Haberdashery is a drug

20160723_103423The traditional haberdasher is a dying breed, certainly so far as the UK high street is concerned.  I vividly remember childhood trips with my mother to our local haberdasher.  It was a large shop arranged over two storeys, huge cylinders of heavy furnishing fabric lining the walls.  Upstairs on the first floor were the pattern books, where I could (and frequently did) spend hours browsing, enjoying the images and the deferred pleasure of choosing a fabric once I’d settled on a pattern.  That shop is long gone but thanks to a large local immigrant population, an adjacent street is full of small shops selling bolts of iridescent, sparkling sari silks, block printed cottons and lurexes.  I expect children visit those shops experiencing just the same rush of excitement.

Just as the high street haberdasher has evolved, so has the specialist.  Online presence is essential but lucky London and Paris dwellers have access to two really exceptional treasure troves.  If you have not yet discovered them, or if you are visiting either capital, these places are not to be missed.

L20160723_103352ondon’s Marylebone is home to the gorgeous V V Rouleaux.  One window invites you to peruse rack upon rack of velvet, satin or petersham ribbon in every imaginable colour.  The other window showcases a display of hats sporting some of their exotic trimmings.  Inside, it feels a little like a kind of mad milliners’ rainforest – ribbons dangle like lianas; brightly-coloured plumage flashes across your path, furry beasts lurk in the corners, button eyes glitter out of the shadows.  It is a completely overwhelming experience.

On a more serious note, the range of trimmings on offer is simply astounding and includes unique vintage stock as well as modern products.  Best of all they also offer all kinds of tutorials and not only for millinery but trimming for any purpose, whether clothing, accessories or home furnishing.  A word of warning before you go: allow time to explore this shop. On my first visit I lost track of time completely and ended up hot-footing it off down the street, late for my next appointment.  Haberdashery can do that.

20160811_124304Paris’s Ultramod was established in the nineteenth century in what used to be the milliners’ quarter of the city.  By the 1920s it had diversified into haberdashery, gradually amassing stocks of ribbons and trimmings of all kinds, most of which it managed to preserve through two world wars.  This keen sense of preservation seems to have set the business model that it still follows today.  On one side of rue de Choiseul, you find the modern haberdasher, filled to the rafters with reel upon reel of brightly coloured thread, racks of buttons, rolls of fabric and all kinds of sewing equipment.  On the opposite side, open only on request, is the specialist millinery shop still selling the historic stock amassed by the owners over more than a century.  Here you will find dusty wooden cartwheel brim blocks, nestling alongside 1960s turban hats, while racks of fur felt cones line the walls.  If you ask, they can show you box after box of antique veiling in more patterns than you could possibly imagine.  As you wander between the racks, you get the distinct feeling that coming upon a gallic Miss Havisham, perfectly-preserved and still shopping for her hats would not come as any surprise.    It is a time capsule, a place of endless discovery and a box of delights.20160811_130205

Not to be outdone, Manhattan still has some marvellous haberdashers and millinery suppliers in its garment district.  Check out the top locations, recommended by the ladies at Atelier Millinery and by Albertus Swanepoel to plan your walking tour.



A makers guide to New York


Peacock and Vine

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Fortuny Delphos gown, Musee des Arts Decoratifs Paris, Fashion Forward, 3 Siecles de mode (1715-2016) Exhibition



A perennial fashion question is whether male designers really like women. Some clearly do. In Wim Wenders’s splendid 1989 documentary about Yohji Yamamoto, Notebook on cities and clothes, the Japanese designer speaks direct to camera about how, through his design, he is asking women “How can I help you?”. Yves Saint Laurent made similar comments in interviews and is remembered now as the designer who made trousers for women widely acceptable as a glamourous option, not just workwear.

It is a 20160817_193833strong theme in Peacock and Vine, A.S. Byatt’s eloquent and beautiful book about the work of William Morris and Mario Fortuny: both designers were powerfully inspired by the women in their lives. The two make an interesting contrast. Morris, a left-leaning Brit, was inspired to create stunningly beautiful applied arts by a childhood of forest-exploration that led to a lifelong love of nature. Fortuny, an aristocratic Spaniard, whose family moved to Venice because of his childhood asthma, derived his natural inspiration from light and its reflection and refraction.

Any fashion fan will associate Fortuny with the Delphos gown – the sublimation into apparel of light itself through a still-undiscovered silk pleating technique that caresses the female curve, flattering and highlighting as the light hits it. The gowns still occasionally come up for auction and are as wearable today as they were when they were first patented in 1909. What is really fascinating in this book is the insight into the scope of Fortuny’s amazingly inventive mind: textiles and clothing were just one aspect of a range of art, craft and technological skill focused almost obsessively on capturing and transmitting light.

There were other influences too. Greek mythology and archaeology influenced the classical and sculptural style of the Delphos gown. Fortuny’s travel in Greece and North Africa inspired painted and etched patterns in velvet and silk featuring lush forests of leaves, fruits and flowers. These are the exotic counterparts to Morris’s very British honeysuckles, thrushes and willows.

The women? Morris’s story was a sad one. He is said to have commented of his beloved wife, Jane, “I cannot paint you, but I love you”. Jane loved Morris’s contemporary and sometime collaborator, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the two conducted an open affair, causing Morris great pain. Fortuny’s marriage to Henriette came later in his life (due to family disapproval) but seems to have been happier and more stable, Henriette working alongside him in the workshop. His mother, Cecilia de Madrazo came from a family of artists and architects and amassed an enviable collection of antique textiles. One can easily imagine a young Fortuny marvelling at medieval embellished velvets and silks, storing away memories for later use.

This lovely book will give you a new perspective on two profoundly influential designers but it is also an exceptionally beautiful read in itself. I’m already re-reading it and it has gone straight into my list of the greatest fashion books ever written (see it here).

Shortly after reading this, I came face-to-face with a Delphos gown at Paris’s Musee des Arts Decoratifs during their recent exhibition, Fashion Forward, 3 siècles de mode (1715-2016). It shimmered as if it was its own light source, so tactile that it was almost impossible to resist reaching out to stroke it. With the light that shone from its curves, it was also transmitting an air of relaxation, comfort and quiet but powerful confidence. What greater help could a designer offer to a woman?

Royal milliners on the big screen: Frederick Fox

Diana Rigg demonstrating advanced hat insouciance in Evil under the Sun


Walking around Buckingham Palace’s excellent ‘Fashioning a Reign’ exhibition of the Queen’s wardrobe, I was particularly struck by the variety of hats on show.  A long display case arranged chronologically, charts the evolution of the Queen’s style with changing fashions and changes to the Royal Warrant holders over the decades.  There are some really stunning hats on show but my personal favourites were some of the earliest examples, made by Aage Thaarup in the 1940s and 50s and those from the 1980s made by Frederick Fox.

Aage Thaarup was a Danish milliner, working in London from the 1930s to the 70s.  A talent for styling rather than formal millinery training was the foundation of his success.  He supplied hats to the Queen Mother and then to the Queen herself in the 40s and 50s, gaining his royal warrant from the Queen until 1961.

Frederick Fox was an Australian who had begun designing hats from his early childhood before becoming established as a couture milliner after his move to the UK in 1958.  His Royal Warrant followed in 1974 and became one the queen’s longest-serving milliners, supplying around 350 hats for the queen as well as for numerous other members of the royal family, including Diana, Princess of Wales. 20160806_220327

 Both milliners produced hats for films and their very glamorous and sometimes flamboyant styles really appealed to me.  It also sent me back to watch, again, the 1982 film of Agatha Christie’s ‘Evil under the Sun’ for which Fox designed the hats.  Though I’d never thought of it before as being a ‘fashion’ film, it is a movie that displays some amazing 1930s style and virtually no scene in which hats don’t take a starring role.

F20160806_204232ox shows himself to be the master of a swooping-brimmed capeline, a jauntily-angled trilby, and a super-glam beach turban.  There is also a beautiful range of men’s straw hats on show, with James Mason elegant in a classic boater, Denis Quilley in a dashing panama and Peter Ustinov matching Poirot’s Edwardian spats with a chronologically-appropriate up-turned brim style Panama typical of that age.  A great visual treat for all sorts of reasons.

Costume designer for the film, Anthony Powell 20160806_204803won a well-deserved Oscar in 1979 for his work on ‘Death on the Nile’ but inexplicably not for this film too.  If his work and name looks familiar, then it may be because he is the cousin of Sandy Powell, who recently delivered the incredibly beautiful wardobes for the film Carol.

Is HRH the Prince of Wales the UK’s best-dressed Prince of all time?


Benson & Clegg, displaying the Prince of Wales feathers proudly in the window of their picturesque Piccadilly Arcade shop


 GQ Magazine posed this question in a wonderful piece in July 2012 paying tribute to the Prince of Wales’s unique style blend of the traditional, the flamboyant and the slightly eccentric.  The Prince is not the first of the Windsors to be noted for his style.  His great uncle, also Prince of Wales and later Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor, was famous for his flamboyant style, sporting plus fours, Oxford bags and daringly fat-knotted ties (the ‘Windsor’ knot has something of a racy reputation in certain circles). The Prince’s father, George VI displayed a rather more traditional approach though in every photograph, comes across looking at ease with his style.

Prince Charles’s own style seems to meld influences from both his forbears, as well perhaps as his own grandmother, the Queen Mother.  This is not at outlandish as it might sound.  The Queen Mother was closely associated with pastel colours – a style she evolved over time but especially during the Second World War.  Dark colours could have seemed too sombre at a time when keeping national spirits up was a priority and death and destruction a daily occurrence and pastel colours also made her visible when out and about in public.  The Prince today frequently combines traditional tailoring, often in the pale grey Prince of Wales check, with pastel colours in shirt, handkerchief, tie and socks.

He also occasionally uses his dress to express his great interest in ethnic culture, religion and society.  This can be close to home, for example he launched the Campaign For Wool in 2008 and champions the use of native British tweeds and tartans.  In an episode of the British Sunday evening slice of rural life, Countryfile, HRH was interviewed against a backdrop of hedge maintenance at Highgrove, wearing the ancient field jacket he uses for this work.  It had been patched so extensively that it was almost impossible to discern its original lines.  Clarence House later revealed the original manufacturer to have been John Partridge, a Staffordshire firm and that the jacket itself had been bought around 15 years previously.

The Prince’s taste for the unique also embraces global influences. In 2014, London’s Garden Museum hosted an exhibition of fashion inspired by gardens.  Though it boasted a couture Valentino gown, it was the Prince’s gardening coat that stole the show.  Strictly speaking it is a Chitrali, a full-length robe worn in the mountains of Pakistan.  To the Western eye it resembles a rather grand dressing gown but the genius of this garment is its combination of practicality with statement style.  Sufficient on its own to signal the wearer’s individuality, it makes it the easiest garment to wear and endlessly adaptable whether it is layered over shirt and suit trousers, casual clothing, sportswear – anything.

 Though we may never know who made the coveted gardening robe, thanks to the royal 20160805_175659warrant system we do know who makes the majority of the Prince’s wardrobe.  Warrant holders may display the words “By Appointment to HRH The Prince of Wales” and distinctive three feathers badge.  The companies must fulfil strict criteria to qualify and, in the Prince’s case, an additional requirement to meet a code of good environmental practice. Scroll to the end for the list of warrant holders to the Prince for clothing and accessories as of August 2016.  It is an impressive showcase of British manufacturing and artisanship. The list of warrant holders changes every so often and can be found at https://www.royalwarrant.org.

James Lock & Co, supply hats and caps, from formal styles like regimental headwear and top hats to leisurewear like tweed caps.

Lobb 20160805_175918remains a family business tracing its St James boot-making history back four generations.  The Prince has been a customer since 1971.  Tricker’s of Jermyn Street also hold a warrant from the Prince for shoes and as the proud owner of a pair of decade-old Tricker’s brogues myself I can attest to their indestructible qualities and utter comfort.  I’m currently eyeing up a pair of their black ghillies for my next purchase.20160805_180258

Anderson & Sheppard is the Saville Row tailor that makes the Prince’s familiar double-breasted suits, including those in his signature ‘Prince of Wales’ check.  They also made him a double-breasted herringbone tweed overcoat that is still a familiar fixture in the Prince’s winter wardrobe, almost thirty years after it was made.

Turnbull20160805_180531 & Asser of Jermyn Street hold the Prince’s Royal Warrant for shirt-making

List of the Prince of Wales royal warrant holders for clothing and accessories as at August 2016: Anderson & Sheppard Ltd (Tailors), Saville Row; Benson & Clegg Ltd (Buttons, badges, military neckwear), Jermyn St; Burberry Ltd (Outfitters), London; Corgi Hosiery Ltd (Knitwear and hosiery), Carmarthenshire, S Wales; Daks Ltd (Outfitters), Old Bond St; Dents Ltd (gloves) Wiltshire; Ede & Ravenscroft Ltd (robe makers), Chancery Lane; Frank Hall Tailoring (Tailored sports clothes), Leicestershire; G. Ettinger Ltd (Leathergoods), Putney Bridge road, London; Gieves & Hawkes Ltd (Tailors & outfitters), Saville Row; J Barbour & sons Ltd (Waterproof & protective clothing), Tyne & Wear; James Lock & Co Ltd (hatters), St James St; John Lobb Ltd (bootmakers), St James St; Johnstons of Elgin (Estate tweeds and woollen fabrics), Morayshire; Kinloch Anderson Ltd (tailors & kiltmakers), Edinburgh; Malcolm Plews (Military tailor), Bexhill-on-sea; R.E. Tricker Ltd (shoemaker), Northamptonshire; Turnbull & Asser Ltd (shirtmakers), Jermyn St; Wendy Keith Designs (Shooting and kilt hosiery), Cornwall.

Clarence House: the beauty of ‘romantic gloom’

Picture credit: Royal Collection Trust

At Clarence House on London’s Mall, an imposing white stucco façade overlooks a small parterre garden: the Rosicrucian Garden, planted by the Prince of Wales, present owner of Clarence House, in honour of its previous one, his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The garden conjures a mix of scents as the sun warms the low box borders, Imperial Gem lavender and ruby roses (Bishop of Elvaston and New Age).  Light filters through the holm oaks punctuating each segment.

As royal residences go, Clarence House is a relatively modern one.  Constructed in 1825-7 by Buckingham Palace architect John Nash, the thing that is most striking is the small scale intimacy of the place.  It really does feel like a home, albeit a super-glamorous one.  The five public reception rooms currently on display bear the unmistakable presence of the Queen Mother, both in décor and through her portraits and books (art, geography, current affairs, Dick Francis racing thrillers….). She is reported to have described the atmosphere in the House as “romantic gloom” and that’s a fair description – light filters through curtains, reflecting off giltwood furniture and countless family photographs and portraits (including racehorses and corgis).

Deep reds and greens predominate in the furnishing but the room I found loveliest was the morning room which has been re-furbished by the Prince of Wales in homage to his grandmother in the Strathmore racing colours of blue and buff.   The tone is actually a lovely eau-de-nil that perfectly offsets the giltwood Chippendale furniture, apparently much favoured by both Noel Coward and the royal corgis, sometimes simultaneously.

The Queen Mother is still present in portrait form.  In the morning room, a late portrait has her in a familiar pastel-coloured feather hat; the library shows her painted in the 1930s while still Duchess of York, holding her straw capeline trimmed with a wide navy scarf; and the dining room has an unfinished 1940 portrait by Augustus John, glistening in beaded white tulle Norman Hartnell couture and tiara (though with mismatched earrings).

The Prince of Wales has brought his own touches to the house.  The organic gardens and beehives supply the kitchens.  A new recycling centre takes care of waste.  Two magnolia saplings have been planted in the garden by the Dalai Lama and by Aung San Suu Kyi. The Garden Room boasts a harp (the Prince instituted the role of Royal Harpist, for which one of the criteria is that the holder be Welsh) as well as a number of ethnic touches in cushions and ornaments, typical of the Prince’s interest in ethnic culture and artisanship.

Though the house reflects changes made by generations of owners, it is the Prince and his grandmother that seem to have done most to make it a home, or as close as it is possible to get to one in a royal palace.  It is a charming home, a functional space and an extraordinary historical document.

It is open to the public during August and you can book tickets through the website. Don’t hesitate – it is a rare opportunity to experience something very special.


Making a royal hat? Here’s what you need to know


Hats are one of the most distinctive things that the Queen wears and, though she may never have sought to distinguish herself with choices at the more avant garde end of the spectrum, the Queen’s hats play an important functional and decorative part in her wardrobe.  As part of its 90th birthday tribute to the Queen, London’s Fashion and Textile Museum hosted a talk by curator and historian, Beatrice Behlen about the evolution of the Queen’s style in headwear. Beatrice is Senior Curator of Fashion and Decorative Arts at the Museum of London but has also curated collections at Kensington Palace.  Beatrice also revealed the important considerations for any milliner in working for the Queen.

From her earliest childhood, the Queen has been surrounded by hats.  Her grandmother, Queen Mary favoured the toque – larger than a pillbox with a turned-back brim.  In photographs she presents a picture of lavish Edwardian style – draped layers of lace, strings of pearls and veiling.  The Queen Mother seems much more to have been influenced by changing fashions.  Her cloches of the 1920s were succeeded by capelines in the 1930s and then caps or berets with a more military feel in the 1940s.  As time went on she also developed the feminine touches that came to define her style in her later years – veiling, feathers, pastel colours and flowers.

The talk also revealed some of the functional considerations for the royal milliner.  The hat has to work as part of an ensemble, so the milliner must work with the designer and perhaps with other accessory  makers too – Norman Hartnell, one of the most famous couturiers to the Queen often worked with the milliner Claude Saint-Cyr and shoemaker Rayne.  There are certain codes to observe: for example, the Queen rarely wears black, except for Remembrance Day, funerals and for meeting the Pope. Hats must also serve the functional purpose of ensuring that the Queen remains highly visible, so lighter colours and smaller-brimmed or brimless hats work best.  Then there are the practicalities we all face – coping with wind and rain.

As she reached maturity and developed her personal style, the Queen favoured a succession of milliners.  One of the earliest, in the 1940s, was Aage Thaarup, a milliner with a flamboyant style who made hats for the Queen Mother as well as for films.  Notable commissions for the Queen included the feather-trimmed tricorn she wore for her first Trooping of the Colour in 1951.  Throughout the 1950s and 60s, the Queen’s hats tended to become smaller, some little more than a headpiece or flowers combined with a veil.  By the 1970s, the Queen was working with a new milliner.  Simone Mirman had worked with Schiaparelli and, unsurprisingly, produced very exuberant designs, often inspired by nature – flowers or even sometimes mushrooms.  There were also intensely elegant designs like the black scarf-style hat worn for the Duke of Windsor’s funeral in 1972.

In the 1980s, Freddie Fox was supplying pillbox styles which gradually evolved into the 1990s to include small brims or incorporate scarf-style elements into the design.  Other milliners working with the Queen in the 1990s were Philip Somerville, Marie O’Regan and Graham Smith, some also working with Princess Diana.  Coming right up to date, today one of the milliners most associated with the Queen is Rachel Trevor-Morgan, who gained her royal warrant in 2014.

The picture that emerged of the Queen’s evolving millinery style is one of practicality, influenced by, but not slave to, fashion.  Her millinery is designed alongside her ensembles to observe royal protocols as well as practical need.  In short, though she may not possess the sheer fashion force of the younger members of the royal family (the Duchess of Cambridge perhaps pre-eminent here), the Queen has always displayed a style that is entirely her own, never appearing to be overwhelmed or upstaged by an outfit.  Perhaps she is the perfect milliner’s client.