London Fashion Designers 1900-1950
At the beginning of the twentieth century, fashion was always made-to-measure. It was dictated by high society fashion designers, often connected to the royal court and the aristocracy.
Although Paris dressmakers still set the pace in 1900, their counterparts in London were beginning to challenge French supremacy. 'Lucile' or Lady Duff-Gordon, was the first British woman to achieve an international reputation as a fashion designer. She created clothes that were softly coloured and intensely decorative. She is credited with being the first designer to have a parade of mannequins: the modern catwalk.
Fashion in the Edwardian era was often uncomfortable and complicated to wear, restricting the active lifestyle that women were increasingly demanding.
Thomas Burberry's clothes for women were ahead of their times. His sports clothes allowed women greater ease of movement, while motoring, walking or playing golf.
During the war Burberry designed trench coats for the troops, after the war these became popular fashion items in their own right.
The First World War
Shortly before the First World War straighter clothes were being worn by the most fashionable women, these allowed the female figure its natural shape, almost for the first time.
Many more women had a greater disposable income, as they filled the higher paid jobs left by the men fighting on the Front. Being in fashion was now within reach of many more Londoners. Munitions workers for example could now afford fur coats made out of seal or musquash.
After the war fashion became less openly extravagant, the boyish look and slim figure were mandatory. The era of the mass production in the clothes industry had arrived. The new invention of rayon, or artificial silk, meant that glamorous inexpensive dresses could be mass-produced for a fraction of the cost of real silk.
Madame Handley-Seymour was patronised by the elite of London society and was chosen to make the wedding dress for the Duchess of York, later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 1923. The dress was straight up and down with a fashionable drop waist and a nod to the medieval. It was made out of ivory chiffon moire.
Since the beginning of the century, actresses from the London theatre had also had an influence on fashion, which began to rival that of the court. Many designers started designing for the theatre, such as Norman Hartnell, who opened his business in London in 1923.
Hartnell was most famous abroad for his all-white wardrobe that he designed for Elizabeth, the Queen Mother's state visit to France. He went on to design both Queen Elizabeth II's wedding dress in 1947 and her coronation dress in 1953. He was famous for saying "I despise simplicity. It is the negation of all that is beautiful".
During the 1920s it became more acceptable to reveal bare flesh. Bathing costumes became skimpier and shorts were worn by both sexes. Backless dresses were fashionable for the first time at evening parties.
The Depression of the 1930s curbed extravagant dressing. Men and women were less likely to go for couture even if they could afford it, as it was seen as insensitive to the times. Fashion houses like Jaeger started producing fashionable clothes at moderate prices.
The Second World War
Clothes, like food, were rationed during the War. Limits were set on skirt lengths and number of pleats permitted to restrict the amount of material used.
The Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers (Inc Soc) was founded in 1942. Government sponsored export drives to raise foreign revenue, especially dollars, were vital to the war effort and the Board of Trade backed the proposal that one organisation be formed to represent Britain's high fashion industry.
The founding members themselves, who were all couturiers, had broader aims -- they wanted to position London as a leading fashion centre able to compete on the international stage. Inc Soc continued to represent British fashion both at home and abroad throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
The early members of Inc Soc included:
*Worth of London
*Captain Edward Molyneux
*Mrs. Reginald Fellowes
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