Permission to wax lyrical about this gorgeous gown from Horrockses, please Miss! It’s possibly one of the most beautiful 1950s evening gowns I’ve ever seen, definitely the most beautiful Horrockses thus far (but it’s a close call between some other lovelies I’ve had/have). Not only is it beautifully draped and fitted around the bodice, not only is the print reminiscent of watered silk gowns from the 18th Century, but it has the most technically brilliant drape of fabric up the back and attached to the single shoulder strap. The drape is completely integral to the fabric of the skirt which gives such a beautiful flow up and down the back of the dress.
Then they go and top it off with a big don’t-mess-with-me bow! All this, and it’s entirely made of cotton so you can just chuck it in the washing machine when you get back from your swishy do! It feels amazing to wear pure cotton in summer, so imagine how smug and cool you’ll feel while all around you are sweltering in man-made fibres!
Before World War II, Horrockses manufactured printed cottons for the thriving home dressmaking industry. In the 1950s, with a demand for affordable ready-to-wear pieces in the wake of Dior’s New Look, they started producing their own collections of daydresses, eveningwear and beachwear. In the era of rationing, cotton was cheap, durable and easy to work with. Their prints were vibrant, modern and fun!
Oh! how do I love thee, Horrockses….let me count the ways!Thank you for cheering up Britain’s post-war women with your affordable, wearable, and utterly gorgeous cotton frocks! Thank you for enabling British women to have enormous full skirts during rationing! Thank you for making them in hard-wearing cotton. We salute you!
What baffles me is the inverse ratio between the rarity of Foale and Tuffin, and the prices they command. I think Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin were arguably a greater talent than Mary Quant. And they certainly knew when to call it quits and draw back gracefully from the fashion world (they both ‘retired’ in 1973 to spend more time with their families). Licensing? They wouldn’t have dreamed of it. Yes, MQ, I’m looking at you in your waterproof poncho – don’t think I can’t see you!
Their early work was vibrant, youthful, fun and always exquisitely tailored. They originated trouser suits for women (yet another creative theft by Yves Saint Laurent ensured they rarely get credited for this – more rantings on him some other time…), used the ‘op art’ trend in a quirky way (rather like my other passion, John Bates) and helped build the Carnaby Street image – the driving force behind the emergence of Britain as a world leader in fashion.
They moved easily into the softer look of the late 60s and early 70s, continuing to favour Liberty prints and did all sorts of lovely frilled and flared things. In retrospect, their decision to quit in 1973 seems really rather intelligent. The mid-late 70s saw the crash and burn phenomenon of so many designers, Ossie Clark and Barbara Hulanicki at Biba being the most notable casualties. So they got out at the right time.
Their work is fairly rare. Goodness only knows why, you can hardly miss the label! They were a popular fixture in Vogue and a big part of the Youthquake British Invasion of the USA in 1965.
However, in recent months (after loudly bemoaning the non-existence of ANY F&T pieces in my personal collection) I seem to have accumulated a nice little collection of their work. I still sit here, look at the frocks and think; “How the HECK did I manage that?”. I have my limits as to how much I will pay for pieces for my collection, it’s just that the prices have been shockingly low for what they are. Even the recent Kerry Taylor auctions sale for Sothebys sold two Foale and Tuffin frocks (early 70s) for the opening bid of £100. I recall one of the major US auction houses sold two Foales not that long ago for a similar price.
So, while I can’t complain on a personal level that the prices aren’t really reflecting the rarity and beauty of their work – it does seem utterly wrong. Mary Quant’s work is fairly cheap these days – especially considering her cultural importance. But F&T didn’t license their names to death. So in reality, they should be making a whole lot more.
Just a little rant. I feel much the same way about Gerald McCann. I guess I’ll just have to keep collecting these labels rather than selling them! *sigh*
Herein lies previews of upcoming pieces for sale on ebay and on the Vintage-a-Peel website, highlights from my personal collection and musings upon the world of vintage clothing and other cultural curiosities.