I can’t find any information online about it, but a friend has told me that the wonderful Marit Allen has passed away. The name might be meaningless to most of you, but she was instrumental in the careers of people like John Bates and Ossie Clark.
She worked as the ‘Young Ideas’ editor at Vogue in the mid-Sixties and her youthful approach to the clothes, styling and photographs ensured that the designs popular out on the street became widely appreciated through exposure in Vogue. She championed the young Bates, thus enabling him to continue creating the designs he had been struggling to get noticed with. Young Ideas also featured Ossie Clark’s work in the same summer that he graduated from the RCA and started working for Quorum, so Marit was certainly a visionary and true talent-spotter!
She accumulated a vast archive of pieces from the British Boutique Movement, including her wedding suit which was a Bates design, and this collection filled many gaps in the V&A’s Sixties Exhibition last year. I was ridiculously proud that my handful of pieces were being exhibited alongside hers.
She later developed a career in costume design, being designer for films like Brokeback Mountain and Thunderbirds (amongst many others).
I also had the very, VERY great pleasure of meeting her in January at a study day linked with the Sixties exhibition at the V&A. In retrospect, she was possibly the person I was the most excited about hearing speak and then meeting. And bearing in mind that Barbara Hulanicki and Foale & Tuffin were also in attendance, well that’s saying something about my respect for Marit.
It was so lovely to hear her talk about her experiences and views on the era, with photographs and thoughts on the designers. I had begun to think that the day would pass by with no mention of John Bates’ contribution to British fashion but, as in the Boutique book by Marnie Fogg, Marit sought to emphasize his talent and defend his forgotten claim to have been the first designer to really ‘do’ the mini skirt. And with Mary Quant herself in attendance, it was a brave move. The talk was only too brief, most frustrating that it was curtailed to keep the timing of the day and give Mary Quant more time to witter on about her make-up range and how she ‘invented’ the duvet cover (I kid ye not). I wanted to listen to Marit forever, and to see all her photos and hear all her experiences.
Thankfully I summoned up the courage to speak with her afterwards. I somehow found myself turning around to face her, and realised this was my big chance. We chatted a little about Bates, I told her about my collection and how grateful I was that she had mentioned him (we agreed he was a very underrated talent) and about how unlikely it was that such a boom time in British fashion would ever happen again. Mainly due to the cost of clothing production and shop rental in London.
Now, even more than before, I’m so glad I had those brief few moments speaking with her. I am so in awe of her talent and vision and, in a week where we’ve also lost the wondrous TV producer Verity Lambert, the world is a much gloomier place without these pioneering women.
Above and Right: Two photos from Marit’s Young Ideas section of Vogue. John Bates designs from 1965 above and Twiggy in Foale and Tuffin from 1967 on the right.
Well, admittedly it’s mainly on Seventies sitcoms and light entertainment shows (John Bates really was dressing the masses at one point in the early Seventies) which are only funny places in that….well, they’re funny ‘ha ha’ rather than funny weird.
But I was amused to find one of my favourite Sixties Varons in a bra advert of all places. Demonstrating how this bra was perfect for low cut dresses such as this one.
Well no amount of industrial boob-hoicking and padding could give me the kind of cleavage they’re promising (trust me, I’ve tried on this dress many times and realised I just don’t have John Bates’ ideal boobs….much like Diana Rigg apparently!) but it’s still nice to see it being worn, albeit in a very revealing way!
P.S Please excuse the terrible photo of the dress on the left….it’s about time I overhauled my collection photographs!
A little visual fondant fancy to take away the bad taste left by news of the tacky Ossie Clark label relaunch, here are some originals and proof that the magic will never be recreated (not least because Celia’s prints are contracted to Topshop these days). Save your hard earned money and buy an original, who knows which fabulous Sixties beauty might have once worn it?
I was a misunderstood teenager. When I was fourteen my long dark hair, pale skin and propensity to don long jingly jangly skirts, boots and big jumpers was perceived as gothic. I actually resented being called a Goth, I knew I was really a hippy. I’ve been through plenty of styles since then but it usually comes back to the same thing, no matter how much the likes of Sienna Miller may kill the look through over-exposure.
I still burn incense, I still have long wavy (normally fairly unstyled) hair and I still favour chiffons and appliques and beads…oh my. But now I’m a grown up (!) I prefer the luxurious look, I take inspiration from the designs of Thea Porter, Janice Wainwright (in the Poland Street era) and of course from Ossie Clark.
I have worn my flares with pride throughout this whole skinny jean phenomenon (although I’m not averse to them either, I only wear them Jo Grant style – tucked into my Seventies boots) and my burgundy velour Louis Caring frock coat with the too-short sleeves has suddenly started to garner compliments from strangers. Despite the fact I’ve been wearing it to death these past four years.
Flicking through my Vogues once more for inspiration, both for my listings, my personal style and in an attempt to update this blog more regularly, I was entranced by two fashion spreads in a July 1969 Vogue. The first I will post now, the second I will post tomorrow I hope (too much eye candy rots your teeth!).
Photographed in Wales by Norman Parkinson, clothes by Gina Fratini, Thea Porter and Susan Small (who’da thunk it??) in the most astonishing surroundings. This is luxe hippy at its finest, like a dressing up box of styles, fabrics and moods…..
It’s not all doom and gloom here chez Ms. Peelpants. I spend about as much time worrying about relaunches and the commercialisation of vintage as those responsible deserve, which isn’t much. In the meantime, aside from my continued search for the most beautiful and varied vintage pieces I can offer my customers, I have listed all manner of new pretty pretties on the website and over on ebay. Here are some of my favourites, but please do check out the rest – it’s hard to choose!
It’s easy to forget just how good a designer Jeff Banks really is. When someone like Ossie Clark burns bright and brief, it’s easy to idolise them for their genius. When, as with Jeff Banks, a designer manages to forge a successful career in the mainstream for the best part of forty years…well, you take them for granted don’t you? But Seventies Jeff Banks was in his element with gorgeously printed cool rayons, crepes and cottons. All puffed and fluttered sleeves, flippy little skirts and some stunning cutting.
This is a particularly adorable example, and only on offer because it doesn’t fit me – because it is otherwise one of the most fabulous dresses I’ve seen! I’m a sucker for a mixed print delight, and this is the most delightful! £195 over at Vintage-a-Peel….
Next up is possibly the single most incredible Biba I’ve yet seen. I know I seem to say that everytime I come across a new one….but Barbara Hulanicki never fails to delight me with something completely more amazing than the last completely amazing piece I’ve found!
A superb early 1970s jumpsuit, made from that delicious slinky nylon jersey they were so well known for, the scrumptious claret and cream colours are as vivid as ever and the horse-racing repeat print as an absolute delight! Long, languorous and lean….wildly decadent and evocative of the time. Just add a feather capelet, heavily kohled eyes and a perfect cupid’s bow claret-shaded pout…. £395 over at Vintage-a-Peel….
Harder to pick out some highlights on ebay this week, mainly because there are a cavalcade of big names (two Bibas, a Bus Stop, an Ossie Clark and a Janice Wainwright) so please do go and check out what else is there other than these two highlights.
Unsigned (but utterly amazing):
Luxurious bohemian style with this wonderful chocolate velvet smocked dress. Printed in a delicious, subtle floral pattern on super soft brown velvet. I love the billowing sleeves, the very flattering smocked bust and the ultra-wearable midi length. Wear with big, wavy hair and big, smokey eyes for a scrumptious winter look. £22 starting bid over on ebay…..
Words don’t even begin to convey just how extraordinarily beautiful this piece by John Bates for his Jean Varon label is. Ethereal, soft grey chiffon tumbles falls like tendrils down the front and sleeves….beautifully decorated with sequins and beads. Layered over a pink taffeta lining, it has such wonderful movement and transluscence as the chiffon is layered over the top. These dresses were often cut as straight smocks but this beauty is fitted in the waist and has its original chiffon tie which just as beautifully drapes further down the skirt. £38 starting bid over on ebay…
Well, I have some….but they don’t seem sufficient. The UK fashion industry is giving me anger fatigue. I almost don’t have the strength to express my fury any more.
I fear I may bore my dear readers with my irregular but frequently feisty postings on these things, but if I cannot vent to fellow vintage lovers then….well, who can I vent to?
Yes, in case you haven’t guessed yet….the Ossie Clark relaunch saga.
Imagine my spluttering and gobsmacked face when I heard the news from dear Senti, followed up by reading all the fatuous spoutings of the press about how ‘wonderful’ this was and how so much money was being invested in it.
It continues to baffle me how these people could possibly think these relaunches are a good idea? Please, please do invest money in the British fashion industry. God knows it needs it so badly. But please, please invest your money in new, talented designers with a mind of their own. The true Ossies of this world, if you will.
Ossie himself would have been horrified beyond words to see his legacy thus violated and cheapened by these money-grabbing cretins. I never met the man (certainly my fantasy dinner party guest of honour) but surely the notion of some poor new designer just barely out of their degree show re-issuing his genius creations would have been abhorrent to him.
They speak of the ‘House of Ossie Clark’ as though he were a couture house in the manner of Chanel or Dior. The V&A exhibition may have conferred the title ‘couture’ upon his own label creations, but Ossie was no ‘house’. He was a maverick, a genius with no head for business and a complete lack of consistency in his output. It was only really the guiding hand of Alice Pollock which managed to keep things ticking over, and the creative input of Celia Birtwell which continued to inspire his work.
But this is no re-opening of the ‘House of Ossie Clark’ as they try to persuade us. This new designer, whoever the poor sod may be, will no doubt be simply producing carbon copies of the originals. A puppet designer with someone else pulling the [purse]strings. A la Bella Freud for Biba. And look at how badly that relaunch is doing. This is duplication, as cheap and tacky as the Kate Moss Topshop/Lee Bender debacle. They see the prices vintage sellers get for hard-won and rare originals, and they want a piece of the action. But needless to say, Ossies don’t turn up around every corner…
…so what to do? What to do?? Hmmm……
Yes! Let’s copy them and sell them for the price of an original. Who cares that we’re cheapening the originals and the Ossie legacy?
Well I care. I know it’s crap that vintage Ossies are so pricey, and that not every girl who wants one can afford one. But how is this going to help matters? They’ll still be only for the select few who can afford them, or even get hold of them, and eventually everyone’s bored of Ossie Clark and the magic will be lost. Then it’s a case of why bother taking care of the legacy, the originals, if no one wants them anymore? These ventures are damaging and self-indulgent.