Post-war fashion

Divine design: an exploration of post-war fashion (pt:1)

Britain has produced some fantastic fashion since WW2, and some of its clothes designers are the most respected. Their creations have become extremely sought after and in terms of vintage fashion at Repsycho over the years we have picked up a few gems!

Mary Quant was the most iconic fashion designer of the 1960s. With an original take on design, Quant created modern, fun fashion, bright, colourful and bold.

She popularised the mini skirt, hot pants, the skinny rib jumper and brightly coloured tights– her designs are iconic. Mary Quant was central to the development of London fashion – simply put she dressed the ‘Swinging Sixties’.

In 1963 Mary Quant launched the Ginger Group Line to deliver cheaper, mass-produced goods to the populace. She also marketed cosmetics and underwear using the famous Quant daisy design. By the end of the decade, Mary Quant was the leading UK fashion designer.

Ossie Clark was a British fashion designer who became popular in the 1960s-70s. Many of his best creations were complemented by the fabric designs of Celia Birtwell- they became a creative and productive partnership in this era.

In 1971, shortly after their marriage, Birtwell and Clark were painted by their friend David Hockney in Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy which is on display at Tate Britain. They had many famous clients, including Mick Jagger, the Beatles and Liza Minelli. Peter Gabriel used a Clark creation for the cover of the Genesis album Foxtrot.

Clark’s designs were influenced by glamour; often romantic, free-flowing dresses, he liked to use printed silk chiffon and crepes, famously designing almost transparent pieces for his ‘Nude Look’. Menswear included ruffled shirts, silk scarves and snakeskin jackets.

Initially inspired by traditional handicrafts and Victorian patterns, Laura Ashley’s quintessentially English designs became very popular after one of her early scarf designs was worn by Audrey Hepburn in the film Roman Holiday. Founded in 1953, the company moved from Kent to Wales in 1961 and clothing bearing labels from this era are particularly sought after.

By the end of the sixties, Laura Ashley had developed its designs and was well known for its dreamy, floaty maxi skirts and dresses, and the stylised Prairie dresses are particularly associated with the brand. During the early 80’s the brand began to incorporate the frills and pin tucks of the ‘Sloane Ranger’ – an altogether crisper, posher look popularised by Princess Diana.

Ashley’s designs are easier to find than many other designers and maybe more affordable but are nonetheless indicative of several decades of British design.

Marion Donaldson began designing and making dresses at her own home for resale in local shops in the early 1960s. Specialising in mini skirts and dresses in the early years, her creations were flamboyant, modern, bright and pretty cool too! Initially selling to shops in Glasgow, the popularity of her designs grew, and she designed for the London market, at one point working with Liberty’s of London using their fabric- these designs became some of Marion Donaldson’s most successful.

Marion and her husband/partner David decided to remain designers/manufacturers- never having their own retail outlets like other famous designers, maybe partly explaining some lack of recognition for the brand and also some of the commercial rewards too.

The brand’s iconic art nouveau label was based on an oval mirror bought by the Donaldsons at an auction.

The Marion Donaldson brand has been credited with bringing ‘Swinging London’ to Glasgow, and she herself is sometimes referred to as ‘the Scottish Barbara Hulanicki’ (Biba). Marion Donaldson Ltd traded from 1966 until 1999, her designs are known for their quality and remain sought after today.

Janice Wainwright studied at Wimbledon School of Art, Kingston School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London. During the late 60s she worked as a designer for Simon Massey, in 1968 she began to work as a freelance designer. Her work during this period was bright, youthful and simple- she was one of the only designers to use Celia Birtwell textile design- a real sign of respect from the Clark/Birtwell partnership.

In 1970 she started her own label, ‘Janice Wainwright at Forty Seven Poland Street’, her designs were longline, flattering creations and often used jersey, crepe and chiffon. From 1974 she began to drop the cumbersome label name for just her own. A feature of her work was the different decorative techniques used.

One more designer that we have been lucky to stock clothes by is the fabulous Jean Muir. Unfortunately pictures are no longer available of these items, but such an interesting designer should not be forgotten!

Jean Muir worked, in the ’50s as a fashion sketcher and seller for Liberty’s in London, she was later employed as a self-taught designer by Jaeger. At the beginning of the ’60s, she established the firm Jane and Jane. In 1966 Muir started her own business with her husband, selling clothes to selected shops worldwide. Jean Muir’s clothes were known for their fluid lines and elegance. She particularly liked working with dark, plain colours in jersey, crepe and suede.

Although Muir was adored by the fashion industry and counted many stars and celebrities as her clients and friends, she considered herself a dressmaker! She was a hard-working, stickler for perfection, qualities which helped earn her a reputation for precise tailoring and exquisite design.

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