Finding Miss Mouse

There’s only one person other than Frederick Starke whom I would have contemplated writing my PhD thesis on; Rae Spencer-Cullen a.k.a Miss Mouse. There is surprisingly little information out there about one of the 1970s most iconic designers, however every now and again I’ll come across a few articles about her, as was the case today. I’m just sharing one for now, but should you have any more information or memories about the brand I am all ears! (Perhaps I already have an idea for some post-doctoral research…)

 

IMG_5603

Daily Mail, October 10th 1972

The Fab Four

Dressed, stunningly to their own design

Barbara Griggs

It’s easy to suppose that girls who design clothes have no problems when it comes to their own personal appearance. They know about design and fashion and colour and all that, don’t they?

 

In practice, of course, it’s not all that easy for them. Girls who design clothes ave the same problems of time and organisation as any of us- often much worse.

They have the same kind of hang-ups about their hair, their figure, their looks, as you or me. And even if their clothes are ‘free’ they still have to buy accessories.

 

So how well do they make out? I invited four of our most exciting young designers to be photographed for Femail waking their own favourite clothes from their own range, looking the way they feel suits them best.

 

The result? Spectacular, as you can see. Four women looking a knockout in their own individual ways.

 

Showy

Rae of Miss Mouse (left) does’t give a damn about conventional fashion.

She arrived wearing her own midi dress in a soft lime, white and black abstract print, trimmed with dotted black cotton; lots of pearls; a gold and black rose; sheer black tights; and larky, platform-soled shoes from the Chelsea cobbler.

She was the only one NOT in trousers; ‘The thing about dresses is the very nice things that go with them’ she says; like scent and artificial flowers and rather naughty shoes.

‘I can leap straight out if a bath into a dress and feel smart at once. But I’m a bit bored with those long dresses, it’s nice to have a bit of ankle.

Classy

Pauline of Pauline Wynne-Jones (standing at the back) makes very simple, very beautiful dresses and cardigan jackets and long pleated skirts; loves crepe; keeps her colours calm and sober.

She turned up in wide trousers made of ginger gaberdine, and its own matching belted coat with big gathered sleeves; ‘there didn’t seem to be a coat around that went with my dresses and trousers, so I designed this one.’ With her ginger- a simple dark brown sweater.

‘I love dresses’ she said rather guiltily, ‘but seldom wear them’.

‘But I could live in trousers, in this one outfit. I’d like it in black velvet for evening. I’d love to have it in Donegal tweed too.’

Ritzy

Katherine Hamnett of Tuttabankem (in the chair) turned up wearing her own swinging full-cut shirt-jacket, in copper coloured suede, with wide matching trousers, an ivory crepe shirt, two copper-coloured thin belts.

Accessories were a tiny brown and white tweed cap stuck with a 30s glass hatpin; beautifully decorated black suede gloves to her elbows an enormous grey chrysanthemum, and deep red river gauche pumps.

She is convinced that one great enemy of good dressing is diffidence;

‘Look at Italian women, they’re PROUD of their bodies. English women are ashamed of their bodies, only happy when they are in some inconspicuous uniform.

Sporty 

Juliet of Juliet Dunn (right) arrived wearing her camel trousers with a perfect cream silk shirt and a belted check jacket and a matching hat in camel, beige and grey- ‘my three favourite colours’.

Plus a huge silver fox stole,  the same dotty Chelsea Cobbler shoes are Rae, and a silver J on a chain from Gucci.

She was a bit apologetic about her trousers. ‘Tomorrow I am going to throw away all my trousers and start living in skirts. Pleated, just above the knee, with a silk shirt and beautiful jacket.

‘When it gets really cold I shall wear long pleated skirts and a cardigan under my jacket and my silver fox and lots of hats. The jacket will be very tailored.

London as a fashion centre- 1949

I am now totally and utterly convinced that I do my best research by accident. Pretty much every useful or “new” bit of information i have found relating to my PhD research has come to me when I was looking for something unrelated, as was the case yesterday.

Picture Post in the late 1940s and 1950s often featured engaging fashion features and I was hunting out a feature from March 1949 about London couture, however, this led me to what I think is perhaps a more interesting and enlightening letter in the comments section of the magazine.

Picture Post March 19th 1949 p.39

London as a fashion centre

I was surprised to learn from you article ‘Who buys our best clothes?’ (March 5), that the aim and purpose of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers is, to make London ‘a world-acknowledged centre of creative fashion.’ When do they intend to start this revolution? As a young designer, I certainly cannot see the faintest hint of creative fashion in the latest, or for that matter, in any of the past collections of the Society’s members. They have always been at least a season behind Paris. There is never one feature or detail that actively sets a new fashion in any of their collections, whereas, for instance, the uneven hemline- which was featured in Paris this season and which will no doubt have a marked effect of the silhouette of 1949 and 1950- has not been in fashion since 1928, and of course it has taken Paris designers to bring it back again. It needed Paris to jolt them, as they did when they reintroduced the Victorian and Edwardian trends and features which have become famous as the ‘new look’. And on these ‘left-overs’ of Paris, our creative designers are still working, instead of trying out a new line or trying to set a new fashion. A fashion which Paris has not already dictated to them.

I’ve intentionally left off the author of this letter as it adds another interesting facet to the tale and the perception and development of London fashion. The letter was infact sent in by Bernard Nevill. When I read the name I knew he had something to do with Liberty, but what I couldn’t quite remember. A little googling led me to realise that Nevill is Liberty’s former design director (producing some truly iconic prints for the brand) and is also a former professor of St Martin’s. Furthermore, I was shocked to realise how young Nevill was at the time of writing this letter- he would have been just FOURTEEN years old. There’s something rather wonderful about reading this letter in retrospect, and realising that Nevill became a successful designer.

 

 

Demystifying Utility- The Double Elevens mark

images-1

For many years one of my primary research interests has been the utility scheme. The scheme was introduced in 1941 and many people recognise the iconic CC41 label (colloquially known generally as the two cheeses label) that denoted a garment/ fabric was produced under the scheme. However, my interest recently has been centred more around what I always believe was a later luxury utility label. The double elevens or dinnerplate label. My interest was again piqued whilst reading mike Brown’s 2015 book cc41 utility clothing (which to be honest left a lot to be desired). Here, underneath a picture of a double elevens labeled jacket Brown suggests that the label ‘signified the non-utility equivalent of super utility’. This information went against what I previously knew about the label. Owing to the somewhat hazy information relating to the generally recognized CC41 label though I was still not wholly convinced by his explanation.

 

Whilst reading through a number of 1946 copies of trade journal Fashion Trade Weekly I finally however came up with what I believe is a definite answer- and also highlights why there was so much confusion over the label, both at the time- and since.

 

I highly recommend reading the comments from manufacturers and the trade at the end of the April 18th article. It certainly makes for amusing reading!

April 11th 1946

A Hieroglyphic

 A mark has now been designed by the B.o.T. for use on women’s and maids’ ready-made non-Utility outerwear sold above the lower set of ceiling prices, and on the cloths from which they are made.

 

After June 1, no such garments may be sold by manufacturers unless the price-control mark has been applied. A new Order will give effect to the arrangements.

 

The mark of ‘higher grade’ is a ‘hieroglyphic’- imagine the figure 11 with a large dot in the centre, an 11 either side and a horizontal rule top and bottom!

 

 

April 18th 1946

 

That top-price mark

Who may and who must use it

 

Current widespread trade cynicism is largely attributable to THAT MARK which is to identify the top categories of non-utility.

 

Call it, by the way, as people do, eleven-o-eleven; not double-one-o-double one.

 

Introduction od this strange device has been beset by certain legitimate difficulties; hence the not-at-all-clear manner in which the B.o.T. describes the procedure and requirements of its use.

 

Following is an attempt to clarify:

 

It applies, of course, to garments subject to the higher set of maximum prices fixed by the Womens’ and Maids’ Outerwear ( Manufacturers’ Maximum Prices) Order 1945 (S.R. & O 1945 NO. 1530), and to the cloths not less than the appropriate prices shown in the second schedule to that Order and which are used for the manufacture of such garments.

 

The maker-up may begin to apply the label right away to garments made from either cloth which is already marked or with cloth bought at above the schedule prices. From June 1 onwards he must apply the mark to garments so made.

 

The cloth manufacturer is not directly legislated for. He had the option of applying it as he wishes (except in the case of Harris tweed for which a marking scheme is already in operation). The reason for this option is that similar cloths are used for garments (e.g. men’s wear) other than those covered by the Order.

 

At a later date it is understood that the maker-up will only be able to apply the mark to garments made from cloths which actually bear the mark (and not also to cloths above the schedule price which have not been marked)/ Do in the result cloth manufacturers will mark such materials as they are instructed to do so by their making up customers.

 

From June 1 no garment may be sold by the maker-up at the higher price range unless it has been marked.

 

Another requirement is that manufacturers and wholesalers selling cloth or garments which bear the mark must indicate them on their invoices by the use of the code ‘11011”.

 

Cloth wholesalers who sell a length of cloth cut from a piece to which the mark was applied by the manufacturer are permitted to apply the mark to that length if it does not already appear on it.

 

As the B.o.T point out, retailers will find that at present it makes no difference to them whether garments are marked or unmarked, although eventually the present ceiling will be applied only to garments which have been marked and a lower set od retail ceilings will be fixed for unmarked goods.

 

Certain cloth which has been marked may find its way into retail shops, but the make will in this case have no significance whatever.

 

Number of the Order relating to the mark is S.R. & O 1946 No. 536.

 

As for the mark itself, there is no restriction on the colour in which it is woven or printed, but it must be placed in the garment where it is “easily seen.” The prescribed measurements are 1 ½ x 1in.

 

The design is the product of Percy Metcalfe who was commissioned by the Council of Industrial Design, It is understood he was given no sort of direction, except that it must be easily recognizable and easy to apply; the figures 11011 were not, for instance, in mind, but came afterwards when the Price Committee people saw it.

 

Mr Metcalfe was responsible for the Coronation, Jubilee and George Cross medals. It seems that the trade are not disposed to award him any medal for his latest product.

 

Here are some opinions given at the invitation of Fashion Trade Weekly:

 

Ad expert Sir William Crawford, highly critical, asked, ‘What’s it mean?’

‘It’s complicated it’s dispersed; it will cost thousands to educate the public to know it. Even if it was good visually it, it is no good as a mark unless you can put your tongue to it. The Utility mark has become CC41. That is easily said and everyone recognizes it. But you can’t describe this thing. It needs a name. But even then it is too much of a hieroglyphic and too dispersed.’

 

He calls to one of his principal advisers Mrs. Havinden.

She wanted to know whether it would be in colours and what it would look like in the garment.

‘It has no target in it,’ she said. ‘The circle by itself would have been netter. You need something you recognise out of the corner of your eye.’

 

Richard Porter, Vivian Porter & Co. Ltd. ‘ I would not mind it on a bath towel- if I had a bath towel!’

 

H Mitchell, Matita Ltd. : ‘ Much too near the Utility mark. It is a mistake to have something for better class merchandise in the same family. It should have been a mark which could not possibly be confused.’

 

Henry Scott: ‘It rather reminds me of the brand-marks on the backs of the prisoners-of-war I employ on my farm.’

 E.G.Young (Headley and Young Ltd.) ‘I think it is a pity they did not chose a mark which has some meaning.’

E. Seton-Cotterill, chairman of B.F.T.A coat and suit section: ‘Well I suppose it is clear, although it lacks any artistic merit. It is so obviously a government mark that a discriminating public may react to it in the same way as they did to the Utility mark.’

B.M.M. A have raised strong protest against the mark. They were not shown it until they asked to see it, and then immediately protested it was unsuitable- not at all the sort of thing a woman would want to see in a high-price garment. The B.o.T took up the point, but eventually replied that as it was imperative to rush the Order through there was no time for alteration.

 

 

It is clear that despite these articles appearing in a popular trade journal there was plenty of confusion relating to the new mark and this led to the Government releasing a full press release about the Mark in July 1946 (and I think provides the clearest and most useful definition of the mark!)

 

July 11th 1946

Official affairs

 cc41

This mark [the double elevens mark] does not mean that the garment is a Utility one. On the contrary, it means that it is in the most expensive range of that manufacturers non utility production, for a manufacturer may use it only if he is using clothing which is not utility and for which he has paid more than a given price.

 

 

I hope this post helps to explain the meaning of the Double Elevens label. It shows one thing for certain, any garment containing this label dates to 1946 or later, and is NOT a utility garment. I hope that this information means that in future we may stop misinterpreting this label!