Of all the companies that were part of Anne Barrie’s Window on Fashion series Jean Allen was probably the one I knew the least about (and actually the one that there is the least information to be found about on the interwebs). It is perhaps unsurprising therefore that the article suggests she is a quiet person who shied away from publicity, to be honest I think I knew more of her Husband Kenneth, who dealt with the business side of the company (often quoted as N.K. Parry- Billings, his first name was Norman, but it seems he did not use it)
Window on Fashion by Anne Barrie Spotlights Jean Allen
Woman and Beauty June 1961
Jean Parry-Billings, better known as Jean Allen, is a brown-eyed blonde with a soft, slightly breathless voice and a smile which first crinkles her eyes and then lights her whole face. At 32, she is possibly London’s youngest well-known wholesale dress designer, is still charmingly baffled by her success, and puts most of it down to the drive, energy and insight of her husband and managing director, Kenneth Parry-Billings. In the blue and white living-room of their Belgravia mews house she talked about everything from Rome to good grooming, adding her idea on racing cars for good measure! We present her views here monologue-style, with occasional pertinent asides from her husband.
“The first thing I learnt about fashion- the designing end, I mean- is the marvelous, magical power of fabrics. I can dream up a dozen dresses, just while I’m holding some gorgeous, sumptuous cloth in my fingers. Naturally, I do the fabric buying, all of it. This is the one job I won’t hand over to anyone.”
“I have three design assistants. After all, nobody should be indispensable,” (Husband Kenneth: “She is though.”) “So if I break a leg or twist a knee the business will continue on its own momentum.
“Watching our dresses trundle out of the factory at the rate of 1,500 or so every week gives me a funny feeling. It’s hard to believe they’re all mine. You’d never think, would you, that we only started six years ago?” (Kenneth: “You should have seen her. Her designing was brilliant, but her book-keeping! That’s where I came in.”)
“True, He was marvelous. I was so grateful, I married him. Now he brilliantly takes care of all that tiresome business nonsense. He even make me do things I cringe from, like going to New York for two weeks. Honestly, I’d much rather stay at home. I adore fashion but I hate all the socializing that goes with it. Really, I’m terribly anti-social.
“My idea of perfect bliss is an evening at home with Kenneth. He glues himself to the television set, and I’m buried behind the newspaper, but each of us likes to know the other is there. I hate television. And we both hate London. If we had our way we’d drive down every night to Newdigate in Surrey were we have a simply heavenly house; five bedrooms, three dogs, five garden acres and two streams.
“I love it. We spend every weekend there, often with friends- gardening, talking, sitting in the sun if there is any. Kenneth tinkers with cars. He started life as an engineer, you know, and he has a passion for old, interesting and frantically expensive Cara with Character, I’m mad about cars, too, but the sleek, fast modern kind. Right now I own a Merced convertible. It’s white and navy blue- that’s my colour scheme- and all my cars in turn have had the same licence number: JA 1000.
“I think one of the greatest luxuries in the world is to have masses of time. Time to read, go to the theatre, do all the satisfying, worthwhile things one dreams of doing. The trouble with starting a new business is that one becomes absorbed by it. Everything else gets blotted out.
“I’ve lived and breathed fashion since I was sixteen. My cousin, Peggy Allen-an established couturiere-took me under her wing, taught me almost all I know. Then, when I wanted to start Jean Allen Dresses, she gave me a friendly push in the right direction and said, ‘Now you’re on your own.’ When she retired two years ago, I took over the business. Now I design collections- four main, and four mid-season-every year.
“Of course I go to all the big collections. Paris, Florence, Rome. Balenciaga is my absolutely favourite designer. Why? Simplicity. All his clothes are so incredibly elegant.
“I think Italians are the most elegant women as a whole; they pay meticulous attention to detail.
“For myself, give me pants and big, bulky sweaters every time.” (Kenneth: “Believe it or not, she owns thirty- and she’s still collecting.”)
“The most-often-worn dress in my wardrobe is a little black number. Every woman should have one. It’s a mainstay. Colours? I always choose cool, muted shades; beige is marvelous. Hot clashing colours just make my head ache.
“But what Kenneth and I both want most of all in the world is a large, joyful family around us.”