Well where did it go? The Jacques Fath archive



                                                          Jacques Fath and model, 1951

The word I would probably use to describe my PhD research at the moment is “frustrating”, just when I am getting somewhere I hit a brick wall, where no further information can be found. At the moment the biggest query hanging over my research brain is the whereabouts of the Jacques Fath archive. I have long since been an admirer of Jacques Fath, however, I believe owing to his untimely death in 1954 (and subsequent closure of his couture house in 1957), that his work is not quite given the place it deserves.

In the past few month I have found myself becoming somewhat obsessed with Fath. In-depth analysis of a number of Frederick Starke garments, and further research in major publications led me to realise that in the late 1940s and early 1950s the designer that Starke was mostly copying/ adapting from was in fact Fath. Of course, this led me on the path of tracking down original Fath garments/ sketches. My search however has gone cold, and I am hoping by putting out something of a public appeal- someone might be able to help. in 2006 an archive of Jacques Fath work, containing over 3000 sketches went up for auction. However, after that the archive seems to have slipped off the face of the earth. I can find no mention of it, nor any items that were contained  within it since. So where did it go? Does a museum have it? Or did it end up in private hands? If anyone knows I would love to hear more…

When Sutton was fashionable…sort of

I’m from Sutton in Surrey/ Greater London a town that today is perhaps not best known for its fashion credentials, however there was once a very well respected fashion boutique in Sutton that I’ve been trying to trace the history of.

Whilst reading Raymond Zelker’s memoir “The Polly Peck Story” I was intrigued to read about a popular boutique called Renee Shaw in Sutton- even more so as it was owned by a lady called Renee Shaw, the wife of fashion wholesaler Samuel Sherman. Sherman owned the hugely successful brand Sambo (and its various spin off’s including Dollyrockers whom Patti Boyd famously modelled for early in her career), however until this point I had never heard of his wife…and so my investigations began.

My initial research didn’t get me very far. A single photo on Francis Frith demonstrated that in 1965 the shop was at the top of the high street, next to Lloyds bank, however owing to the angle of the photo it is difficult to see the shop frontage (link to photo here).

After finding this first image I didn’t get much further and put Renee Shaw to the back of my mind whilst continuing my PhD research into Frederick Starke. My only other reference found was in a Harper’s Bazaar editorial from December 1962 which suggested that Renee Shaw was stocking a Liberty Dress by Sambo. (See below)



I ALWAYS do my best research by accident though, and in the past two weeks have turned up two gems relating to Renee Shaw. Firstly, whilst going through a 1948 Frederick Starke showroom diary I found that Shaw was amongst the buyers at one of Starke’s shows. This suggested to me that the store was stocking high-end ready to wear merchandise and, it also demonstrated that the shop must have been open between at least c.1948-c.1965. This week however I struck (in my opinion) GOLD. Whilst flicking through obscure trade journal Fashion Trade Weekly I FINALLY found a picture of Renee Shaw’s shop after a revamp. Full text and picture below.

From the November 11th 1948 issue of Fashion Trade Weekly.


renee shaw


My question now has to be, who remembers Renee Shaw? I am sure there must still be a fair few people around who once frequented the shop. For reference (and anyone who knows Sutton today) Renee Shaw occupied the white part (can’t think of a better way to put it!) of Lloyds bank.

They created Frank Usher

So, I have now reached the final article in Anne Barrie’s Window on Fashion series focusing on Anne Bruh, the designer behind Frank Usher. Having reached the final article in the series it seems appropriate to reflect on the series as a whole. I was fascinated that the series profiles five companies- all of whom are a Husband (chairman/ financial side of the business) and Wife (designer) team apart from Frederick Starke. As ever Starke seems to be the “odd one out” in the series. However, I have contemplated why perhaps these five designers form the series- my thought is that they were all key members of the London Fashion House Group (the series includes all three men who were Chairman/ President of he Group Carr Jones, Zelker and Starke). Furthermore, both Bruh and Parry-Billings were part of the original membership of the group in ’58.

I would love to hear if you know anything more about the brands featured in the series- did you work for any of the firms perhaps?

To see the Jean Allen Window on Fashion article click here

To see the Polly Peck Window on Fashion article click here

To see the Susan Small Window on Fashion article click here

To see the Frederick Starke Window on Fashion article click here


They Created Frank Usher

Woman and beauty July 1961


A passion for perfection in all the elegant clothes which bear the Frank Usher label, says Anne Barrie


Once upon a time, a girl who yearned for a fabulous gown either had to part with her lifetime’s savings- or settle down to sew one herself. Not so today. Since Frank Usher came onto the fashion scene, any girl with a grand occasion ahead can but a grand ball gown to match, at a cost which won’t wreck a modest piggy bank.


Two people, Max and Anne Bruh, are responsible for this, by turning out couture-quality dresses with a low price tag. But it is Anne Bruh ( Max’s wife and co-director) who gives Frank Usher clothes their special, feminine allure. She is herself bewitchingly feminine, a brunette, with clear blue eyes, and a quick vital manner. When she speaks, she moves her hands, spiritedly, sketching out her words with dramatic gestures.


Born in the little German town of Wuppertal, Anne fled to England in 1939 when Hitler’s hordes began sweeping Europe and now regards this country as ‘home.’


In 1945, when the world rejoiced in its new-found peace, Anne and Max had their own private reason for celebrating; after a friendship which lasted throughout five war years, they were married. Max, with much valuable experience gained as a director of one of Berlin’s pre-war top fashion houses, was mustard-keen to start his own business- but this was no simple task in austerity Britain.


Characteristically, Max and Anne Bruh found the only way round the hampering restrictions- they discovered and bought an existing but almost defunct, firm named Frank Usher. ‘The name was good, so we kept it,” explained Anne Bruh, “Besides, it gave us such glorious anonymity.”


The years that followed were crammed with excitement and sheer hard work as the new Frank Usher struggled to its feet. “They were wonderful years,” recalls Anne. “We started off doing literally everything ourselves, even sweeping the floors.”


Two other major events punctuated those early years; the birth of a son, Stephen, and three years later, a second son, Robert. Anne’s feeling about her family is one of slightly anxious dedication. Although working full-tilt at her job, she unhesitatingly puts the children first even when it means “coming home bone-wear and having to lend a hand with knotty algebra problems.”


For this reason she has, until recently, firmly resisted sending either of the boys away to school (although Robert, at his own wish, Is now happily installed at boarding school); and she spends most evenings and weekends contentedly at home. The result is a harmonious, easy-going mother-sons relationship. “Holidays are the best fun of all,” she says. “When we go ski-ing, it’s Robert and Stephen who race me down the slopes, and tug me on to the dance floor later. It’s like having two dashing young escorts.”


Once the two junior Bruh’s became less dependent (they are now fifteen and twelve years old respectively), Anne was able to spend more time assisting Max, and eventually crystallised her present-day role in the firm: that of inter-department liaison and fashion arbiter. “My parents were coat and suit makers,” she says, “So I’d been absorbing fashion since I was knee-high, But the other part- the liaison- that’s the really vital job in a firm like ours. It’s knowing what fashion outline to promote- and how hard; what the public wants, and how far they can be persuaded.”


This rigorous training has given Anne a clear-sighted feeling about fashion. “When you live with clothes, you get to hate fussiness. I’d rather see a woman under-dressed than ovderdone any day. I love clear, singing colours that make your heart zing.”


She is sufficiently down-to-earth to realize that most women can only spend a moderate amount on their wardrobes, thinks vast expenditure is unnecessary anyway, but says “It’s nonsense to pretend you can be well-dressed on practically nothing.”


The important thing, she feels, is to posses a kind of prophetic fashion foresight, to be able to recognise fashion straws in the wind. “It’s no good knowing a good line after it has arrived. That way you’re only up-to-the-minute for one season. And when the fashion changes- pouf, you’re behind the times. To save money and be a pacesetter, you must sense an outline three seasons ahead, When it is still little more than a gleam in the designer’s eye. Then your clothes will be top-liners for several seasons.” Here are other ways in which Anne suggests cutting the clothes budget, yet remaining well-dressed: have one set of good accessories in black patent or neutral leather- and wear them with everything. Buy more expensive items (ball and cocktail dresses) in classic shapes and keep them for years, She says, “I have dresses in my wardrobe which I bought five years ago-and I wear them just as happily today.” Then she adds, “The really canny shopper never buys gimmicky clothes. After two, or three outings they are ready for the rag-bag, and that’s poor fashion sense whichever way you look at it.”


Soon the Bruh family will be exchanging their flat at Harrow-on-the-Hill for a brand-new, split-level house next to Hampstead Heath. Explained Anne: “ We’re having it specially built, and it has everything we ever dreamed of- chequerboard terrazzo floors, window-walls and a vast garden with even a pond and a weeping willow tree.”


The painstaking perfection which Anne Bruh put into planning their house is a clue to her life’s maxim. “There is no end to knowledge. I try to do everything as well as I can-and every day I learn a little more.” Maybe this is the quality that makes Frank Usher dresses outstanding- but isn’t that where we came in?