The Polly Peck Touch

Today I am sharing the third in the Window on Fashion series from Woman and Beauty. This article focuses on the company Polly Peck and is in a large part an interview with designer Sybil (with little mention of Raymond, who was the companies chairman, at all!)

I have transcribed the article in full below. Sorry for the slightly rubbish pics of the original article, the magazines were all in a large bound volume, so it was difficult to get pics of the pages properly.

To see the Frederick Starke Woman and Beauty article click here

To see the Susan Small Woman and Beauty article click here

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The Polly Peck touch Woman and Beauty May 1961


Window on Fashion by Anne Barrie


It takes initiative and flair to build success. This is the portrait of a woman who has reached the heights in fashion.


Sybil Zelker, managing director and sole designer of Polly Peck dresses, is as vivid and arresting personality as the clothes she dreams up. Her first-floor office, a stone’s throw from Bond Street and the glittering Westbury Hotel, looks more like Aladdin’s cave than an executives work-place. Bales of brilliant silk, gossamer wools, pastel-shaded cottons line the walls and spill to the floor; half-open boxes reveal tumbled gold braid, crystal beading; and racks of tacked and pinned originals crowd the floor space.

At the far end of the room is an elegant, expansive but cluttered white leather and mahogany desk. In the small crowed space between the desk and the vast, floor-to-ceiling mirror which backs it, all Polly Peck dresses start life. Here, Sybil

Zelker drapes, swathes, twists and pins an uncut dress length until a design stakes shape, then drops everything to turn and sketch deftly on a large pad.

“I don’t begin with any clear-cut plan,” she says. ‘The fabrics inspire me as I go along. I find certain materials just cry out to be made into certain shapes.”

Working quickly and expertly, she can complete a design in as little as an hour- or as long as one day. Then comes the consultation with her chief design assistant. The first tough model is tacked into shape on a stand, reviewed, critiscised, altered- and reviewed again until it is perfect. Then, and only then, it is handed to the workroom to be reproduced a hundred or even a thousand times (an estimated 5,000 Polly Peck dresses leave the factory each week). All od this sounds tremendously high-powered, which is just what Sybil Zelker is not. Her attitude to life is relaxed and easy-going (husband Raymond Zelker, Polly Peck chairman, handles the business side, does most of the worrying). She is unaffectedly sophisticated and loves luxury as naturally as a beautiful Siamese cat does.

Her day begins around 8.30am with a slow, perfumed bath followed by breakfast (she invariably wears a frothy negligee) and two of three telephone calls to friends. At 10.15am the Zelker chauffeur manoeuvers their navy blue Rolls Royce into the curb outside the Regent’s Park flat, and minutes later Sybil settles into the pale blue back seat while he steers her to Conduit Street, and the Polly Peck building. At lunch-time, and again when work stops at 5.30pm, there may be drinks with friends. Dinner, cooked and served by the Zelkers’ housekeeper (Sybil admits, “I can cook, but don’t enjoy it”) is a family affair. Often, the Zelkers’ eighteen-year-old daughter, Heather, and husband Harvey, drop in to join them and their second daughter, fourteen-year-old Elizabeth.

During off-duty hours, the pattern is unvaried although the location may change. Summer holidays are spent at Cannes in the sun (“loafing”); weekends, walking in the country or, come summer, at their new seaside house (“soaking up sun again”); evening at home, listening to swing or Italian jazz records in their mauve-and-orange television room (‘just lazing”).

Sybil carries her love of fine, quality possessions into her clothes life. She admits to owning a clutch of furs- among them, a mink coat, jacket and stole- but won’t wear them until they have been remodeled. “Right now, they’re terribly outdated,” she says.

This is something she is absolutely firm about: her clothes must be right fashion-wise, and they must suit her. For instance, although square-toed shoes are the newest thing afoot, she dislikes them- therefore doesn’t own a single pair. She spends a lot on tailored clothes- coats and suits- and good leather accessories, but all her dresses are Polly Peck models. She uses jewellery sparingly (feels lukewarm about it) but with terrific effect: on the shoulder of a sleeveless beige jumper suit she’ll pin a magnificent gold-and-topaz brooch- and leave it at that.

As part of her meticulous grooming plan, she visits the hairdressers twice a week, feels “simply dreadful” if her hair is less than perfect. At present, her almost straight, thick blonde hair is cut in a bob-and-fringe which makes her look like a youthful art student.

When it comes to leisure clothes, Sybil is “mad about” pants- she owns ten pairs- and wears them whenever she can. But hers have nothing whatever in common with the Chelsea-blue-jeans variety. Each pair is faultlessly tailored usually in sugar-almond shades (pale green, lavender, pink) in silk and occasionally in stretch elastic; and each has its matching silk shirt of sleeveless silk jersey T-shirt. ‘Heaven preserve me from baggy pants and sloppy sweaters,” she says.

The quality she admires least in a woman is over-dressing. “Jangle-dangle jewellery, frills and peep-show blouses aren’t smart- just messy.” And the quality she admire mist? An air of unstudied casualness. It may take a woman many hours to achieve this, but when she does- that’s elegance.”

2 thoughts on “The Polly Peck Touch

  1. Pingback: Window on Fashion by Anne Barrie Spotlights Jean Allen | Advantage In Vintage

  2. Pingback: They created Frank Usher | Advantage In Vintage

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