4th August 2020 – “In the Rose Garden”
The Fashion Group’s first venture out in two ‘Fashion Bubbles’ in Chalkwell Park.
A wonderful afternoon spent in Chalkwell Park yesterday with our friends in the U3A Fashion Group swapping stories of how we came to love clothes, bags, buttons and bows in our youth. It has left us with a lifetime enjoying Fashion and all it entails.
Ruth remembers her big sister making her a dress with a beautiful smocking bodice and her stylish mother taking her to C&A’s and buying a straight style modern dress. Jackie also remembered having a dress with smocking and some trendy white boots. She was a tomboy and spent most of her free time out on her bike with the boys in her street.
Lindy’s Lavender organza dress she wore at the age of 5 lives in her memory together with her handmade yellow dress with a scalloped hemline created by drawing round old pennies! Jill liked her colourful pretty party dresses, always still very colourful and coordinated nowadays too. The sisters recalled going to Paris for a few days in their teens and meeting a couple of American GI’s who were kind and bought them a hot meal as the weather in April was snowy and cold. (nothing to do with fashion, but it was a lovely story.)
Pat was the most descriptive and described how proud she was to wear 2 stylish hand me down coats, with covered buttons, just like Princess Anne would wear. Also going to Ridley Road Market in Dalston with her mum to buy fabric to make a green duffle coat, with real toggles. Pam recalls the Provident lady, and getting the cheques that could only be spent at the Co-op! So like me, as soon as she was working in London earning her own money, she bought good quality clothes, shoes and bags and found her style.
My grandmother was a Court Dressmaker by trade and used to make my clothes whilst I was young. Always a little too frilly for me looking back, but were pretty and original. She also made a red, white and blue striped dress, then covered it in sweet wrappers that I wore to our Coronation street party in 1953, at the age of 3. I won 1st prize apparently as The little‘sweet’ girl. (What has changed?!) Thinking now how in the 60’s and in my teens, shopping in Carnaby Street, Regent Street, Oxford Street and Petticoat Lane in my lunch break from work was influential.
26th May 2020
On 26 May the Fashion group held their second zoom meeting. The theme was Blue so they all wore blue tops didn’t matter about the bottoms! They discussed whether anyone had bought clothes whilst in lockdown only two of them had, and understandably the fashion industry is having a hard time, sales even on line have been dramatically reduced .
They also discussed whether they wore make up, most did even if it was just lipstick. They then had a music quiz of songs with BLUE in the title. It was lovely to see everyone and catch up again.
7th January 2020 – Tour of the Strictly Come Dancing costume maker’s Workshop
Ten fashionistas left Leigh to travel to pastures new for our latest adventure. We travelled by overground, underground (no, not wombling free to Wimbledon), overground and taxi to the DSI workshops in Croydon for a ‘Behind the Seams’ tour. DSI (Designsport International) are the company who design and make the costumes for Strictly Come Dancing as well as many other shows ( e.g. 42nd Street, Top Hat, Dancing on Ice, the Strictly cruises), competitive dancers and indeed anyone who would like a bespoke dress or suit.
We were welcomed by Carole, the Sales Manager of twenty years. She should have retired but just hasn’t been able to, and who some of us knew from her talk at last year’s U3A Summer Lunch. She told us that the original Company was started by Peggy Spencer (whose name some of us recognised from the BBC television series Come Dancing – 1950 to 1998) in Penge over 30 years ago. The Company was sold and, when bigger premises were needed, moved to Croydon where it started with two units and now have eight. Thanks to Strictly Come Dancing, which was due to be a one off show about eighteen years ago, the sport became much more prestigious and has achieved the recognition it deserves. DSI employ sixty people within the M25, many local machinists who are then trained to produce the fantastic costumes. For the last ten years they have made all the costumes for the show, both male and female. A huge amount of work – there were 800 dresses in the last series.In July the professional dancers are signed and a start can be made on the Group dance costumes. But the celebrities are kept under wraps with code names until Vicky Gill, the designer who joined the Company fifteen years ago, meets them to take the 35 measurements needed for a perfect fit. Tailors dummies are then made up, padding out where necessary with bubble wrap. This can then easily be removed as the dancers inevitably change shape. Their measurements are taken every week before making up the next costume.
Once the Strictly season has started Vicky meets with the BBC each Monday to be advised the theme and colours of the costumes required and passes her designs to the workshop on Tuesday. She works with each dancer to establish a style with which they feel comfortable. She has a unique ability to make people feel confident in their costumes. All the dresses are made on a leotard and the mens’ shirts on pants to ensure a close fit. They have to be completed by Friday morning to enable last minute alterations. Sometimes fringes are being cut and straps made more secure even as the dancers are waiting backstage to make their entrance. All the dresses, which are hired by the BBC, are used only once, washed in the washing machine, and then go on sale – ballroom from £1,800 to £4,000, and Latin from £800 to £1,800.
After admiring the dresses on show and on the rails, we went into the workshops, first meeting Ash who, along with his six assistants, individually and by hand applies all the beads, crystals and feather strands. Next, to the cutting room to meet Theresa the pattern cutter who trained at the London College of Fashion and has worked with Zandra Rhodes. She is still occasionally asked to help her. Some of us had met Zandra only last month when she was kind enough to let us watch the silk screen printing process in her studios at the Design and Textile Museum. Theresa has eight full time machinists working on the ladies’ costumes and twelve on the men’s. We learnt how zips are sewn into curved seams around the shoulder blade to give the back a smooth sheer appearance, and how collars on men’s dress jackets are cut lower to prevent them riding high up into the back of the neck when in ballroom hold and keeping their tight frame. Another workroom contained the machinists who work on Group outfits. Then we entered the Aladdin’s Cave of fabric. Velvet, crepe, Lycra, lace and nets, beads from India and feathers all in their palette of 38 colours plus black and white so they can all be matched. FAB-U-LOUS.
The stock rooms also contain shoes and shirts, bow ties and cuff links – all made in England – in fact everything needed for perfect dance outfits.
As a result of their huge success, the Company now work with people from all over the world and employ multi-lingual staff in the office.
To complete our visit we had an opportunity to try on dresses from the rail. The ladies looked very glamorous.
So, another great outing enjoyed by us all. It was a real eye opener to see Behind the Seams and learn some of the tricks of the trade. Our thanks to Ruth for making all the arrangements.
17th December 2019 – Zandra Rhodes Studio Visit
When you meet an icon you are never sure what they will be like! The Fashion Group were lucky enough to meet Zandra Rhodes and were so impressed by her. She was warm welcoming,unassuming, friendly and very very talented. The atmosphere in her studio was lovely and you could tell the young people that worked with her were very happy .
Zandra Rhodes Exhibition
On 22nd October the ladies of our fashion group once again visited the Textile Museum near London Bridge , this time to see an exhibition of Zandra Rhodes work entitled “50 years of fabulous “.
Zandra Rhodes had actually been instrumental in setting up the museum and has a workshop and apartment in the building.
On show were costumes from each decade, all demonstrating her love of colour and pattern. Her signature silk chiffon was much in evidence with ‘floaty’ dresses galore and the typical quirky touches for which she has become so well known.
There was lots of information detailing the techniques she has used over the years to produce her wonderful designs. We also learnt that she started out as principally a textile designer rather than a clothes designer. It was her passion for pattern, colour and texture and the way materials and patterns can be used to shape the body which drove her to produce clothing and pursue dress design.
Consequently, there was also a display of her beautiful fabrics – all of them reflecting the eclectic colourful shapes and patterns which have evolved from her drawing. The enormous level of her output was really impressive to see – all her designs stem originally from her love of drawing which apparently she still does every day, wherever she is in the world, using anything and everything she sees as inspiration for her art.
Tower of London and Crown Jewels
The Fashion Group visited the Tower of London to view the Crown jewels. It was a wet day and the fashionistas were soaked but nothing deterred them from admiring the beautiful jewels. Kings and Queens of England have stored crowns,robes and other ceremonial regalia at the Tower of London for over 600 years. Since the 1600’s Coronation regalia have been protected at the Tower of London.
There are 140 objects including crowns sceptres, rings, orbs, maces, trumpets and the oldest object a spoon from the 12th century . The jewels contain 23,578 stones.
The present collection dates from 350 years ago when Charles 11 came to the throne. Medieval and Tudor regalia had been sold or melted down after the monarchy was abolished in 1649 during the English Civil War.
The Crown Jewels are priceless, they’re not insured which means they have probably never been priced but the estimates are about £4 billion. The Fashionistas were mesmerised by the size of the diamonds,rubies, sapphires and emeralds. The largest diamond the Cullinan Diamond is 530 carats, the largest clear cut diamond in the world and set in the sovereigns sceptre with cross. It was discovered in South Africa and presented to Edward the V11.
Another popular diamond with our group was the Koh-i-Nor diamond, 105 carats originally from India, belonged to Queen Victoria. A very appealing non-coronation crown was a miniature, Queen Victoria’s small diamond crown is just 10 cm tall and made in 1870 using 1,187 diamonds for her to wear on her widows cap.
The dreadful weather did not deter the Fashion Group from appreciating the opportunity to view these magnificent jewels which we all confessed we hadn’t seen for at least 30 years.
Mandy booked us into a lovely restaurant overlooking the River. An excellent meal, great conversation,the culmination of another Fashion Group day out.
Manolo Blahník at the Wallace Collection.
On the 7th August 2019, nine Fashionistas were off again, this time something different to the norm. We were on our way to see the Wallace Collection just behind Selfridges in Oxford Street, but more specifically the venue was hosting an exhibition of Manolo Blahník’s exquisite shoes.
Oh my word …Stunning. The Wallace Collection is a cornucopia of very high end decorative art and it is said that Manolo spent many an hour there and his shoe designs are heavily influenced by what he saw. Each room contains a display of THE most magnificent shoes which set off their design perfectly. Manolo has worked with the curators to select masterpieces from his archive which help lead the visitor on an inspiring journey. The presence of his works in the galleries underlines the artistry and craftsmanship behind what he does. Carrie Bradshaw would think that she’d died and gone to heaven – I did!!
What a Gem – a free to visit, national museum in the heart of London and as an avid shoe lover – Manolo Blahník shoes – what more could you want.
We ended the day out for lunch with much chattering about what we had seen – most girls could not ever aspire to owning a pair of Manolo’s shoes – but we can dream.
After having their photographs taken by a member of the photography group, everyone sat down for tea and cakes in wonderful sunshine. A great afternoon.
Mary Quant Exhibition – 25th June 2019
The Fashionistas Group visited the above exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum on 25th March which was very nostalgic. We had our usual coffee break and headed off to see the work of the iconic designer and to learn more about her work.
Mary Quant was born in 1930 in S.E.London to Welsh parents and grew up with austerity and clothes rationing. She was to become Britain’s best known fashion designer and defined the look that characterised `the Swinging Sixties” helping to create a forward looking and innovative identity for post War Britain . There was a Mary Quant sketchbook, when aged just 14, she showed an early interest in fashion and design.
“The whole point of fashion is to make fashionable clothes available to everyone”.
Mary Quant became an instrumental figure in the 1960’s ,Mod and Youth fashion world. She was one of the designers who took credit for the mini-skirt and hot-pants. This, together with other fun fashions, encouraged young people to dress to please themselves. She defined the young, playful look of the 1960’s becoming Britain’s best known designer and a powerful role model for working women.
As we toured the exhibition,it was very clear and apparent that the Mary Quant style of clothes – very simple designs but some with an `edge` to them could be worn either day or night.The materials used were varied ranging from wool, tweed, silk and latterly PVC for macs, leather shoes which were added to her collection, together with sport clothing, waterproof mascara and make up..She opened a shop called Bazaar in West London where it proved very popular with followers of fashion and a daisy was her signature symbol. Her hair was styled by Vidal Sassoon who created the five point look. She also designed clothes for men.
Dame Mary Quant was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1966 and a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2016. She resigned as a director of Mary Quant Limited in 2000 after it was bought by a Japanese Company.
We thank you Dame Mary Quant for being the icon that you were in bringing fashion and design to us.
28th May 2019
On Tuesday, 28th May, our U3A Fashion Group visited the ‘Dior Exhibition’ at the V&A where our group were absolutely ‘wowed’ by the sheer extent of several hundred of exhibits on show alongside many sketches and photographs, together with the amazing variety of tableaux.
Christian was born in Granville, Normandy, into a wealthy middle-class family whose fortune came from a large Fertilisation business and as such he was able with help from his parents and friends to follow his first love of art by opening a small gallery together with a friend,Jacques Bonjean and was a much lauded success.
However, it was two decades later, in 1947, that he presented his ‘New Look’ with its cinched waist, soft shoulders and long skirt to the ration-weary, Utility-clad women of the world, which re-established Paris as the fashion capital it had been prior to the war.
His designs were worn by leading women of the day such as Margot Fonteyn, Grace Kelly, Rita Hayworth, Nancy Mitford, the Duchess of Windsor and Princess Margaret and they flocked to his chic premises on the Avenue Montaigne, Maison Dior.
It was said that Dior loved English traditions, politeness, English architecture and even our English cooking!
Although his first love would always remain in art and painting; Dior spent ten years at the helm of Maison Dior before dying of a heart attack in 1957.
As his successor, Yves Saint Laurent rightly said, “He was the most famous couturier of that time”.
It was a most enjoyable and spellbinding visit, so many thanks to Mary for organising.
Fashion Photography – 25th April 2019
On Thursday 25th April, the Fashionistas spent an evening with Tessa Hallman and Mark Dooris at the excellent Beecroft Gallery’s small lecture theatre for a presentation entitled Fashion photography, styling Counter Culture. Tessa describes herself as a fashion and celebrity photographer and Mark as a stylist and muse. Both are veterans of the old Technical College in Southend, where they learnt their craft, before moving on to Goldsmiths. They described Southend @ this time (the early 80s) as a powerhouse of artistic talent.
The club scene that Tessa and Mark were an integral part of, was known as the New Romantic era, which was a radical reaction to the Punk movement. A strong sub-culture flourished in the form of gender bending, beauty, makeup and Dandyism. An era of the Blitz Kids, Kinki Balinki, with SteveLinnard at the Godhead! Kings Road became a catwalk, where the young Romantics could strut their stuff and be admired, more so than in Southend High Street!
Another icon was Boy George, whose use of makeup and flamboyant clothes scandalised an older generation (it was always so!) and paved the way for others to follow. David Bowie, another of the bright Young Things, also combined his music with amazing clothes and makeup.
Tessa was strongly influenced by her German father, who was a graphic designer, so from an early age, Tessa was aware of the way things were presented and developed a photographers eye early in life.
The influence of this era was further promoted by such magazines as Blitz, I_D Fashion magazine and Smash Hits.
Mark’s inspiration came from the likes of Steve Linnard, a stylist and designer who preceded Galliano. Mark has worked with many famous people including Kylie Minogue, as well as being a photographic model in his youth!
The post Romantic movement was defined by women becoming more feminine and menswear outshining the ladies!
All in all, a very stimulating evening. Many thanks to Mary Pudney for organising our participation.
Swinging London – February 2019
The Fashion group’s summer gathering was held at Lindy’s house. The theme was YELLOW, as Amil Clooney set a trend this year with the honey yellow dress she wore to the Royal wedding, and yellow became the summer colour. Everyone had to wear yellow and bring yellow food.
Linda and her husband John had gone to a lot of trouble to decorate the house with yellow bunting, yellow balloons, yellow tablecloths, plates and napkins. Even a yellow rose tree flowering in their garden!
The food was delicious from yellow savoury rice, smoked haddock, yellow stuffed peppers, yellow quiche, egg mayonnaise sandwiches to lemon yoghurt cake and mango pavlova.
We had a brainstorming session to get ideas for next year’s events. It was announced that for our summer party next year we all had to buy and compile an outfit from a charity shop and bring evidence of the purchase. It was decided that shoes could be our own if we didn’t feel comfortable wearing another persons shoes.
We then had a yellow quiz skillfully prepared by Lindy and John which kept us amused, absorbed and great fun.
Thank you to Lindy for hosting a lovely afternoon.
Orla Kiely – A Life in Pattern Exhibition
On a lovely hot, sunny summer’s day six members took the train to London to visit the Orla Kiely exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey. In need of the customary coffee before entering the exhibition, we came across a very inviting shady outside terrace at Tanner & Co., a restaurant converted from an old warehouse.
None of us was quite sure what we were going to find in the exhibition, as we all knew her mainly for her bold repetitive designs on items presently found in the shops such as mugs, tea towels and handbags. However, we were pleasantly surprised by a small but interesting collection of household items and clothes, and a vast number of handbags arranged along one wall, all of a different design and featuring her stylized graphic patterns which are instantly recognizable.
Orla Kiely grew up in Ireland in the late 1960s and early 1970s and her designs show her nostalgia for that era, when the must have colour for your kitchen was olive green. Today she is globally recognized as the designer of the iconic “Stem” pattern that first appeared in 2000 and her distinctive patterns now appear on goods around the world.
On exiting the exhibition we noticed a new shop across the road entitled “Mary’s Living & Giving Shop”, a charity shop set up with the help of retail expert Mary Portas. We all eagerly entered in the hope of finding a designer label at a bargain price, no luck but one person did invest in a nice summer dress.
All fashioned out, we ended our afternoon with the customary meal and relaxation at Village East.
On the 22nd May 2018 Ruth took seven members of the Fashion Group to an Exhibition at the recently renovated Design Museum in Kensington – Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier.
This Exhibition was co-curated by and organised with the designer prior to his death in November 2017 aged 82.
Azzedine Alaïa was born in Tunisia and began his career in haute couture briefly at Christian Dior then Guy Laroche after which he established his own fashion house creating made to order clothes for the likes of Greta Garbo, Grace Jones and Tina Turner. He designed stunning garments with the aim to celebrate women and making them look like women, curvy and feminine. He was most recognised for dressing 6ft supermodels in the 80’s and 90’s. The mastery with which he invented and deployed stretch fabrics earned him the nickname “The King of Cling” creating sculptural shapes that could redefine a woman’s body.
Two stunning dresses, one black one white, where displayed in the Foyer as a taster of what was to come. There were over 60 pieces displayed in themed clusters – velvet, African-inspired, bandage dresses which could be seen in 360 degrees and showed how everything was cut, sewn and constructed – fabulous fabrics, fine pleats, and ruffles, it was all there.
With a new flagship three-storey Alaïa store recently opened in London’s New Bond Street, this is the biggest year ever for the once tiny label.
Alaïa may have left us, but his legend will endure.
Fashioned by Nature
Thirteen fashionistas set off from Leigh Station on Tuesday 24th April to visit the V & A Museum. Our focus for the day was –
“Fashioned by Nature”
It is obviously expected to be a very popular exhibition as it is running from 21st April 2018 to 27 January 2019. The exhibition explores the complex relationship between fashion and nature. We were able to view stunning embroidery, earrings made from birds, a muslin dress decorated with beetle wing cases (!!) and so much more.
There were exhibits from world renowned designers including Stella McCartney, Calvin Klein, Christian Louboutin, Katherine Hamnett and many more. Some you wanted to take home with you and some you didn’t!!
The intention of the exhibition is to make us more aware of the way designers draw inspiration from nature and for the continued need to respect and protect the natural world. For instance did you know it takes 1800 gallons of water to produce a single pair of jeans, or that Adidas sold one million pairs of sneakers made from reclaimed ocean plastic. Each pair reuses 11 plastic bottles!! Really makes you think.
For me the day had all the ingredients for a great day out – sunshine, excellent company, great choice of exhibition, good food and a glass of wine!! What more could you want!!
Our March meeting was held at Mary’s house. Her neighbour, Farah, demonstrated the ancient art of Eyebrow Threading. This technique can be used for most hair removal but is particularly good for the face.
Four of our group volunteered to be models to have their eyebrows threaded and dyed. Farah used a long piece of fine cotton thread which she twisted between finger and thumb and then through her teeth. By catching the individual hair between the thread the hair was then removed in, to me, a magical way. That is, I couldn’t see how it was done, the movement was so quick and fine but the result was excellent. Farah then applied the dye with a very narrow brush and left it on for a few minutes, the time depending on how dark the desired effect. The result was a natural looking, defined eyebrow to frame the face. Whether it was painful having it done? Opinions varied.
After our demonstration we enjoyed tea and delicious cake and much discussion on what we had seen. A very interesting and convivial afternoon.
Thanks Mary and Ruth, another success.
On Thursday 8th February, 14 Fashionistas met at the Odeon in Southend to see the film, Phantom Thread starring Daniel Day Lewis, who played a fashion designer. The film was set in the 1950’s when fashion’s most iconic designers such as Dior and Balenciaga had their heyday.
It was very well acted and highlighted the relationship between Woodcock and his sister and between the girl he grooms as a model for his clothes who he eventually marries. Compelling viewing!
We then adjourned to Ask restaurant for supper. I think all would agree a very enjoyable evening.
High House Production Park
On Friday 19th January we visited the new development of the ROH Production Workshop & Costume Centre in the High House Production Park in Purfleet, an area with roots going back to the 16th century – they used to grow vines on the south facing slopes. Bob & Tamar Manoukian, a philanthropic Armenian couple, donated money to start the buildings which are named after them.
We started off in the production workshop, which is a large eco building made of cedar wood with sedum planted on the roof. In the carpentry workshop we saw scenery being made for the production of Swan Lake. In the scenery painting workshop we saw vast canvases laid out on the floor (Continental method) or hanging from the ceiling (English method ) ready to be painted. The canvases are divided into squares & the designs are copied & painted by the scenery artists. In the metal workshop large frames are built for the wooden scenery to be attached to, which makes it much lighter to move around than solid wood.
When all the scenery is finished, it is taken apart & numbered ready for transportation to the Royal Opera House. It is packed into large cages which are then rolled onto lorries & on arrival in Covent Garden the whole lorry goes into a lift and goes down beneath the Opera House. The cages then get taken to the correct computer controlled storage area. When production is over the scenery is taken to Wales to be stored.
Finally we went to the Costume centre. There are roughly 20,000 costumes stored there, including some historic ones. The costumes hang in covers on racks from floor to ceiling. The temperature is controlled to prevent insect infestation particularly moths. When costumes come back from a production they are decontaminated for 30 days. In another room we saw costumes being worked on – 41 white tutus & 1 black for the production of Swan Lake in March.
This concluded the end of a very interesting & enjoyable tour.