This year I’ve decided to go back to my roots a bit more with more posts around fashion history. I’m going to aim for one informative post a week (lets see if I can actually keep up with this!). Last week I gave you Mariano Fortuny. This week Rae Spencer-Cullen.
Rae Spencer-Cullen was the designer of the fabulous Miss Mouse label. Miss Mouse is one of the first brands to really capture the spirit of the first 50s revival that hit in the early to mid 70s. This revival spirit was well documented in the recent Pop! Exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Spencer-Cullen was one of a small group of designers who were using the kitsch spirit of the 50s and re-inventing it for a modern audience.
Two Miss Mouse garments in the recent Pop! exhibition.
I have two pieces of Miss Mouse clothing, which I think account for some of the most collectible items I own.
My two Miss Mouse dresses
This was the first Miss Mouse dress I purchased- and I believe accounts for her earlier label- definitely in use until 1974.
My dress dates to 1974-This is known as there is an example of the fabric in the Victoria and Albert museum.
The label found in the earlier examples of Miss Mouse garments
My second Miss Mouse dress
The later Miss Mouse label
This is another example of a Miss Mouse dress in the Victoria and Albert museum which I think really exemplifies the kitsch spirit of the brand.
This dress- like mine also dates to 1974. The dates of these items are particularly fascinating, how do we know they categorically date to 1974? Well, the dress above and the fabric for my dress both featured in one of the Victoria and Albert museums first exhibitions to focus on contemporary fashion. The fabric of pop.
The original exhibition poster from The fabric of pop.
From the fabric of pop exhibition catalogue
“Pop Art’s influence on textile and fashion design owned all it’s inspiration and much of its success to our mass-produced urban culture. It found it’s full expression in the commercialism it poked fun at and came full circle by ending up on the pages of those glossy magazines that has originally proved pop art with much of its imagery.”
And just a few more examples of garments that featured in the Fabric of pop. I think you can see how the items in this exhibition show distinct similarities to those that featured in the recent exhibition at the Fashion an textile museum.
“Fred” fabric- 1973- Lloyd Johnson
Raspberry lips fabric- Designed by Jane Wealleans for Ok textiles Ltd.- 1973
And now, back to Miss Mouse. Here are a few items of Miss Mouse clothing that particular captured both my imagination and the spirit of Spencer-Cullen’s design.
I’ve discovered that the museum of fine arts in Boston has the blouse version of my dress
This INSANELY fabulous coat, which actually matches my dress was sold by Liz Eggleston a few years ago, I remember the intense swooning over it at the time it was for sale.
Fab red polka dot example. This red polka dot was a signature of Miss Mouse designs and often featured on the linings of Rae-Cullen’s garments.
This sensational and (less typical) example of Miss mouse comes from Manchester City galleries
According to a Glagow Herald article in 1976 Spencer-Cullen started designing her quirky pieces in 1970.
As the article suggests, to begin with “she was elusive, hazed in shadows, a real mouse about publicity in fact. The only evidence of her existence was her clothes”
Her designs are described as “cheerfully schizophrenic”, which I think accurately captures the haphazard spirit with designs borrowed from the 50s but made entirely new.
“In summer her designs always seem especially right, breaking through winters dinginess to show off Lucy Locket pockets, drainpipe trousers in deckchair stripes, sweetheart necklines and shimmering raincoats”
I’m particularly interested by the “flowery skirts in cotton with detatchable lucy locket pockets” suggested in the article (I’ve never seen one of these but I’m guessing it is like a Dorothy bag). If anyone has come across a Miss Mouse example of this, please do let me know!
Spencer-Cullen was a young designer in the 70s. In 1976 she was just 29, suggesting that when she started her company she was a mere 23. Her spirit imagination and quirky spirit are all hugely appealing. Well known for having at periods her hair either crimson or emerald, she was an alternative designer yet was clearly highly commercial.
In 1976 Harpers Bazaar stated she was one of the “leading style innovators” and
West one magazine stated she (along with Vivienne Westwood) had the strongest style in London. Rae Spencer-Cullen certainly must have been a fashion force to reckon with.
(I’m going hunting for these issues as soon as my work load eases in the NAL)
Rae Spencer-Cullen and Duggie Fields. One of the few photos I could find of eponymous designer.
I’ll be honest- at the moment I’m struggling to find that much indepth information about the brand, but I’m currently contemplating writing about the 50s revival in the early 70s for my masters dissertation (along with about three million other topics that are floating around in my head) so watch this space for more information about the brand!
Additional information from: