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PADDING DOWN AMONGST THE ASPIDISTRAS

Posted by Liz
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(Main Image) Navy and red printed cotton pin-tucked blouse with long quilted skirt trimmed with black velvet bands; Malbazaar for Carr Jones, £37.35. Pink and blue necklaces round neck and waist by Adrien Mann.

Editor's note: I have known and been "e-friends" with Liz for years now and when I decided to add to our already talented crop of contributing writers here at Curated, she was the first person I decided to try to woo and coax on board. Her knowledge and love of vintage rivals my own and she is especially knowledgeable on the great British designers. I have asked her to focus primarily on that topic for you in her upcoming columns with the freedom to veer off in just about any direction she decides. I am immensely pleased to share her debut column for us today and hope you are as happy about the addition to the team as I am! ..... xx Cherie


"Padding was the stuff inside cushions and bulky things like that. When it was stitched in diagonals and curls it turned into quilting. Now it's gone a step further: pared down into a heavy-falling fabric of beautiful cotton prints, it has been made up into skirts and coats for the summer. You can put them on and say you've just come back from Astrakhan, otherwise try wearing them for weeding out the rubber plants."

Summer is beginning to make itself felt and, slowly but surely, you cannot help but instinctively look towards cottons and florals. Liberty of London, and its famous printed cottons, had been around since 1875, but almost one hundred years later, they had fallen out of fashion. This classic early Seventies Harpers and Queen shoot from April 1971, photographed by Alex Chatelain, shows how far the Liberty print had come by this point.

As Felicity Green says Iain R Webb's book about Foale and Tuffin, "...Liberty prints were what upper-class ladies had made into shirts by their dressmaker, and sometimes they had the skirt to match ... It had never been in the realms of fashion before; it was always very beautiful but very dignified and sophisticated and not for the young...".

Arguably, it was designers Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin who changed all this. From their earliest creations, they had frequently bought their fabrics from Liberty. Their premises in Marlborough Court (just behind Carnaby Street) were a short walk from the store, and as young designers they simply hadn't known they could buy fabrics more cheaply from suppliers. As their style and business acumen matured, they continued to use Liberty prints - mainly new ranges designed by Bernard Nevill - but the clothes became more dramatic, more voluminous and more romantic. As Sally Tuffin herself said, "we got into the Liberty voiles, so we did floppy things. So fabric led the way, I think."

The mood of fashion was changing into one of nostalgia, romanticism and bohemianism. Where Thea Porter was creating authentic looks from the Middle East, Foale and Tuffin were taking the bohemian look and giving it a particularly quirky, British twist. They quilted their cottons, they mixed different prints together, they combined period-style knickerbockers with Mandarin style jackets, they used oversized florals for oversized clown-inspired smocks and trousers. They found themselves at the forefront of the British romantic revolution, alongside Laura Ashley and Bill Gibb, and are often thought to have inspired Yves Saint Laurent to use Liberty prints. This effect also filtered down to the high street remarkably quickly. Their use of the familiar and accessible was revolutionary, but it was also hard to contain.

Interestingly, this editorial uses quilted clothes by both Foale and Tuffin and Malbazaar for Carr Jones (who were a larger scale manufacturer) demonstrating this immediate dissemination of design inspiration. The art direction is perfect - complete with aspidistras - combining with the clothes to create an effective mood piece in a garden centre in West London! If only I could go out and buy everything immediately...

 

(Main Image) Pink and olive green cotton long-sleeved blouse with ankle-length quilted flared skirt; Malbazaar for Carr Jones, £37.35. Pink and cream ropes around waist: Adrien Mann, from a selection at Harrods.

 

(Insets from above images) (L) Puff-sleeved blouse with high frilled neck in black Tana lawn with multi-coloured print, £7; matching quilted gauchos, £10.50; Paisley printed reversible quilted waistcoat with ties at waist, £15.50, all by Foale and Tuffin. String belt trimmed with wooden beads by Adrien Mann. Black patent wedge shoes from Elliott.
(R) Orange, yellow, blue and green three-piece in Liberty print Tana lawn: puff-sleeved blouse with high ruffled neck, £7; skirt with frill at hem, £7; quilted coat with ties at waist, £20, by Foale and Tuffin. Hand-rolled silk crepe scarf by Debenham & Freebody, W1. Rings by Jacqueline Mina from the Pace Gallery, W1.

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