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John Cavanagh in Paris, 1953

Posted by Laura
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(L) Backstage a British model having her dress fastened ready for a fashion show given by John Cavanagh.   (R) Backstage, a French waiter pours champagne for British models as they change their clothes.

 

 

Picture Post was a British photojournalistic magazine published from 1938 to 1957, which printed large photo stories on many different themes. While photographs taken for Picture Post are some of the most well-known to come out of WWII and the Korean War, they also covered many more "frivolous" subjects including fashion. In 1953 they sent photographer Kurt Hutton to follow London-based designer John Cavanagh to Paris, where he was showing his collection.

Originally from Ireland, Cavanagh had worked for couturier Edward Molyneux in London and Paris before the war; he then became Pierre Balmain's design assistant from 1947 to 1952, when he launched his eponymous fashion house in Mayfair. After his first collection drew rave reviews from the British fashion press ("A new star shines in the London Couture sky. Seldom has a more beautiful and discreet collection been seen than that of John Cavanagh") he became a member of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers (IncSoc). Though IncSoc coordinated the London fashion schedules with the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris many editors and buyers chose to only go to Paris—and so in this era before the internet and social media, the designers had to go to them. Cavanagh brought with him four models—as he had his own couture house, these models would have been full-time employees who the clothes had been designed and fit on, and who modeled them daily for clients in the house's salon. Hutton captured the models from their arrival in Paris to dressing backstage (fueled by champagne), doing their own makeup, attempting to rest, and then parading the clothes in down the runway and in front of the press.

These images were published in a Picture Post story, "British Girls Storm Paris", on February 28th, 1953. They have now become a remarkable document of the unseen side of the fashion industry in the 1950s—the background to the wonderful images we remember from Vogue and Harper's. The models look exhausted and stressed, but that is hardly surprising considering how much rested on good press and sales particularly for such a new designer.

And to end, a rather lovely quote from his personal assistant, "Paris in London. There was a lightness of touch, a feminine delicacy, a fragility unlike the work of any of the other London couturiers."

 

Captions from Picture Post, photos by Kurt Hutton. 

 

(L) Backstage, British models cover their faces and try to rest on the floor amidst scattered clothes during a break in a fashion show given by John Cavanagh.   (R) Backstage a British model adjusts her gloves as her dress is fastened up for a fashion show given by John Cavanagh.

 

 

(R) Backstage, British models getting ready for a fashion show by John Cavanagh.

 

 

(R) Backstage a British model putting on her make-up ready for a fashion show by John Cavanagh.

 

 

(L) Audience and model at a fashion show given by John Cavanagh.   (R) A British model shows off a dress to an American buyer at a fashion show given by John Cavanagh.

 

 

(L) An evening gown being modelled at a fashion show given by John Cavanagh.   (R) Backstage a British model having her dress fastened ready for a fashion show given by John Cavanagh.


 

 

(L) Backstage two British models check their dresses are perfect, ready for a fashion show given by John Cavanagh.   (R) Backstage, a British model has a last minute adjustment to her dress at a fashion show given by John Cavanagh.


 

 

(R)  Backstage, a British model makes some running repairs to her make-up during a fashion show by John Cavanagh.

 

 

(L) Backstage a British model enjoys a glass of champagne as she waits to change into clothes designed by John Cavanagh.

 

 

(L) Backstage, British models getting ready for a fashion show by John Cavanagh are oblivious of two men in the foreground.

 

 

(L) British dress designer John Cavanagh (right) watches as one of his models, Shirley Worthington, opens her luggage for inspection by a French customs official.   (R) Enjoying a drink, fashion buyers and editors at a fashion show given by John Cavanagh.

 

 

In a dress decorated with ostrich feathers, British model Shirley Worthington at a fashion show given by John Cavanagh.

 

 

(L)  Model wearing a cocktail dress with a short contrasting cape at a fashion show given by John Cavanagh.   (R) Photographers at a fashion show given by John Cavanagh.


 

 

(L) British model getting into a dress backstage, ready for a fashion show by John Cavanagh.   (R) At a fashion show in France, John Cavanagh's models change backstage as a waiter pours champagne.


 

 

(L) Two British models working for dress designer John Cavanagh take a walk by the Seine.   (R) Audience at a fashion show given by John Cavanagh.


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