California cottons. Mystery solved.

Let’s be honest who DOESN’T love cracking a vintage mystery??? I love it when I uncover lost information on brands (this seems to be what my dissertation is all about at the moment…or rather the messy divorces of various 40s and 50s fashion bosses, but that is another story!) So imagine my delight last wednesday when I managed to discover (completely accidentally I will add)  a key part of the history behind the collectible California cottons company.

Lovely advert for California Cottons in Vanity Fair May 1958

For a long time I had known that the company was definitely British due to their advertising campaigns, but there was some confusion as to the “California” associations, then I found this article in a copy of the Daily Mail. To the ball 9th oct 1958 Iris Ashley “ What a wonderful material cotton has become. The Cinderella fabric can now, indeed, go to the ball. I give full marks to the California cottons show at the Dorchester yesterday evening. Here is high fashion in the form of high waisted dresses, some sheath, some front fitting trapeze lines. The satin cotton in modern Italian style prints will make winter party dresses for about £5. The California dress company is in fact British. But the designing is all done in Los Angeles by a team of young people. The director, Louis Rawlings, is convinced that clothes intended mainly to be worn in sunshine must be dreamed up in sunlight. But the actual fabric and dresses are made here. They have hit on a new gimmick too. In co-operation with a famous Hollywood beauty firm, a colour chart for lipstick and make up will be attatched to every dress. This tells the wearer the ideal tone of lipstick to wear with the dress colour and also the make-up base and powder tones suitable for her particular type (blonde, brunette or redhead) when worn with such a colour. It’s a neat job. And if you’ve ever seen a blue-pink lipstick worn with an apricot or orange-yellow dress, you’ll agree its useful too.” So there you go, mystery solved. Designed in California, made in Britain. And the make up they mention? That was a special collaboration with Maxfactor. IMG_4307 my lovely friend Holly in one of her dresses by the brand Read my previous post about California cottons here

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Finding “real” dresses in Vogue

Last week I got down to a very important section of my research for my MA dissertation that involved looking at every copy of British Vogue from 1945 to 1960. I haven’t quite got through them all yet, but I have managed the bulk!

My research turned up some interesting ideas/ adverts that will feed into my dissertation but also some fascinating images relating to Horrockses. I’ve been fastidious with keeping a record of any dresses from my collection that were advertised in the magazine, but on this look through I turned up three images that relate to pieces I own.

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First off this image

In this fashion sketch you can just about make out the giraffe print. I believe this is the same print that features on a dress from my personal collection. I had always suspected it dated between roughly 1952 and 1955, but this confirms that the dress dates to 1952. (featured in Vogue June 1952)

The caption reads as follows “Serene sightseer…gay, cool and appropriate all day in a red cotton print skirt, sleeveless black jersey, print scarf eith black reverse- wear it alternatively as a tiny shawl. By Horrockses, £7 19s.

I’ve seen the skirt version of this print in green before, so I am assuming this is what the editorial relates to.

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And here is the dress itself! I will soon have some better pics of this dress (I had it photographed last week) but this is a quick snap of it I took before it was repaired.

You can see this dress in further posts here and here (I’m wearing it in the second of these posts, but I’ll be honest I was feeling a *tad* worse for wear when these pictures were taken!)

And here is another dress I turned up in Vogue.

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Here is the original editorial.

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Here is the dress. I think the print is probably by Graham Sutherland. Sadly my example of this print has seen better days, the fabric under the arms is very thin, and perhaps beyond repair…if anyone thinks it can be tackled though do give me a shout. I’ve actually had this dress around 4 years now but have never shared it on the blog before owing to its poor condition.

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Interestingly you can see that the print also features in the Horrockses book, although you only see a tiny sliver of the fabric in the book, which does not even slightly convey how exciting the print is in reality. I think this whole design must have been an exclusive for Liberty because both the book and Vogue state it as an exclusive despite the two dress designs being slightly different.

And finally do you remember my excitement after I purchased this number the other week?

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Well, I found this featured in Vogue too! (sorry about my bra straps in the second picture, eugh, pet hate).

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Here it is featured in february 1954. It was priced at 4gns, which for a Horrockses was actually very cheap (most were 6gns minimum) I have to admit that the construction of this one isn’t as good as many of my other Horrockses aree, which maybe accounts as to why the price was much lower.

Laura Ashley: Romantic heroine at Bath Fashion museum

I’m down in Hampshire this weekend doing some research for my masters dissertation, but whilst i was down sarf’ I though it would be rude not to take a trip to Bath and view the Laura Ashley exhibition on there (particularly seeing as I am currently obsessed with the brand).

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The exhibition is a fabulous trip into the Laura Ashley brand, perfectly capturing a particularly period during the 1970s when Laura Ashley defined the zeitgeist for a return to floaty Victoriana.

What the exhibition gives you a great idea of is the re-use and readaption of prints. Changing garment shapes and applying the same print, changing colours and actually chaning the complete feel of the dress.

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Personal favouirtes for me were the dresses that featured Bloomsbury -esque prints in zingy lime and hot pink. (the lime dress here features the same print as the dress I wore to the LA press day)

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One of the strongest aspects of the exhibition for me was the labels. These dresses were expertly put into context with the stories of the original owners coming through and making you really examine the dresses. They also helped to give a real idea of the Laura Ashley store experience from a customers point of view.

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I adored this patchwork skirt that was made from scraps of Laura Ashley fabric in the 1970s.

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There were a couple of garments where you could see Laura may have missed the mark and gone too far in re-creating the Victorian look, but these were interesting nonetheless…

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There were even a few garments that showed the slightly sexier side of Laura Ashley (MASSIVE WANT towards the green dress seen here!)

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As you can see from my pictures you could get up nice and close to the dresses, and really have the chance to examine them closely. The space (as you rarely find with fashion exhibitions) was light and airy giving a chance for a real appreciation of the colour and texture of the dresses. A great job on keeping the public far enough away not to be able to touch, yet close enough to be able to see the detail.

Criticism? A few minor niggles really. I would have like to have seen more than just dresses in the exhibition, I feel that there was not enough about Laura’s design process (sketches and fabric swatch books as seen at the archive mini exhibition would have been great). One of my other favourites is the matching mother and daughter outfits, which there was not one of in the exhibition. The few children’s dresses were not matching to adult ones at all. Also, I fully understand that the scope of the exhibition was just to concentrate on a brief period of the Laura Ashley story, but unless you are a fashion history nut like me I’m not sure how interesting it would be to see 90+ very similar dresses. But overall these critiscims are only slight and I passed a delightful two hours looking around, I also had a great chat with the FOH. Top marks Bath Fashion museum for your friendly staff (even if I did have to pay despite having ICOM membership!)

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My advice? Get down to Bath before the exhibiton finishes on the 26th August, it will be moving on to the Bowes museum next.