In giving my talk recently ‘My Fashion Journey’ I started to muse about the differences between English and Italian fashion, both now and when I was working in Italy in 1969/70. Then what struck me most was the attention to detail, the craftsmanship, the simplicity of form creating a total look, a ‘bella figura’. Each outfit was meticulously researched from head to toe; from their to the shoes, every piece had to relate to the other components to create a whole outfit. We, in England , were well behind this studied approach, rather hoping that by throwing a few things together we could get away with a more studentesque presentation. Hoping that if the hair was okay, nobody would look at the shoes. 'Don’t stand out’ ,’pass in a crowd’ was a compliment. Not to show off or stand out was the aim.
I have always felt that our clothes define us, people read how we dress and make judgements, we send out so many signals by the way we dress, clean our shoes, brush our hair. Those that don’t bother, perhaps they don’t care - maybe their minds are on higher things? I didn’t think that we English had the right mindset in our D.N.A. to even start getting things right. Whereas on the continent, much more emphasis was and is placed on the choosing the right button for the coat. Who in England even thinks about the button on a coat? They don’t register that a cheap button makes the whole coat look cheap, sending out the signal that they don’t care, as long as the coat does the job of a coat.
What can be lost is the appreciation and joy of having beautiful things around us and living with fewer, but beautiful pieces, whether clothes or objects. In England we have too much stuff.
What for me defines the current English look, is the search for the offbeat, the unexpected pairing, the antique pieces the new ‘pre-owned. A look incorporating a surprise, pieces that work in harmony as a whole but from diverse sources. Dressing head to toe in say Dior, is not the English way, it takes energy to spot and source the new studied “Boho look’.
The rest of the fashion world comes to the U.K. to try and find our unique style, in a way it can’t be bought. We have learnt from our continental friends but added our own quirkiness, We are telling the rest of the fashion world that we are an island and unique, but have we truly learnt to spot the cheap button?
I hope this blog finds you all healthy and safe. To keep busy (and sane!) I have been delving into my archives. A collection of old press articles and photos. I am reminded of another time when life seemed precarious and precious.
During my rummage, I found this fascinating article about a onetime contemporary of mine, Charlotte Hilton. We shared the same page in the Times of January 4th 1983. She was the Grande Dame, of Lingerie, and I was the new young upstart.
We both supplied Harrods amongst other stores, and met at various trade shows.
An interesting bit of background on her career...
Charlotte Hilton came from Germany in Feb 1939 to join her Jewish husband. They formed a small company making underwear and in 1943 a trim British officer banged on their door; a Captain Kenmore from MI5. He wanted them to make underwear for spies. The work was very hush hush, unobtainable fabrics suddenly became available.
One day Charlotte’s secretary’s nephew came to visit and saw these unobtainable fabrics and laces in the workroom, he realised what was going on ‘Don’t tell me anything’ he said firmly ‘I drop the dammed things’. H was a pilot in the R.A.F.
Charlotte recounted that the spies came for fittings, including the famous Oddette, and had spine chilling stories about how they got through the escape lines. She said that some of them had the most terrible scars.
Sadly at the end of the war, although paid well for their work, there was no glowing letter of thanks.
This information was taken from an article by Meriel McCooey, from the Times colour supplement of July 8th.1984. I could not find any internet reference to the designer herself and her interesting history. Her designs have featured on a few lingerie history blogs and her pieces are for sale on various vintage wesbsites. Perhaps Charlotte Hilton was not her name rather her brand name only, however, I believe that we should not forget, those times and her contribution.
Saturday the 3rd of October was the first session of the Sherston Sewing School. Held in the British Schoolroom in Sherston,(also The Congregational Church)
We were four students, with little or no previous experience, and myself. We wore our masks and socially distancing was easy in such a beautiful and open space.
It was wonderful to meet together all full of enthusiasm to teach, to learn and to be creative together. Much needed in the current climate.
First things first, we had everyone practise with their machines on paper without thread, then thread in cloth, learning to go slowly and carefully, learning foot control and guiding the direction of the stitches. This helped students develop confidence with their machined.
We worked on two projects. Firstly, A lace-edged cotton handkerchief was attempted. This proved to be more challenging than the second project, a simple cover for a cushion, which everyone managed. Some great examples were produced by the students (see pictures) Lucy Tom our village interiors shop was on hand to supply lovely fabric for the cushions.
The atmosphere was great (blessed obviously) and everyone went home feeling that they had had a good experience.
Next weeks lessons are 'make-do and mend'.
The Sherston Sewing School is run by Goug her cousin Sue Palmer, who has been making clothes for HRH Princess Anne for many years.
They teach to small groups, with COVID measures in place, every Saturday. 10am - 4 pm.
For anyone in the Wiltshire area who may be interested, please contact Goug on 07788558035
Leavers Lace: Named from the inventor of the machine that produced it, John Lever, in Nottingham in 1813. It was an adapted version of the Bobbinet machine. The name of the machine was the Leavers machine (the 'a' was added to aid pronunciation in France).
Calais Lace: In the early 19th century, a group of British ‘tulle’ manufacturers from the Nottingham area emigrated to the continent to escape a period of economic unrest, taking their distinctive techniques with them. Many settled in Calais and there resulted in a boom in the Lace industry.
There is also Corded Lace and Eyelash lace which is self-explanatory when you look at their design.
When I began designing my first collection in 1975, lace and in particular colour matching silk was a big part of the process. I would make test batches, dying at home, or gather samples of ribbon in the colour I wanted. I would then take it to The English and French Dyeing company, which opened up after WW1, based in Acton. The two guys running the place, who were in their 80s, were very busy fulfilling orders for the Royal Opera at the time. I was reluctant to try gifting them with lingerie to get to the top of their queue, but it was the way to go and my five rolls of natural silks became Palest Pink Peach, Milky Coffee, Ivory ( not dyed but whetted and stretched) Hot Coral, and Eu de Nil.
Excitingly, as one shop-door closed another was opened last summer, with the launch of Keturah Brown Online. Showcasing signature designs from the brand, reaching beyond the high street bringing this Heritage Brand into a digital age.
A year on, Goug has adapted to the world of online sales, fulfilling orders via her Etsy and Keturah Brown online stores, reaching a new and Global customer base. Goug has embraced country living and even managed a (much deserved) three-month cruise in South America.
Goug talks a little about the big change…
“I now have the best work room ever, with lots of space and all my laces and silks to hand. Wonderful sunlight and a great space to feel inspired. Obviously, I miss my shop and my lovely customers so much but I am in London often to meet and fit by appointment.
The shop and upper parts were showing their Victorian heritage and needed a massive investment from which sadly we, will be recovering for quite some while”
The personal service and made-to measure pieces that Goug’s customers have come to love so much is still available, as Goug mentions, via appointments booked with her. You can get in contact via the website if you would like to arrange this.
Goug is continuing to create new collections and these will be added to the website as they are available. Visit www.keturahbrownlingerie.com where you can browse, buy and sign up to our mailing list.