©Come Step Back In Time
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©Come Step Back In Time
Posted in Country House, Decorative Arts, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, History of Medicine, Horticultural History, Vintage Retail, World War One, World War Two

Perfumes, Compacts & Powders – François Coty & The Doughboys: Stories From The Great War Part 10

Advertisement for Coty, Christmas, 1935.
Advertisement for Coty beauty products, Christmas, 1935. From my own collection.

Coty’s Personal Life

Eighty years ago, on the 25th July, French perfumier François Coty (born Joseph Marie François Spoturno) died in Louveciennes, France. Coty, a charismatic entrepreneur, transformed the French beauty industry with his bold strategy of creating attractively packaged products, at a range of price points, aimed at the mass market. Coty promised to:

Give a woman the best product to be made, market it in the perfect flask, beautiful in its simplicity yet impeccable in its taste, ask a reasonable price for it, and you will witness the birth of a business the size of which the world has never seen.

Born on 3rd May, 1874, Ajaccio, Corsica, Coty claimed to be a descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte’s aunt, Isabelle. Orphaned at the age of seven, Coty was sent to live with his great-grandmother, Marie Josephe Sporturno and after her death, his grandmother, Anna Maria Belone Sportuno, who lived in Marseille. His childhood was blighted by poverty which gave him the impetus to make a better life for himself as an adult. He achieved this ambition and went on to become France’s first billionaire. By 1928, he was the 5th richest person in the world.

In 1900, Coty married Yvonne Alexandrine Le Baron and they had two children together, Roland Alphée (b. 1901) and Christiane (b. 1903). However, Coty loved women and showered them with expensive gifts. He had many mistresses as well as illegitimate children, including five with one of his former shopgirls, Henriette Daude. Coty became a celebrity but also found himself the topic of gossip columns.

He often travelled with a large entourage, the Hotel Astoria in Paris was a particular favourite of his. He would take over an entire floor when staying there and liked to have his mistresses stay with him too. Despite his seemingly flamboyant public life, Coty was actually something of a recluse and didn’t like crowds. He enjoyed the finer things in life and money afforded him the opportunity of amassing a large collection of cars, art, property and racehorses.

In 1929, Yvonne, tired of his extra-marital activities, divorced Coty and married inventor and industrialist, Leon Cotnareanu. Yvonne’s substantial divorce settlement, as well as the Wall Street Crash of 1929, resulted in a period of economic hardship for Coty. Yvonne was eventually granted ownership of a sizeable chunk of  Coty’s perfume and newspaper empire (Figaro and L’Ami du Peuple). She subsequently sold Coty Inc. to Pfizer in 1963 and in 1992 they sold it on to German company Joh.A.Benckiser GmbH.

Advertisement for Coty from 1961. From my own collection.
Advertisement for Coty from 1961. From my own collection.

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  • 2nd August 1963: L’ Aimant talc and toilet water by Coty. Harrods, London. (Photo by Chaloner Woods/Getty Images).
L'Aimant by Coty. This is one of my favourite fragrances. I always use L'Aimant powder. L'Aimant, launched in 1927 was one of the last fragrances Coty had been involved in creating.
L’Aimant by Coty. This is one of my favourite fragrances. I always use L’Aimant powder. L’Aimant, launched in 1927 was one of the last fragrances Coty had been involved in creating and has basenotes of rose, vanilla, citrus, musk and jasmine. He created L’Aimant in response to Chanel No. 5 which was released in 1921.

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  • Les Grands Magasins du Louvre, a department store in Paris, France, 1955. The store where it all began for Coty. (Photo by R. Gates/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Coty The Perfumier

Coty studied with François Antoine Léon Chiris (1839-1900) at his factories in Grasse, France. In 1904, Coty returned to Paris and took his first fragrance, La Rose Jacqueminot, (developed whilst training in Grasse), to department stores and boutiques.

The story goes, that Coty took a small vial of La Rose Jacqueminot to Les Grands Magasins du Louvre, whilst there he collided with a woman and the vial broke.  A number of customers in the vicinity were so enamoured with the fragrance that they wanted to purchase a bottle.  The store immediately gave Coty a featured window display as well as an initial order for sixty thousand francs to supply the fragrance. La Rose Jacqueminot was an instant hit, selling-out straightaway.

In 1904, aged just twenty-nine, Coty founded his company in Paris (which is now Coty Inc., based in New York City) and in 1908/9, he transformed a Parisian residential villa into a vast industrial complex which became known as ‘Perfume City’ (La cité des Parfums). Perfume City had nine thousand employees and manufactured nearly a hundred thousand bottles of scent a day. Business boomed, resulting in subsidiaries opening-up in New York and London.

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  • Coty Cosmetic Display at Marshall Field & Company, Chicago, Illinois, June 4, 1941. (Photo by Hedrich Blessing Collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

Coty’s policy of creating attractive packaging for his products meant he employed the best artisans of the time to help achieve his vision. This included glass designer René Jules Lalique (1860-1945) and the Glassworks of Baccarat. Lalique designed stunning perfume bottles for Coty’s early and very popular fragrances, L’Effleurt (1908),  Ambre Antique and L’Origan. The labels on the bottles were printed on a gold background and had raised lettering designed to give the overall packaging ‘a touch of luxury’. During his lifetime, Coty launched thirty fragrances and at the peak of his career had a turnover of ten million bottles of perfume a year.

In the 1920s, Coty purchased gardens in France and Italy, planting in them orange blossom and jasmine thus avoiding having to purchase these essences from suppliers in Grasse. In taking control of this aspect of his business, he saved a fortune and profit margins increased.

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  • Coty Cosmetic Display at Marshall Field & Company, Chicago, Illinois, April 14, 1942. (Photo by Hedrich Blessing Collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

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  • Coty Cosmetic Display at Marshall Field & Company, Chicago, Illinois, May 23, 1942. (Photo by Hedrich Blessing Collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images).

Coty’s Business Booms in World War One

In 1914, Coty joined the Nineteenth Infantry Regiment of Ajaccio but unfortunately was medically discharged in December, 1914, due to an astigmatism in his left eye. This condition eventually resulted in the loss of his sight in that eye in 1920. It is thought that the astigmatism may have been caused by a thrombosis of a central vein in the retina.

Despite being unable to serve his country in a military capacity, Coty contributed toward the war effort in other ways. He financed the transporting of wounded soldiers to his residence at Le Château D’Artigny which he had turned into a military hospital. Coty’s delivery vans were used to transfer wounded soldiers from the train station at Saint-Pierre-des-Corps to the Chateau. Coty’s mother-in-law, Virginie Dubois Le Baron, ran the hospital because she was unable to cross the Atlantic during wartime.

In January, 1917, Coty developed Le Jouet de France. This welfare initiative employed war wounded in a newly created atelier in L’ile de Puteaux, amongst Coty’s factories.  Coty continued to develop his business interests despite the war. In 1917, Maison Coty launched a twenty-eight page catalogue showcasing their product range which included: cologne; toothpaste; soaps; sachets; powders; brilliantines; lotions and powders.

In 1917, Coty released one of his most famous fragrances, Chypre de Coty which had basenotes of sandalwood, bergamot, oakmoss, iris amber and jasmine. Coty described it as: ‘a perfume of amber froth emanating at certain hours from the woods and the forests.’ The ‘forests’ that Coty referred to were those from his Corsican childhood. Chypre inspired Guerlain’s Mitsouko and Chanel’s Pour Monsieur but was discontinued in the 1960’s then re-launched in 1986. Other perfumes launched during World War One included: Jacinthe (1914); Lilas Pourpre (1914); La Violette Ambrée (1914) and L’Oeillet France (1914).

However, it was at the end of World War One that business really boomed. On 6th April, 1917, America declared war on Germany. In October, 1917, the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) began active service on the Western Front. On 2nd June, 1918, General John J. Pershing (1860-1948), supreme commander of the AEF in France, attended the Supreme War Council in Versailles. US servicemen and civilians soon began to pour into France, particularly around Paris, at one point in time there were two million Americans, a large number of whom did not leave France until August, 1919.

Nicknamed ‘The Doughboys’, this influx of Americans boosted the local economy. Restaurants, shops and hotels were, once again, thriving. Coty installed displays of his products in hotel foyers which complimented his fully stocked stores in Paris, Nice and Bordeaux. He had cornered the market in beautifully packaged, affordable beauty at a time when currency was scarce. Demand for his products was high. Soldiers returning home in 1919, took back with them perfume, toiletries and metal compacts (a particular favourite!) as gifts for their wives and girlfriends. A majority of beauty products brought at this time, came from Coty’s stores. Women fell in love with Coty and demand for the brand overseas was high. This post-war sales boom made Coty, France’s first billionaire.

During this period, Coty Inc. had a store in New York at 714 Fifth Avenue which was decorated by Lalique. Benjamin Levy was Coty’s Sole Agent in New York, overseeing expansion of his business interests Stateside. At the beginning of World War One, Coty Inc. sold thirty thousand metal compacts a day in America, after the war this figure rose to ninety thousand.

Coty’s Property Portfolio

In 1906, Coty brought Georges Haussmann’s (1809-1891) home, Château de Longchamp near the Bois de Boulogne. Longchamp was remodelled by Coty who installed a laboratory where his fragrances, bottles, packaging and advertisements were designed. Lalique designed a glass dome at the property and Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) designed a stone tower there.

On 30th July, 1912, Coty continued to expand his perfume empire and purchased Le Château D’Artigny (now a luxury hotel) located near Tours, in the Loire Valley. He pulled down the existing structure and built a castle in the eighteenth century style, set in twenty-five hectares of parkland. Bespoke kitchens were installed with copper sinks and white marble work surfaces, there was also a pastry room in pink and green marble.

All bathrooms had marble wash basins and there was a two-storey linen room containing a staggering hundred and forty cupboards made of citron wood or Macassar ebony inlaid with mother-of- pearl. The Château floors were multi-coloured marble. There were ballrooms and a domed ceiling, in what was once Coty’s first-floor office. The dome is decorated with a large fresco featuring members of his friends, family, dignitaries and artisans (as well as Coty’s mistresses!) and painted by French-born American artist, Charles Hoffbauer (1875-1957).  The property was completed in 1929.

One of Coty’s most famous acquisitions was Pavillon de Louveciennes which  once belonged to the mistress of Louis XV France (1710-1774), Madame du Barry (1743-1793). Coty brought the property in 1923 and added five bedrooms in the attic area, a perfume laboratory in the basement, kitchens and a swimming pool. Coty spent the end of his life at Louveciennes, where he died on 25th July, 1934, following complications after an aneurysm as well as a bout of pneumonia.

Advertisement for Coty's 'Air Spun' Face Powder (1950).
Advertisement for Coty’s ‘Air Spun’ Face Powder (1950).  One of the brand’s most popular products, launched in 1934. Coty collaborated with costume designer Leon Bakst to create the box’s design. From my own collection.



Embed from Getty Images

  • Paris, France: Coty perfume shopfront, September 1929. (Photo by Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images).
Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, History, Literature, Mrs Beeton, Review, TV Programme, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War Two

Food Glorious Food – ITV

Food Glorious Food (ITV) Judges (L-R) Anne Harrison, Loyd Grossman, Carol Vorderman, Tom Parker Bowles and Stacie Stewart. Wednesdays, 8-9pm, ITV 1. © Optomen / Syco

I am delighted to tell you about a major new British television series just started on ITV 1, Food Glorious Food. If you love heritage food then this is the programme for you. Do not be swayed by the critics who have been unnecessarily harsh on what is actually a great show put together by a world-class production team (Optomen International and Syco tv). Contrary to what you may have read, the series is NOT trying to copy BBC’s Great British Bake Off neither is the aim of the show to find the next Masterchef. 

On Food Glorious Food, over the coming weeks, you will see a fascinating and engaging series that brings together food and family like never before. A judging team of four passionate food experts travel the country in search of the very best home cooked recipes. Behind every treasured recipe there is an interesting back story which is often bursting with family history and nostalgia.

I can reveal to you now that one of my aforementioned ‘secret media projects’ has been my involvement with Food Glorious Food. My passion for making blancmanges, in particular using my great, great grandmother’s Wedgwood mould as well as researching the history of this long-forgotten dessert, led me to being selected to take part in the show. My judge was the delightful Tom Parker Bowles and we shared a number of interesting conversations about Mrs Beeton and other luminaries from the annals of food history.

I am also in the cookbook that accompanies the series (see below for details) and if you turn to page 86 you will find my recipe for vintage lavender and lemon blancmange which I hope you have as much fun recreating as I did experimenting with it. How far did I progress in the show? Well, I am not able to tell you that at the moment but if you tune-in to ITV 1 on Wednesday 20th March (South-East regional heat) you can watch me begin my Food Glorious Food journey. What I can tell you is that it was a jolly good adventure and has left me with many memories that I will treasure forever.

I recently launched my new website, Viva Blancmange, which celebrates retro food as well as being a platform from which I will continue my campaign to revive the blancmange. My aim is to put this long forgotten dessert back onto the British menu within the next year. (CLICK HERE). My loyal band of readers need not panic, Come Step Back in Time will continue to go from strength-to-strength (so many fabulous history articles coming-up, sadly not enough hours in the day to finishing all the writing). In the future, Come Step Back in Time will feature a lot less retro food and lifestyle articles as these will now appear on Viva Blancmange.

Food Glorious Food’s presenter is Carol Vorderman and joining her on the show’s culinary quest is food historian and writer Tom Parker Bowles, globe-trotting gastronome Loyd Grossman, Women’s Institute vice-chair Anne Harrison and baker Stacie Stewart. Each judge has their own area of interest. Stacie, owner of online company the Beehive Bakery, is on the hunt for an amazing cake or pudding that the nation will fall in love with, food writer royalty, Tom is scouring the land for a great British recipe with culinary heritage, Loyd is hunting for a new favourite to match that much-loved dish, the curry, and Anne is championing traditional home cooking. At each of the six regional heats the team of experts come armed with rosettes which they hand out to dishes that meet with their high standards.

The Food Glorious Food team has been inspired by the show to reminisce about their own childhood food experiences. Carol’s cooking career began when she was a schoolgirl, she cooked for her family, “I used to make tea every night when I was at school. My mum was working as a school secretary so I’d be home from school before her. I loved laying the table and getting everything ready.” For Carol and her family it wasn’t typical 1970s cooking the family dined out on – thanks to her Italian stepfather, “In the ‘70s it was very unusual to cook with proper Italian produce. Back then, you’d buy olive oil from the chemist to get the wax out of your ears! Parmesan cheese was dried in cardboard tubes and smelt like sick. Whereas we had the proper stuff because we used to go to Italy every year. We had canned olive oil from my stepdad’s brother’s farm, we’d bring back Parma ham that my aunties had cured then use a bacon slicer at home to cut it.”

Food historian and writer Tom is keen to find a regional recipe or traditional British dish with real history. “I’m obsessed with the history of food and I want to find a great British recipe with a fascinating culinary heritage. I was quite late to cooking. I’ve always eaten, being a greedy pig. My mum’s a good cook and my dad was a farmer but I didn’t really get into cooking myself until after university. I certainly wasn’t at my mother’s apron strings when I was growing up – I was far too lazy.”

Loyd’s a self-confessed foodie and says childhood experiences first sparked his interest, “I just loved food. I was very lucky: I travelled a lot as a kid; my parents were interested in food and restaurants so I was exposed to a lot of good food. I grew up in New England where there were both farms and fishing so I saw all the fabulous produce first-hand. I always remember how exciting it would be to go down to the harbor in the morning and see the fishermen unloading their catch.”

Anne’s foodie beginnings came from her farming background. “My parents were farmers and my father was killed in the Second World War. My mother didn’t go out to work, she and my grandmother always cooked. In those days, you didn’t go out to buy anything. I was always keen to have a go at cooking myself, I suppose I absorbed their knowledge and I’ve always been used to home cooked food. Later, I went to boarding school and excelled at what they called domestic science. That led me to teaching.”

For Stacie, a recipe with a strong family connection will also win points with her. “I like to see people cooking recipes that have been handed down through generations because that’s how I learnt to cook. Stacie’s grandmother is responsible for her passion for baking, and cooking stems from her childhood. “My mum can’t boil an egg so my nana taught me how to cook. Every Saturday without fail our mams went to bingo, our dads went to the pub, our grandad sat in the front room and watched the horse racing and my nine cousins and I were in the kitchen with our nana. It’s a great memory and, now, all my cousins cook as well as I do. I also like to see innovation, taking something you’ve been taught how to do and making it better. Just because something was done one way many years ago, it doesn’t mean that it has to be done that way now. If that were the case, we’d still be walking around like cavemen. There has to be progression. My nana used to make scones with lard and water, because that’s all she could afford. It doesn’t mean they were the best scones in the world.”

Each of the first six episodes feature a different region of the UK (South-West, South-East, North-East, London and The Midlands). The judges eat their way through plenty of pies and puds, to find six amazing recipes and contestants to take through to the semi-final stages, where two will be picked to battle it out to win a place on the shelves of Marks & Spencer and a prize fund of £20,000. The winning dish will be decided by shoppers and sold exclusively by Marks & Spencer stores across the country with 40p from each dish sold going to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The first episode aired on Wednesday 27th February, 8pm, ITV1 and will continue for a further eight episodes, culminating in The Grand Final which, at the time of writing this article, is due to be aired on Wednesday 24th April. If you missed the first episode, then it is now available to view on itvPlayer. The series continues on Wednesday 6th March, 8pm, ITV1.


Out now, to accompany the series, is a superb anthology, published by Mitchell Beazley, containing some of the best recipes featured in the programme. Divided into regions, it is full of delicious dishes for you to try as well as information about the dish’s creator. All the finalists’ dishes and the winning recipe are included.  Old favourites like Bread and Butter Pudding, Cornish Pasties and Bakewell Tart feature alongside new and inventive fusions of flavours that simply have to be tasted. Some dishes will incorporate quirky twists – for example, an extra ingredient that was originally added by chance – while others will stick to time-honoured techniques handed down through multiple generations of the same family.

Some of my favourite dishes in this beautifully illustrated cookbook include:

  • a secret recipe Devon apple cider cake (p.52). In 1983 Sandy Gilbert brought a former bakery with her husband and as part of the deeds they were required to buy this recipe along with the property;
  • bonfire stew with cannonball dumplings. Publican Tony Leonard cooks this dish with the South Street Bonfire Society every year and serves it in his pub, The Snowdrop Inn, Lewes, East Sussex, at the start of the Lewes annual bonfire night on November 5th (p.70);
  • Henry’s Malay jungle curry (p.84). Rachel Kelly’s father learned to make this dish when he was in the army in Malaya in the 1950s, do also check-out Rachel’s excellent food blog Marmaduke Scarlet it is packed full of great recipes and food photography;
  • Laura’s fiery ginger cake (p.94). I can vouch for the fact that Laura Wiles’ cake is delicious. My husband and I tried it at the South-East regional heat in Brighton;
  • Nettle cake (p.139). Marcelle Burden’s cake comes from her French grandmother, who used all sorts of wild plants in her cooking;

As well as the featured recipes, there are thoughtful reflections on Britain’s food heritage and the nation’s love affair with home cooking. This is the definitive guide to the nation’s best recipes, written for the people of Great Britain, by the people of Great Britain.


Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Country House, Decorative Arts, Event, Exhibition, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, History of Medicine, Horticultural History, Museum, Review, TV Programme, Vintage, Vintage Retail, World War One, World War Two

Vintage Pinboard – Period Drama & Documentaries – Be Inspired in 2013

1930s society glamour.
1930s society glamour.

Here are my recommendations for the best documentaries and period dramas currently on or soon to air on British television.

One other treat, that I am thrilled to tell you about, (credit and thanks for this must go to my husband for its discovery), is the recently digitised Radio Times Archive.  The first edition of The Radio Times was printed on 28th September, 1923, a joint venture between the BBC and publisher George Newnes Ltd. The BBC edited the publication from 1925 until 1937 and it was published in-house until 2011. The digitisation of four thousand five hundred copies of the magazine was completed in 2012. However, access to the full archive is currently restricted to BBC staff but it is hoped that by the end of 2013 the entire archive will be available on-line to the general public. Public access is currently limited to a small collection of, downloadable, pre-war television supplements. For the main website, CLICK HERE.

My favourite supplement is one published at the time of King George VI’s (1895-1952) coronation, which took place on Wednesday 12th May, 1937. To download this issue, CLICK HERE. If you want to listen to an original recording of the King’s coronation speech, then it is available on British Pathé’s website. It might be a good idea to turn-up the sound on your computer before you begin, as it is very faint. The whole speech lasts just over eight minutes.  For the speech, CLICK HERE.

Ripper Street – BBC One

  • Victorian Era
  • Drama Series 8 x 60 minute episodes. Sundays 9pm

Set in April 1889, six months after the last Jack the Ripper killing, East London. For H Division, the police department charged with keeping order in the seedy back streets of Whitechapel, life goes on. This fictionalised account of the aftermath of the Ripper murders and impact upon the police responsible for solving the crimes, is particularly violent and gory. But nonetheless, a well-acted ensemble piece that contains plenty to hold the interest of Ripper enthusiasts and social historians alike.  Cast includes: Matthew Macfadyen (Detective Inspector Edmund Reid); Jerome Flynn (Detective Sergeant Bennett Drake) and Adam Rothenberg (US Army surgeon and one-time Pinkerton detective, Captain Homer Jackson).

Hat from 1909.
Hat from 1909.

Mr Selfridge – ITV 1

  • Edwardian Era
  • Drama Series 10 x 60 minute episodes. Sundays 9pm

I have been waiting ages to see Mr Selfridge, ever since ITV teased us with trailers during season three of Downton Abbey last year. It was worth the wait, I know reviews have been mixed but the production values are high and Edwardian London never looked so good. This sumptuous slice of nostalgia helps fill the gap left on Sunday evenings by Downton.

Mr Selfridge is based upon Lindy Woodhead’s book Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge and created by multi-award winning writer Andrew Davies. It tells the story of Harry Gordon Selfridge (1858–1947), the American gentleman who established the iconic British department store, Selfridges, in 1909.  Cast includes Jeremy Piven (Mr Selfridge) and Katherine Kelly (Lady Mae).

Harry Selfridge was born on the 11th January 1858 at Ripon, Wisconsin, USA. Aged twenty-one, he went to work at department store and mail-order firm Field, Leiter & Co (later Marshall, Field & Co). In 1886, he became manager of their retail department. Selfridge left the firm in 1904, after having spent the previous fourteen years as a junior partner there. He used his fortune to buy Chicago firm Schlesinger & Mayer which he proceeded to sell quickly, turning him a profit of £50,000 to go with the return of his £300,000 initial investment.  Selfridge arrived in London in 1906 and lived in fashionable Arlington Street. He set about realising his grand plan to open a large department store in the heart of London and spared no expense in gathering around him the best team possible, employing one thousand two hundred staff at his Oxford Street store and even hiring Goldsman, the chief window-dresser at Marshall, Field & Co.

According to writer and historian, Claire Masset: ‘Perhaps the greatest advertising campaign of the early twentieth century was that of Selfridges, announcing its much-awaited opening in March 1909.  During the entire week of its opening, Harry Gordon Selfridge commissioned thirty-eight advertisements designed by well-known graphic artists, appearing on over a hundred pages of eighteen national newspapers. The campaign, which cost £36,000 (equivalent to £2.35 million today), caused a sensation, with 90,000 people visiting the store on its opening day and over a million in the first week.’ (Masset. C., Department Stores, 2011, p. 26, published by Shire Publications.)

I have had a look through a selection of contemporary newspapers from 1909 and found some simply fascinating examples of Selfridges’ advertising campaign. I hope you enjoy reading them as much I did.

The dedication of a Great House.  A day well spent is passed at Selfridge’s. This house is dedicated to woman’s service first of all.  And for this there are many excellent and satisfying reasons.  To begin with, everything at Selfridge’s is obviously and charmingly NEW – the great building itself and its equipment – the vast stocks of varied merchandise in their entirety – the methods of displaying them to best advantage – and the unaccustomed and luxurious appointments instituted to provide every possible comfort for daily visitors.

  This House is dedicated to woman’s service first of all, and our purpose is to make her shopping more attractive than it has ever been before; so to satisfy her with value, stocks, and prices that she will discover a wider and more pleasurable opening in the word ‘shopping’ than she has hitherto read in it;  and learn regard for Selfridge’s as the best equipped place of merchandise in London for every shopping purpose in which she takes an interest.  There is a home-like lounge for smoking and gentleman are invited to use it as they would their club.

(Daily Express, London, Tuesday March 16th 1909)

Enamelled hat pins, tie-pin and buttons. 1912. On display at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham.
Enamelled hat pins, tie-pin and buttons. 1912. On display at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham.

The new hat pins  – we believe that we have gathered the largest show of hat pin novelties ever seen together on a counter. Some are metal filigree, some in enamel, others set with big coloured stones, and others again representing dragon flies, bees, etc. with semi-transparent born wings. This price for a ‘scarab’ pin is 6d. Filigree pins from 9d, and Louis Seize designs set with imitation amethysts, topazes, etc. are 1/- each.

(Daily Express, London, Wednesday 19th May 1909)

Woven underwear – for the chilly season.  Ladies’ white Scotch all wool combinations, guaranteed unshrinkable, with spliced seats, high neck and short or long sleeve or low neck and short sleeves – all sizes, price 8/3.

Autumn knickers – Ladies’ satin, cloth and serge sports knickers suitable for Autumn and Winter wear. These are particularly well made as regards shape and finish, and have buttons for fastening in detachable linings. Jap silk accordion pleated knickers in black and white (with linings) for dancing and evening wear. Price 35/

(Daily Express, London, 20th September 1909)

From 1916 to 1922, Harry Selfridge leased Highcliffe Castle, Highcliffe, Dorset from the Stuart Wortleys and this became his country residence, away from the hustle and bustle of London life. His wife, Rosalie and mother, Lois, lived at Highcliffe. Highcliffe Castle is a Grade 1 Listed Georgian Mansion, built in the Gothic Revival style between 1831 and 1835, originally for Lord Stuart de Rothesay. During his tenancy, Selfridge added a number of modern flourishes to the Mansion, including fitted bathrooms, steam central heating and a fully equipped modern kitchen.

After the death of his wife, in 1918, and his mother, in 1924, he lost his direction somewhat and embarked upon a number of romances with younger women. Then came the Great Depression and World War Two when retail therapy was the last thing on everyone’s mind. In his twilight years, Selfridge frittered away his money in French casino resorts and eventually died, virtually penniless, at 2 Ross Court, Putney Heath, London on 8th May 1947. He is buried in St. Marks Churchyard at Highcliffe, next to his wife and mother.

Meridian (ITV) have produced a short film (3 mins. 47) ‘Meeting Mr Selfridge’, about the new series and Harry Selfridge’s life here in England. There is also a segment about his time at Highcliffe Castle. CLICK HERE.

1930s  Burberry shooting coat. Perfect for those country house parties.
1930s Burberry shooting coat. Perfect for those country house parties.

Dancing on the Edge – BBC 2 

  • 1930s
  • Drama Series 5 x 60 minute episodes – Mondays 9pm (Starts Monday 4th February 2013)

This new drama series by acclaimed writer/director Stephen Poliakoff is set in England in between 1931 and 1933Dancing on the Edge follows black jazz musicians, the Louis Lester Band, as they find fame at the parties and performances of London’s upper class society. Cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew Goode, Jacqueline Bisset, Janet Montgomery, Joanna Vanderham, Tom Hughes, Angel Coulby, Wunmi Mosaku, Mel Smith, Anthony Head, Caroline Quentin and Jane Asher.

For further background on this production, see David Gritten’s excellent article, ‘Poliakoff’s Dancing on the Edge: Behind the Scenes’, published on The Telegraph’s website, Monday 21st January 2013. For the article, CLICK HERE. For behind the scenes photographs of the production, CLICK HERE.

One of the locations for this lavish BBC production was  Upton House and Gardens, Nr Banbury, Warwickshire (The National Trust). Before the Second World War, this fifteenth century manor house was owned by Lord and Lady Bearsted. Lord Bearsted (Colonel Walter Horace Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted, MC – 1882-1948) brought Upton in 1927 and until 1929 made many changes to the property and gardens. Notable additions to the interior include a stunning red and silver aluminium leaf art deco bathroom for Lady Bearsted (Dorothy Montefiore Micholls – d.1949) and in the grounds a swimming pool. Lord Bearsted was an astute businessman, he was Director of Lloyds Bank Ltd, Alliance & Assurance Co and also founded the Shell Transport and Trading Company. During the 1930s, the multi-millionaire and his wife hosted lavish house parties at Upton.   The house is full of priceless art treasures and Lord Bearsted was once a Trustee of the National Gallery.

On the weekend of 9th and 10th March, 2013 (Mothering Sunday Weekend),  Upton have a 1930s Beauty Parlour event. There will be demonstrations of 1930s fashion, make-up, hair and beauty techniques. There will also be an opportunity for you to make a gift for your mum. There is no need to pre-book as this event is free, although you will have to pay normal admission charges to Upton.  The house and gardens open again to the public from Saturday 16th February (11-5).  For 2013 opening times. CLICK HERE.

Riding sweater by Hawico, London, 1930s advertisement. 'Makes an irresistible appeal to all smart riding women. Made in sky, yellow, beige, white and guaranteed to withstand countless washings.'
Riding sweater by Hawico, London, 1930s advertisement. ‘Makes an irresistible appeal to all smart riding women. Made in sky, yellow, beige, white and guaranteed to withstand countless washings.’
London store Marshall & Snelgrove's 1935 advertisement for silk stockings.
London store Marshall & Snelgrove’s 1935 advertisement for silk stockings.

Spies of Warsaw- BBC 4

  • 1933 to 1943
  • Drama Series 2 x 90 minute episodes. Wednesdays 9pm

Directed by Coky Giedroyc, Spies Of Warsaw is a thrilling spy story set in Poland, Paris, London and Berlin between 1933 and 1943. French and German intelligence operatives are locked in a life-and-death struggle on the espionage battlefield. Based on a 2008 novel by American bestseller Alan Furst with the screenplay written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. The main protagonist is jaded French agent and former hero of the Great War, Colonel Jean-François Mercier.  Cast includes: David Tennant (Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier); Janet Montgomery (Anna Skarbek); Marcin Dorocinski (Antoni Pakulski) and Ludger Pistor (Edvard Uhl). This is a superb, classy and intelligent thriller. Tennant is brilliant as Colonel Mercier.

Commissioned by Richard Klein, Controller, BBC Four and Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning. Executive produced by Richard Fell for Fresh Pictures and Chris Aird for the BBC, co-produced by Apple Film for TV Poland in association with ARTE FRANCE and BBC Worldwide.

If you would like to read more about the background to this production, Olly Grant has written an excellent, detailed article in Broadcast Now. CLICK HERE.

Call The Midwife (Series 2) – BBC 1

  • 1950s – London’s East End
  • Drama Series 8 x 60 minute episodes. Sundays 8pm (Starts on 20th January)
Set in London’s East End in the 1950s and based on the memoirs of former midwife Jennifer Worth. For a short history of midwifery in the Britain then please see my popular article, Call The Midwife: An Historical Perspective  (well it did get picked-up and recommended by, which I was thrilled about). I will be writing about the tie-in book for series one and two in a future posting, so keep an eye out for that.
  • Goodwood House and Burghley House
  • Documentary – 2 x 60 minute episodes. Tuesdays 9pm (Starts 22nd January)

Who better to present a documentary about two of England’s greatest stately homes, than Downton Abbey‘s creator Julian Fellowes. The two houses in question are Goodwood House, in West Sussex and Burghley House, Stamford, Lincolnshire. Fans of vintage may already be familiar with the annual Goodwood Revival event, which this year takes place on the 13th, 14th and 15th of  September. Fellowes goes in search of fascinating stories behind these two houses and the characters who helped shape their history. Both houses were selected on the basis that they are still in ownership of the families who built them.

Goodwood House is the seat of the Duke of Richmond and Lennox. Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond (1672-1723) was the illegitimate son of Charles II (1630-1685) and Louise de Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth (1649-1734). The 1st Duke’s love of hunting led him to Goodwood where he purchased a small Jacobean house on the estate in 1697 for use as a hunting lodge. This house is now referred to as the ‘old house’ and is located at the back of the main house. Goodwood House was developed throughout the eighteenth century. The classical Main Hall was built in 1730, a Palladian style South Wing between 1747-1750 and a North Wing added in 1771. The Regency State apartments were added to the South Wing in 1800. The House now resembles three sides of an octagon. Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond (1701-1750) was a keen cricketer and arranged matches at Goodwood in the mid 1720s. The 2nd Duke is credited with setting-up the first formal rules of the game, the original document is now kept in Goodwood’s archives.

Burghley House was created by William Cecil, 1st Lord Burghley (1521-1598), Lord High Treasurer to Elizabeth I (1533-1603). The house is thought to be one of the largest Elizabethan mansions ever built. Building began in the 1550s. One of the most notable owners of Burghley was William Cecil’s great-great-great-grandson, John Cecil, 5th Earl of Exeter (1648-1700) who, together with his wife Lady Anne Cavendish (1645-1703), crammed Burghley full of priceless treasures, paintings, furniture and tapestries.  The 5th Earl embarked upon the fashionable Grand Tour and with his wife travelled extensively overseas during a twenty year period. One particular treasure is the Florentine cabinet, enriched with pietra dura panels, which was given to the 5th Earl by the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The 5th Earl died in 1700 at Issy near Paris, apparently after consuming a surfeit of fruit!

The world's first solid bar of chocolate was produced by Bristol company, J S Fry & Sons in 1847. It was called Chocolat Délicieux à Manger (delicious to eat). The three brothers who were running the company when the chocolate bar was invented were: Francis Fry (1803-1886); Richard Fry (1807-1878) and Joseph Fry (1795-1879). By 1910, Fry's employed 6,000 staff. Exhibit shown are examples of Fry's chocolate labels, on display at MShed Museum, Bristol.
The world’s first solid bar of chocolate was produced by Bristol company, J S Fry & Sons in 1847. It was called Chocolat Délicieux à Manger (delicious to eat). The bar was bitter, heavy and a challenge for even the strongest of teeth and jaws. After a slow start, popularity gradually followed. The Victorians often took this portable confectionary with them on long railway journeys whereby it served as a handy snack. The three brothers who were running the company when the bar was invented were: Francis Fry (1803-1886); Richard Fry (1807-1878) and Joseph Fry (1795-1879). By 1910, Fry’s employed 6,000 staff.  Invention No. 5 in the BBC’s booklet 50 Great British Inventions. The exhibit shown are examples of Fry’s chocolate labels, on display at MShed Museum, Bristol.
  • History of Inventions and Technology
  • Documentary 4 x 60 minute episodes. Thursdays – 9pm. (Starts 24th January)

This four-part series will explore the background behind some of the inventions found in everyday life. Michael Mosley, Prof. Mark Miodownik and Dr Cassie Newland explore the very nature of invention and how and why things are invented. Some of the inventions discussed in the series will include the steam engine, jet propulsion, electrical generator, telephony and television. There is a fascinating and well put together booklet to accompany the series, 50 Great British Inventions. It is free to download and packed full of useful background information and images. CLICK HERE.

1935 advertisement for Schweppe's drinks. Soda water was invented, in 1772, by Joseph
1935 advertisement for Schweppe’s drinks. The advert reads: ‘For lively people, let there be lively drinks to match – drinks with sparkling, bubbling freshness to revive tired palates.  Schweppes Soda mixes with anything: it improves everything…that’s why it’s so famous.’ Soda water was invented, in 1772, by Joseph Priestley FRS (1733-1804) a clergyman and scientist. He published instructions on how to make carbonated water, using sulphuric acid and chalk. In 1774, the Swiss fizzy drinks pioneer, Johann Jacob Schweppe (1740-1821) set-up his Schweppes drinks company in London so that he could manufacture carbonated mineral water using Priestley’s method. The brand is still going strong today. No. 14 in the BBC’s booklet 50 Great British Inventions.

This series is part of the BBC’s year-long schedule of programmes focussing on all aspects of British inventiveness.  To browse the full catalogue of programmes due for transmission this year, CLICK HERE. Some of my personal favourites are documentaries on the Romantic landscape painter J.M.W. Turner RA (1775-1851) Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727); Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) – see my article on The Wedgwood Museum for further information on the Wedgwood dynasty; Why the Industrial Revolution Happened here; Locomotion: Dan Snow’s History of Railways and Stephen Fry’s Planet Invention exploring the background to the ‘stuff’ that fills our homes from putting knives, jeans, bras, flip-flops and fridges to handbags, fast cars and Swiss watches.

Do also check-out the many Genius of Invention related activities that are taking place at museums and heritage sites throughout the UK. CLICK HERE.

The modern hypodermic syringe was invented, in 1853, by Scottish physician Alexander Wood (1817-1884). He was not the only gentleman important to the development of this type of syringe. Francis Rynd (1811-1861) invented hollow needles and Charles Gabriel Pravaz (1791-1853) invented a metal-bodied syringe with a fine hollow point needle for treating aneurysms. Objects shown are from a display at The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, London.
The modern hypodermic syringe was invented, in 1853, by Scottish physician Alexander Wood (1817-1884). He was not the only gentleman important to the development of this type of syringe. Francis Rynd (1811-1861) invented hollow needles and Charles Gabriel Pravaz (1791-1853) invented a metal-bodied syringe with a fine hollow point needle for treating aneurysms. No. 15 in the BBC’s booklet, 50 Great British Inventions. Objects shown are from a display at The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, London.

Petworth House, West Sussex (the National Trust) currently have an important exhibition of Turner’s paintings on view, many for the first time. Turner’s Sussex  includes forty exhibits, plus a rare opportunity to view the Old Library, used by Turner as his studio when he visited Petworth, which he frequently did in the 1820s and 30s.  One of Turner’s patrons was the 3rd Earl of Egremont (George O’Brien Wyndham, 1751-1837) for which Petworth was his country seat. The exhibition continues at Petworth until 13th March 2013Booking is essential for Turner’s Sussex. Gates open: 10am; Last admission time: 2.15pm; Timed tickets every 45 minutes; Adult £10, child £5; Two-course lunch and high tea available to pre-book on 01798 342207.  To book tickets, call 0844 249 1895 or book online.

  • History of British Woodwork
  • Documentary 3 x 60 minute episodes. Thursdays 9pm
As part of the year-long partnership between the BBC and V&A, this three-part documentary explores some of the most important individuals responsible for shaping the history of British woodwork. Episode one explores the extraordinary life and work of fashionable furniture-maker, Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779). Episode two looks at the output of wood-carver Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) and Episode three provides a close study of carpentry during the Middle Ages, including a detailed look at the roof of Westminster Hall and the seven hundred year old Coronation Chairs.

1930s cocktail party.
1930s cocktail party.
Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Decorative Arts, Exhibition, Fashion History, Film, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Literature, Museum, Review, TV Programme, Vintage, Vintage Retail

Dazzle – Art Deco Fashion From The Roaring Twenties – Gosport Gallery

Dazzle Exhibition. Gosport Gallery, Gosport, Hampshire.
Dazzle Exhibition (until Saturday 29th December). Gosport Gallery, Gosport, Hampshire.

Modernistic effects in furniture and architecture are being used with a vengeance by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Joan Crawford’s new picture.  Weird beds, almost on the floor, have little woodwork frame save foot-high boards which conceal the springs and do away without the conventional legs of a bed.  These are set against a wall whose only ornamenting is the shape of the doors.  Black statues set against gold papered panels from the ornamental note. The whole thing is being photographed under the huge new incandescent lights.

(Extract from a 1928 Studio Press Release for MGM’s Our Dancing Daughters)

Our Dancing Daughters was the first in a trilogy of films designed under the auspices of Head of Art Direction at MGM, Cedric Gibbons (1893-1960).  The other films in the trilogy being Our Blushing Brides (1928) and Our Modern Maidens (1929). His high style, Art Deco inspired, set designs were befitting to the telling of modern-day stories that celebrated the decadence and rise of flapperism in The Roaring Twenties.

In 1925, Gibbons along with one hundred other U.S. delegates, visited the Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, and it was here that Art Deco received one of its first major, official, public appearances. Art Deco made an impact upon the U.S. delegates, many of whom went on to introduce this style to American consumers and cinema audiences alike. During the Twenties, Art Deco was extremely popular in Europe and America, although only the rich and middle-classes could afford to consume the style in its undiluted form.  However, it is important to point-out here that ‘Art Deco’ was only defined as a design style in 1968, when Historian Bevis Hillier wrote his seminal work, Art Deco of the 20s and 30s. In the Twenties, Art Deco styling appeared everywhere, from building exteriors to fashion.

Dazzle Exhibition Gosport Gallery 2
Dazzle Exhibition, Gosport Gallery, Hampshire.
Dazzle Exhibition Gosport Gallery
Dazzle Exhibition, Gosport Gallery, Hampshire.

This was the decade when socialites, aristocrats and Bohemians hosted extravagant parties and wore stunning beaded ensembles that shimmered in the electric lights whilst they Charlestoned their way through the night to fast-paced, jazz music. If you want to experience this exciting ‘Jazz Age’ then take a moment to pause here and watch a short British Pathé film (2 minutes 40 seconds). The film is from 1929 and features the Covent Garden Band playing jazz tune, ‘Who Wouldn’t Be Jealous Of You’. A flapper boy and girl also dance the Charleston. CLICK HERE.

I have a passion for Twenties fashion and was delighted to accept an invitation to visit Gosport Gallery in Hampshire to view the exhibition Dazzle.  What an absolute treat Dazzle is and cleverly curated in the space by Gill Arnott, Keeper of the Arts for Hampshire Museums and Arts Service. Upon entry to the Gallery you are greeted with a central display of spectacular Art Deco beaded dresses and are instantly transported back in time by vibrant jazz music.  The exhibition, although a gem in its own right, is also a superb source of inspiration, for the fashion forward among you, for what will be the hottest trend in 2013, the Twenties. There are eighteen garments from Hampshire County Council’s Museums Service collection on display and it is a unique opportunity to see these amazing but fragile pieces displayed together for the first time.  The exhibition ends on Saturday 29th December. Free admission.

Light green chiffon dress, tabard style, with wide shallow scooped neckline.  Decorated asymmetrically with a bold design of silver bugle beads. C.1925-27.Weight 406g.Dazzle Exhibition. BWM1963.161. Hampshire County Council Arts and Museums Service (HCC Arts & Museums).
Light green chiffon dress, tabard style, with wide shallow scooped neckline. Decorated asymmetrically with a bold design of silver bugle beads. C.1925-27.Weight 406g.Dazzle Exhibition. BWM1963.161. Hampshire County Council Arts and Museums Service (HCC Arts & Museums).
Salmon pink and silver dress decorated in pink faceted rocailles, pale pink bugle beads and silver lozenge shaped beads. The beaded fringe would have created movement when dancing the dress is constructed in three layers, with the bottom layer forming the lining. Weighs 914g.C. 1925-27. C.1996.116. HCC Arts & Museums.
Salmon pink and silver dress decorated in pink faceted rocailles, pale pink bugle beads and silver lozenge-shaped beads. The beaded fringe would have created movement when dancing. The dress is constructed in three layers, with the bottom layer forming the lining. C.1925-27. Weight 914g. Dazzle Exhibition. C.1996.116. HCC Arts & Museums.

Alongside this incredible selection of dresses are shoes, fans, hats, shawls and other exquisite accessories from the same collection.

Black crepe de chine shoes edged and trimmed in gold kid.  Complex cross-over T-straps trimmed with green and red dyed lizard skin roundels ending in imitation tassels. Red cut paste buttons. Very high Louis heel. C.1923-1925. HCC Arts & Museums.
Black crepe de chine shoes edged and trimmed in gold kid. Complex cross-over T-straps trimmed with green and red dyed lizard skin roundels ending in imitation tassels.  Red cut paste buttons. Very high Louis heel. C.1923-1925. Dazzle Exhibition. The secure T-strap meant this type of shoe was perfect for dancing the frenetic Charleston without fear that one’s shoes might come off and be flung across the dance floor. HCC Arts & Museums.
Beaded evening bag. C.1920-1930. Dazzle Exhibition. HCC Arts & Museums.
Art Deco style, beaded evening bag. C.1920-1930. Dazzle Exhibition. The fashion for wearing make-up meant that the bright young things needed somewhere to store their powder compacts and lipsticks. The beaded bag was the perfect solution.  HCC Arts & Museums.

The Twenties female silhouette is easily recognisable.  Dresses have loose-fitting, drop waists with knee-length skirts and often incorporate pleating, rosettes and brooches on a single shoulder.

Evening beaded dress in black silk with white and silver beads in peacock feathers style design. Dazzle Exhibition. C.2003.2.1. HCC Arts & Museums.
Evening beaded dress in black silk with white and silver beads in peacock feathers style design. Dazzle Exhibition. C.2003.2.1. HCC Arts & Museums.
Evening dress in pale pink chiffon decorated with glass beads and silver thread. Rivis Collection. Purchased with the support of the V&A Purchase Grant Fund. Dazzle Exhibition. C.1976.31.417. HCC Arts & Museums.
Evening dress in pale pink chiffon decorated with glass beads and silver thread. Rivis Collection. Purchased with the support of the V&A Purchase Grant Fund. Dazzle Exhibition. C.1976.31.417. HCC Arts & Museums.
Black, open weave dress decorated with silver and gold bugle beads and sequins. There is a striking narrow V to the neckline, with collar band reminiscent of Egyptian design. The beads are sewn on machine stitch using a tambour. Rivis Collection. C.1926-28. Weight 904g. Dazzle Exhibition. C.1976.31.48. HCC Arts & Museums.
Black, open weave dress decorated with silver and gold bugle beads and sequins. There is a striking narrow V to the neckline, with collar band reminiscent of Egyptian design. The beads are sewn on machine stitch using a tambour. Rivis Collection. C.1926-28. Weight 904g. Dazzle Exhibition. C.1976.31.418. HCC Arts & Museums.

This style of dress was perfect for dancing the night away and allowed for freedom of movement. Design influences were drawn from a wide range of countries and their cultures including the Far and Middle East, the Americas and most notably Egypt.  In 1922, the discovery by Howard Carter (1874-1939) of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings sparked an interest, particularly among fashion designers, for Egyptian motifs.

White satin shoe with oval diamante trim. High curved and waisted Louis heel covered in white plastic, painted with a design on an Egyptian theme in red, green and gold and inset with multi coloured diamonte. Printed label Debenham and Freebody. Wigmore St. C.1935. Dazzle Exhibition.C.1988.124. HCC Arts & Museums.
White satin shoe with oval diamante trim. High curved and waisted Louis heel covered in white plastic, painted with a design on an Egyptian theme in red, green and gold and inset with multi-coloured diamante. Printed label Debenham and Freebody. Wigmore St. C.1935. Dazzle Exhibition.C.1988.124. HCC Arts & Museums.

During the 1920s, Coco Chanel’s (1883-1971) iconic “little black dress” (LBD) also emerged, made from thin silk and crèpe de chine. Chanel was: ‘..known for her simple daytime garments, often made from materials such as wool jersey.  In 1926, she brought the little black dress to the fashion world and created the essential fashion garment of every woman’s wardrobe.’ (2010, p. 2, Dazzle Exhibition, Hampshire Museums Service). At this time, Chanel also started a fashion for wearing long strings of pearls.

In 1922, beige seamed stockings became available. The fashion was for legs to appear as naked as possible, a daring change from the modesty of Edwardian ankle-length gowns. Gradually, other stocking shades appeared such as grey and flesh tones. Artificial silk (Celanese acetate) was also invented during the Twenties.  The word “Celanese” was first introduced as a trade name in 1925, a combination of the words “cellulose” and “ease”.

Surviving examples of dresses from this period are very rare, which is one of the reasons why this exhibition is so special. The dresses on display at Gosport Gallery would have more than likely been made by hand and cost a great deal of money at the time to purchase. Curator, Gill Arnott, tells me: ‘The average cost of one of these dresses was between £3.10 shillings and £6. 10 shillings. That was approximately one tenth of a working girl’s annual salary.’

Some of the luxury fabrics used are of a very delicate nature, such as silk chiffon, silk georgette, silk satin, ninon and voile.  The evening dresses are heavily beaded which means that each garment can weigh anything from 450g to several kilos. The average weight of a satin party dress nowadays is 250g. ‘The best beaders were in Paris and La Maison Lallement were considered one of the finest establishments. Some of the heavily beaded dresses could have taken a single person up to three weeks to bead.’ (2010, p. 5, Dazzle Exhibition, Hampshire Museums Service).

Detail of some of the exquisite beadwork. Dazzle Exhibition. HCC Arts & Museums.
Close-up detail of the exquisite beadwork. Dazzle Exhibition. HCC Arts & Museums.

‘The weight of the dresses helped them to fall into the straight tubular fashion but also caused them to tear and rip, which explains why so few have survived in good condition.  The sequins, or paillettes could also cause problems as they were generally made out of wax which clumped together or melted when the wearer got too hot or when a partner rested their clammy hands on the dresses!’ (Ibid. p.8).

I asked Gill to tell me about some of the challenges faced by her team in displaying and conserving these precious dresses: ‘All the mannequins in the exhibition were bespoke, made in-house, to fit each dress exactly. Every mannequin has an accession number marked inside so that we can match them up again in the future should we re-exhibit.  The dresses are different weights and shapes so it is important that they are supported on a tailor-made structure to avoid any deterioration whilst out on display.  It took a team of three to get each dress onto a mannequin and we have to wear gloves to handle all the items in the collection. Firstly, a sheet was placed on the floor to catch any falling beads or sequins. Then, one person held the mannequin while the other two fitted the garment on it. The first person then eased down the hem. We had to work together as a team and I am very proud to say that with Dazzle, so far we have only lost one bead!’

I asked Gill if there were any plans to re-exhibit Dazzle in 2013? ‘Yes. We are hoping to re-exhibit a version of the collection at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke  during the summer next year. Displaying the dresses at that time of year will present my team with additional conservation challenges.  The gelatine-based sequins do not respond well to warm temperatures, heat from our gloved hands could melt them. We will have to wear extra gloves and try not to over-handle the dresses.’

Women in the Twenties began to wear heavy make-up and many followed the fashion of the day by having their hair cut into short bobs (1924). Another popular hairstyle, appearing for the first time in 1923, was an even shorter cut, the shingle. ‘Developed in France by a Parisian hairdresser, it was a method of cutting the hair by means of tapering which, in the hands of a skilled operator, could be adapted to suit any shape of head.  The early form of shingle was short and exposed the hair-line at the back of the neck. By 1925 it was fairly common, the hair being cut to follow the shape of the head with perhaps a slight fringe and soft waves at the sides…Bandeaux of every description were fashionable, especially for evening wear, including narrow ones of diamanté or broad ones of beadwork, silver lace or silver thread embroidery.  Some, known as shingle bands, were artfully designed to cover the shorn back of the head.’ (De Courtais D., 1988, p.150, Women’s Headdress and Hairstyles: In England From AD 600 to the Present Day). In 1926, the boyish cut known as the Eton crop was another popular hairstyle.

Shawl, feathers and cap of bronze mesh with gold sequins. C.1928. Dazzle Exhibition. HCC Arts & Museums.
Shawl, feathers and cap of bronze mesh with gold sequins. C.1928. Dazzle Exhibition. HCC Arts & Museums.

Once the hair had been cut into a preferred style, permanent waving, such as that offered by Messrs. Marcel’s Ltd, was also a popular and practical fashionable flourish.  I found an advertisement from 1923, by Marcel’s Ltd, for permanent waving in which the benefits of this new hairdressing technique were promoted:

..this modern method of waving and curling the hair so that it “lasts in” for six to eight months is most bountifully time-saving.  Bobbed hair or long hair, scanty hair or thick – it is all the same to the clever assistants at this famous house for permanent waving, 353 Oxford Street, W1 and the charge is always the same, five shillings each per curler or waver….Tropical heat, hot shampoos, or sea bathing have no effect on permanent waves.

Marcel Wave, advertisement. 1923.
Young lady with “Marcel Waves in her hair”, from the firm’s 1923 advertisement.

Interest in Twenties fashion and lifestyle is growing apace and I predict this trend will continue throughout 2013.  I asked Gill Arnott (Curator of Dazzle) for her thoughts on this: ‘I definitely have seen more beaded garments on the High Street in 2012. Miss Selfridge produced a range of beaded dresses earlier in the year. I also think that younger people are asking more questions of their older relatives about fashions worn by them in their day. The family photo album is now inspiring conversations between younger and older generations about fashion trends from bygone eras.’

There are also several high-profile productions, set in the Twenties, due for release in 2013. One being series three of Downton Abbey premiering on Masterpiece Classic in the US on January 6th. and the long-awaited release of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, on May 10th.  Gill and I are not alone in our observations for a Twenties revival, according to a recent MailOnline article: ‘ appears that we are so fixated with the upstairs/downstairs lives of the 1920s characters that we are even starting to copy their wardrobes.  Sales of retro styles, including flapper dresses and demure ruffled blouses, are on the rise…. Figures from Littlewoods show that since the third series [Downton Abbey] started sales of flapper style dresses have increased by 40%, traditional ruffle blouses shot-up by 109% and even men are buying in to the trend with tweed and cord blazer sales rising a massive 146%.’ (Daily Mail – MailOnline ‘Return of Downton Abbey Sends Sales of 1920s Fashion Soaring’ – 3rd October 2012)

Fashion journalists also predict that sales of Twenties inspired velvet jackets will continue to be a menswear trend in 2013: ‘With the eagerly awaited movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby set for release in 2013, styles of the 1920s have become one of the biggest trends in womenswear this year.  But thanks to the velvet jacketed stars of The Great Gatsby, the Twenties are taking menswear by storm as well….A huge catwalk trend, the trend has hit the high street too, with M&S reporting a 42% increase in sales compared to this time last year.’ (Ruth Styles, Daily Mail – MailOnline ‘Great Gatsby Chic The Velvet Jacket is this Season’s Biggest Partywear Trend for Men as Great Gatsby Chic Sweeps the Nation’ – 13th December 2012)

I thoroughly recommend the Dazzle exhibition at Gosport Gallery, a visit will put you in the mood for the forthcoming Christmas party season as well as give you ideas for the hottest fashion trend around.  The exhibition continues until Saturday 29th December 2012 and admission is free. The Gosport Gallery is located just across from the Discovery Centre, Walpole Road, Gosport, Hampshire, PO12 1NS and is open Monday to Saturday 10am – 4pm (closed Sunday and 24th, 25th and 26th December).  For more information visit or call 0845 603 5631.

Further Resources

  • The Victoria and Albert Museum, London have a brilliant section on their website with many articles and information about Art Deco. CLICK HERE;
  • Fashion bible Vogue have a Great Gatsby fashion on-line gallery. CLICK HERE.;
  • Glamour Magazine have compiled a selection of 1920s inspired vintage dresses that are currently available. CLICK HERE;
  • For a brilliant article on fashion and lifestyle in 1920s Berlin, have a look at the recently published: Bohème Sauvage: back to Berlin 1920s style by Carolyn Hair at Culture Darling. There are some great images to inspire you as well. CLICK HERE.
  • Finally, there are some gorgeous 1920s style dresses on . They have gathered a collection of vintage 1920s dresses and Twenties style dresses ‘…to tempt you into a classic Charleston look with a modern twist’.  CLICK HERE.
Shapewear advertisement from 1923. Girdles for young ladies were lightly boned with elasticated panels. If you were well-endowed, bandeaus or cupless brassieres were worn to flatten the breasts, this also allowed the dress to hang smoothly from the shoulders.
Shapewear advertisement from 1923. Girdles for young ladies were lightly boned with elasticated panels. If you were well-endowed, bandeaus or cupless brassieres were worn to flatten the breasts, this also allowed the dress to hang smoothly from the shoulders. This was the decade when dieting become fashionable and counting calories normal among the bright young things.
Posted in Event, Exhibition, Fashion History, Museum, Vintage, Vintage Retail

1950s Britain – Part Three


Christian Dior’s salon launch of his revolutionary New Look took place on 12th February 1947. This date marked a watershed in the history of post-war fashion in Britain and the rest of Europe. The New Look style inspired a whole generation of fashion designers and helped kick-start a boom in couture and ready-to-wear clothing for women during the following decade. Women’s clothes became more light-hearted and feminine, shaking-off the austere aesthetic of utility clothing. Clothes rationing ended in March 1949.

Me wearing the 1948 New Look at the first Goodwood Revival meeting in 1998.

In September 1998, I was very lucky to be at the first Goodwood Revival event dressed in a Dior New Look outfit. The jacket was original but the skirt a later copy. The Goodwood Revival is still as popular today as it was fourteen years ago. This year’s event takes place at The Goodwood Estate, Chichester, West Sussex between 14th and 16th September inclusive. CLICK HERE. The perfect opportunity to wear your newly created fifties inspired vintage look.

At the beginning of the 1950’s, shoulders were more rounded and waists defined. Long narrow skirts or full circular skirts were worn, about 30cm off the ground. The full skirts made a statement; they celebrated the end of post-war clothing restrictions. Criticism was levied at designers for the excessive amount of fabric needed to realise their creations. The full skirts held their shape thanks to the many layers of frilled petticoats of stiffened nylon. Sometimes these petticoats contained upwards of twelve metres of nylon net. Previously, women had had to make do with just over a couple of metres of utility tweed.

The playsuit was a popular item of leisure wear and would traditionally be teamed with a wedgy pair of espadrilles. The playsuit has made a recent comeback. This time around it is often worn with a thick pair of tights and statement-making footwear. There were a number of European key designers and design houses producing high-end fashion in fifties. I list here the more well-known but this is by no means an exhaustive roll of honour: Balmain (fashion house); Balenciaga; Coco Chanel; Hardy Amies; Hubert de Givenchy; Norman Hartnell and Victor Stiebel. The last three of these designers were British. In 1958 The Fashion House Group of London was formed. This group of British designers created collections to be sold in high street stores. The designers were: Susan Small (mostly evening and party dresses); Horrockses; Peggy Allen; Jaeger; Dannimac; Polly Peck and Aquascutum.

French fashion magazine from my own collection, 1957.

In order to achieve the fashionable tiny waist of the fifties, a short corset of five or six inches deep, called a “waspie” would be worn. The waspie was often worn over the panti-girdle. A foundation garment controlled by stretch rather than boning.

1950s evening dress. Portsmouth City Museum.

Strapless, glamorous, evening dresses required another type of undergarment, the basque which had incorporated bra cups. Bras in the 1950’s were under wired and had spiral stitching, creating the conical-shaped bosoms synonymous with the film-inspired “Sweater Girl” look. Padded bras or inflatable inserts were a suitable alternative if nature had not blessed you in that department. In 1952, seamless stockings were introduced into Britain.

Ready-to-wear ranges emerged in the 1950’s that made good use of the new, man-made materials such as Nylon, Crimplene and Orlon. These materials meant that garments were easy-care and required little or no ironing. Crimplene revolutionised the colour palette of fifties fashion due to its colour fast properties. Ready-to-sew kits were also popular and made sewing accessible to a wider number of women.

Original shop sign for Liz Tilley Millinery, Lymington. St. Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire.
An original Liz Tilley hat made from black pedal straw and trimmed with a white Cire Camelia. St. Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire.
Liz Tilley hat box 1950s. St. Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire.

St. Barbe Museum’s recent exhibition ‘1950’s – Having it so Good’ included a display featuring the work and career of society milliner, Liz Tilley.  Liz opened her haute couture millinery store on No. 1 High Street, Lymington in 1959.  She had trained with Aage Thaarup, the Mayfair based Danish designer. Thaarup is known for the hats he created for Princess Margaret and Queen Elizabeth.  Thaarup recognised Liz’s natural talent for millinery design and encourage her to move to Paris.  The aim of the move was to expose her to the houses of Dior, Chanel and Jacques Faith.  Liz lived with her sister in a tiny Parisian bedsitter in the Latin Quarter.  She borrowed a friend’s salon in Paris to display her designs but the hats themselves were created from the confines of her tiny bedsit. Liz’s shop in High Street, Lymington closed in the 1990s.  In the course of my research I did manage to find a couple of British Pathé films of Thaarup at work in his Mayfair salon:

  1. Easter  Bonnets (1954);
  2. Albert Hall Hat (1957).

Men in the fifties often wore dark, two or three-piece suits to the office and a tweed sports jacket and flannel trousers at weekends. Neatly laced brogues of either brown leather or suede (‘brothel creepers’) were often worn. English gentleman’s athletic clothing was also popular. Teaming an old college blazer with a cravat. The classic English city gent would wear a black bowler hat, three-piece suit or black jacket and waistcoat with pin-striped trousers worn with a white or finely striped shirt with semi-stiff detachable collar. To complete the ensemble, a pair of black Oxford shoes, coat in Crombie woolwith a black velvet collar and a rolled umbrella.

1950s wedding dress belonging to Barbara Clapham. On display at the recent 1950s exhibition at St. Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire.

St. Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire.
My mother as a bridesmaid at my Great Aunt’s wedding in February 1955.

I asked my mother and mother-in-law about fashion memories that they had of their teenage years in the fifties. My mother recalls:

fashions were very feminine, tightly fitted bodices, full skirts and lots of net petticoats. To starch my petticoats I would dip them in sugar-water and leave to dry. However, if it rained it was awful as you ended-up with sticky legs. I remember my petticoats had a channel in them and I had to pass a corset guide or flat stiffener – which you brought by the foot – through it to make the petticoats stand out. I had to be careful on the bus so that when I sat down the skirts wouldn’t flip-up and show my underwear. That was a big no, no. Girls in those days were trimmer than they are today. The waists were tiny and nipped in. I had an elasticated waspie. I also wore wide, about two inches wide, elasticated belts which had either a metal clip or a pretty buckle. On my feet I had flat ballet pumps and wore my hair either in a pony tail or had it curly. I didn’t wear that much make-up as I was very young. I do remember that a lot of girls wore quite thick eyeliner, Cleopatra style. You had to practice a lot to get your eyeliner straight but most girls became quite expert at doing their own make-up. I did have a block of mascara that I had to spit on to moisten and then would apply using a mascara wand. I wore light coloured lipsticks and always made sure my eyebrows were tidy. I also liked wearing a few bracelets, so too did my friends. Padded bras with circular stitching were popular. There were no tights. Instead you had stockings and suspender belts. The rubber bits on my suspender belts often perished and I would use a six pence penny piece to keep them up. It was quite breezy in the underwear department. There were no skimpy pants, thongs or g strings. I do remember some girls had seamless stockings but my nylons had seams up the back. I wore a lot of waist length cardigans with buttons up the front. Women of my mother’s generation always wore a hat but the young women did not wear hats as much. Gloves were also always worn.

I enjoyed making my own clothes. One of the first dresses that I made was in 1957 when I was thirteen. It was in a cotton fabric, which was sky blue with white spots and white bias binding trim. I sent for the fabric pieces from Honey magazine, which was a popular teenage magazine. It cost me about £4 and I was so proud of it. There was a choice of blue or pink and I preferred blue because I was fair-haired. It wasn’t a full skirt but a shift dress. It had a fabric tie in the middle. There was no paper pattern. All the pieces of fabric came ready cut and you just had to sew them together. My mum had a Singer sewing machine which she had waited three years for after the war and it was always in use at home. During the war they were not manufacturing sewing machines as the metal was needed for armaments. My mum was a very good needlewoman and came from the ‘make do and mend’ generation. She always brought her bras from Marks and Spencers in the 1950’s and 60s. She had a French figure. Big bust, nipped in waist and ample hips.

My mother-in-law grew-up in rural Northern Ireland in the fifties and her fashion choices reflected her musical interests at that time.  She recalls:

I loved rock n’ roll and jive dancing. I was a big fan of Elvis Presley too. I used to wear skirts that were plain but not fully flared. The skirts had a wide waistband or were gathered in at the waist. They were called Dirndl skirts I think and were mid-calf length. I think they were based on traditional maid’s style costumes worn in Germany. They did still have a lot of material in them though. My underskirts were bright colours. Layers of pink, yellow and white netting. I remember that I also had a black feather hat. The feathers were bunched on one side of my head and secured to the head. The feathers would then lay flat across the top of the head reaching to the other side. The hat did not last long. We came back from Mass one Sunday to discover that the family dog had shredded it to pieces. It looked like a blackbird had been massacred in our kitchen. I used to wear my ‘V’ necked jumpers back to front as well, with the ‘V’ at the back. We didn’t refer to suits as suits, they were costumes. I never wore red lipstick. I wore pan stick foundation, a little powder with a pink or peach coloured lipstick.

McCalls 1952 pattern no. 9028 from my collection.

Last year I purchased McCall’s blouse pattern no. 9028 at a vintage fair. It is from 1952 and I thought that it would be a good project to have a go at making one of blouses. I consider myself to be a fairly competent needlewoman but I am afraid I could not make head nor tail of the pattern instructions. I admitted defeat and passed the pattern to my mother who cheerfully took-up the challenge. I come from a long line of excellent dressmakers but know my limits. My mother has made a wide variety of clothes over the years: theatrical costumes; copious clothes for me; curtains; cushions and is also a dab hand at upholstery too. Definitely the right woman for the job.

When my mother was first married, my father worked in Southern Ireland at Raidió Teilifis Eireann in the latter part of the 1960s. Married women were not allowed to work for money in Southern Ireland at that time. However, my mum did not want to get stuck at home so managed to secure voluntary work at Ardmore Film Studios in the Wardrobe Department. She helped out with ironing, pressing and doing minor sewing alterations on a number of film productions including Sinful Davey (1969), directed by John Huston and starring John Hurt and Pamela Franklin.

View D, McCalls pattern no. 9028.

Anyway, those are my mother’s credentials and here is her advice on working with vintage patterns. She made view D from McCall’s 1952 pattern no. 9028:

First of all the pattern markings are a lot clearer to work with than modern patterns. However, the instructions are not easy to follow. There is a lot of reading and assembling to do before you begin and you really do need some prior needlework experience before working with a vintage pattern. I found it difficult to attach the collar and the tie was not as easy as it looks to make. A complete beginner would struggle with the pattern. In the fifties, sewing machines did not have automatic buttonhole options. But if you are using a modern sewing machine then this part of the construction would definitely be easier now. Interfacing is also important. Interfacing in the fifties was not sticky; it was a separate item, a separate piece of fabric. Make sure you choose the correct weight of interfacing for the fabric you are using. Ask in the fabric shop when you are buying supplies. The seam allowances are surprisingly generous. Although be aware that sizing is different today. A size 12 pattern, as this was, is about a size 8-10 today. Although, the generous seam allowances do help when adjusting a vintage pattern to fit a modern body shape. The bottom of the shirt appears to offer a generous fitting but remember that this was so that you could wear it over your full skirt.  Also check that the pattern you are buying is complete, luckily this one was but you may find some bits are missing. I used a modern sewing machine and just made sure I had the right needle for the fabric I was using but other than that I did not have to make any other adjustments on my machine.

Close-up view of neck detail on finished blouse.

The lovely blouse that my mother made went to a good home. Unfortunately, I have inherited my grandmother’s ‘French figure’, so the garment was no good for my body shape. However, my dear friend and retro goddess Carolyn Hair now has it in her large collection of vintage fashions.

Front view of finished blouse.
Back view of finished blouse.

1950s fashion is enjoying a huge revival at the moment. Original garments can be sourced from one of the many vintage fairs popping-up all over the country or for the more resourceful among you, why not try one making your own 50s clothing. Pattern companies such as Butterick, Simplicity and Vogue all have 50s inspired patterns or re-issues of originals from their own archives.

Butterick pattern from their ‘Retro’ range. Pattern No. B556, 1957. From my own collection of retro patterns.

If recreating your vintage look from an original pattern or wearing second-hand clothes is not your thing, then don’t panic.  If you want to dress to impress the vintage way, then high street fashion stores are currently full of garments that have a retro feel to them.  I recently visited Westfield shopping centre in White City, London to see the pop-up fashion display ‘Future Fashion’ (27th March-1stApril).  In all of the fashion trends on display I could identify trends from the 1930s right through to the 1980s.

Alongside each of the themed displays there were five digital 103” LCD touch-screens housed in Styling Cubes. The idea being that you chose the fashion items that had caught your eye, then you dragged and drop them into a personalised mood board to create your perfect wardrobe of outfits.  Once you had chosen your favourite items you simply entered your e-mail address and the images were sent directly to you.  There were also options to link to your Facebook page or share your finds on Twitter. Here are a couple of my favourite items from this event. A sixties-inspired dress and a fifties-inspired swimming costume.

Dandelion lace prom dress by Monsoon. £75.
River Island peach flower one piece swimsuit.

For information on 1940s and 1950s hair and make-up, please my article from September 2011.

Image from 1957 magazine showing eye-liner detail.
1950s HMV hairdryer. St. Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire.


I have listed below a few books and resources that should help to inspire your top-to-toe 1950’s look:

  • Victoria and Albert Museum, London – Ballgowns – British Glamour Since 1950 (19th May- 6th January 2013);
  • Victoria and Albert Museum, London – ‘Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age’ (31st March – 12th August 2012);
  • Royal Mail Mint Stamps – Great British Fashion: 1945 to 2010. I rushed out and purchased my pack at the local Post Office on the first day of issue. I brought the presentation pack priced £6.50. The presentation pack contains a stylish and well-written booklet, written by Professor Amy de la Haye, Rootstein Hopkins Chair, London College of Fashion. The booklet charts the history of British fashion from 1945 to the present day.
  • Ketteler, J., (2010) Sew Retro: A Stylish History of The Sewing Revolution published by Voyageur Press;
  • Brennan, E., (2005) Making Vintage Bags: 20 Original Patterns for Vintage Bags and Purses published by Guild of Master Craftsman;
  • Ours Drager, B., (2009) Hat Tactics: Instructions for Creating Early 1950’s Hats published by Bramcast Publications (although this book is a reprint of one produced in 1950);
  • Westmore Beauty Book – A Complete 1950’s Guide to Vintage Make-up, Hairstyling and Beauty Techniques (2009) published by Bramcast Publications. This is a fantastic book and was originally published in 1956;
  • What Katie Did, 26 Portobello Green Arcade, 281 Portobello Road, Londonfor all your vintage shapewear needs. If you are unable to visit their shop, they do have an on-line shopping facility for overseas customers. For the more daring and patriotic among you there is even a Diamond Jubilee inspired corset – the Union Flag Corset;
  • Here are a few fun and fascinating British Pathé fifties fashion clips:
  1. Kitchen Hats (1959);
  2. Italian Knitwear (1958);
  3. Spectacles (1955);
  4. She Walks in Beauty (1950);
  5. She Walks in Beauty (1951);
My family on the beach in Hythe, Kent. Inky the poodle can be seen in the bottom left-hand corner. 1956.

Poodles became the must-have fashion accessory of the 1950s. Friends of my aunt and mother had a poodle called ‘Inky’ who can be seen in the above photograph, on the left. I hasten to add here that Inky was not dressed in any of the fashion outfits worn by high society poodles of that time, neither was he dyed lurid pink, he was just a much-loved family pet.

The craze for poodles had an impact on mainstream fashion too. The ‘poodle skirt’, with its bright colours and breed motif appliquéd on the front, is one of the most memorable fashion trends from this decade. Even TV star Lucille Ball got herself a ‘poodle hair cut’ and who can forget Doris Day with her bevy of rainbow-coloured poodles in a fashion shoot from 1950. The poodle often featured in French fashion and beauty advertisements.  Here are a few examples of the fifties passion for poodles that may amuse you:

  1. Paris Hotel Boutique Journal Blog – Glamour Dogs;
  2. Poodle Fashion Show (1956);
  3. Dog Fashions Beware (1959).
Posted in History, Vintage, Vintage Retail

Two recommendations for fans of all things Vintage

1950s room exhibit, Museum of 51 Exhibition, South Bank

If you are a fan of all things Vintage, I have two recommendations for you:

  • Vintage Life Magazine– This monthly magazine (£3.70) is perfect if you are a fan of 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s nostalgia.  Regular features on beauty, fashion, lifestyle, music and food.  Good news is that the publication is easier to source than before, since WHSmith now stock it.  I love this magazine and the classifieds section at the back is great for sourcing Vintage goods.
1950s Scarf, exhibit in the Museum of 51 exhibition, South Bank


  • Blitz Vintage Department Store Opened earlier this month in London.  A huge five-room Victorian warehouse has been turned into a department store to cater for all of your vintage fashion and lifestyle needs.  Situated just off Brick Lane, 55-59 Hanbury St, London, E1 5JP. Tel: 0207 377 0730. E-mail: