I have a bit of a thing for long forgotten couturiers. Couture now is such a dying art and the couture system today is only a tiny proportion of what it once was. For example in France couture represented a third of the countries G.D.P in the late 1940s. Yet today there are just 11 offical members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture
Britain on the other hand has a very different couture legacy with couture houses often seeing their money made (unitl 1958 when presenting stopped) through debutante dresses. In Britian today the couture industry has all but ceased to exest and those names who were once revered in a similar light to the French couturiers (for example Hardy Amies and Bianca Mosca) are often forgotten.
Today I would like to introduce you to a particular British couturier of note, Matilda Etches (sometimes seen as Matilda Ethces-Homan). Etches for reasons I will discuss later has a very important position in terms of the acceptance of fashion into the museum world.
Etches was famed throughout the 40s particularly for her fashionable yet innovative clothing that often featured careful sculptural detailing. I originally discovered her work when investigating garments using minimal seams. I then found this example of her work in the V and A collection. The jacket here can be worn either as seen in the image or worn the other way round to create a dramatic peplum. The jacket must have been created as a circle for this to be possible.
Etches though should be remembered for her pivotal position in terms of the Victoria and Albert museums acquisition policy. Etches had two of her pieces (seen here) accepted into the V and A collection in 1969. The pieces “were shown to senior Museum officials as key acquisitions. They were the first modern fashion items to be accorded this honour” (V and A website)
From correspondence of Madeleine Ginsburg to Matilda Etches-Homan, letter written 9 June 1969, following acceptance of the Etches collection & dossier
“The image of our 20th century costume collection has received a great boost through you! For the first time clothes from this century have been chosen to show the meeting of our advisory committee – a honour usually reserved only for medieval embroideries. They are to see the Butterfly cape and the West African cotton dress.”
So all in all a pretty important lady in terms of British couture no doubt! I was also rather lucky to find two pictures of her. These are from the Doris Langley Moores book “the Woman in fashion” and see Etches posing in a dress from 1900(above) and 1913(top of post)
Moore used key people in fashion of the day for this book, so Ethces must have clearly been considered important enough in 1949 to be included!
(additional images from the V and A collections website)