Sewing puffballs in the 80s!

If you’ve ever read the ‘a bit about me’ page here on the blog you’ll see that in the mid 1980s I worked for a bridal and evening wear company in London called David Fielden. I left the London College of Fashion in the summer of 1985 and started working there on my 23rd birthday. Originally I’d wanted to be a costume designer but during my college course I realised that going into bridal or evening wear was a very good alternative. In those days you just sent letters and CVs out to companies you were interested in working for in the hope that they might like the sound of you and be desperate to add you to their payroll! As it happened my letter was passed to Caroline who was the production manager for David in the evening wear workroom and she had done the same course as me a year earlier so she had a fair idea of what I was potentially capable of.

‘trying on’ one of the dresses back in the day…that was fabulous gold-printed panne velvet but it shed everywhere and bits of gold fibre stuck to you! I’ve written on the back that it’s style 668D (the D denoted a dress) in April 1986

They took me on and I was going to be cutting samples rather than sewing which initially I was disappointed about. I soon learned that cutting was a huge responsibility in its own right. I was used to making my own clothes with inexpensive fabrics which I bought in my local market or fabric shops, now I was working with fabulous silk taffeta, dupion, Duchesse and slipper satins, velvet, beaded and embellished brocades, even the lining was always silk habutai, it was all a bit dazzling and quite scary to start with! I was provided with a massive pair of shears which soon gave me a callous on my finger joint, I still have a mark there to this day. We had two huge waist-high cutting tables with all the fabrics stored underneath. The pattern cutter would pass me the initial pattern to cut as a toile so that she and the designer could assess the shape and fit on the stand. When they were happy I would be given the pattern along with all the fabrics and instructions for the new sample. It was part of my job to get everything out of the fabric as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible so I always spent time working this out like pattern Tetris before going near it with the scissors! I kept sketches of the layplan for future reference too. No piece was ever cut on a fold, we always used a whole front or a whole back, sleeves, bodice pieces or skirt panels could be ‘flipped’ though to fit them in. The pattern cutter would make the pieces in card from the paper version and I would draw around them in chalk or marking pencil, the pattern pieces would be held down on the fabric with long heavy weights, this means the pattern lasts much much longer than a paper one would. The card patterns would be grouped in style number order onto large hooks a bit like safety pins, each size was on a different hook. Some styles got informal names which is what we identified them by in the workroom, for example there was the ‘Doris Day’ which was a pretty 50s-style gown with silk satin boned bodice and clouds of diamante-studded ankle length tulle skirts, it came in soft pastel colours, and the ‘Carmen Miranda’ which was a longer length figure-hugging silk bodice overlaid with sequin-embellished lace and extravagantly ruffled silk organza mermaid skirts. This was one of the best selling designs and came in a variety of colours including black and scarlet, or could be ordered in other colours and fabric combinations by special order. Just one outworker made this style because she became so skilled at it, every ruffle was edged using a rolled-hem foot and it was then sandwiched between diagonal skirt panels. Oh and there were net petticoats under all of that too! It was very popular for magazine shoots because of it’s ‘film star’ quality and we were regularly squashing dresses unceremoniously into boxes or into dress bags to be couriered on the back of motor bikes to Fleet Street! Some of those poor dresses really suffered and looked quite tired in the end.

Actress Stephanie Beacham wearing a gown similar to the Carmen Miranda in a women’s magazine
another version of the dress in an ad for a car (?)
Anita Dobson was a huge star in Eastenders on TV at this time
Actress Koo Stark, I remember this being an Ottoman jacket (a type of fabric with heavy ribbing) and separate spotted tulle skirt. The edge of the ruffles were finished with the plastic ‘wire’ stripped out of Rigilene boning and zigzagged onto the edge to make them stand out like this!
This is Kathy, who is Sir Ian Botham’s wife, modelling one of the most popular designs. It’s a pity you can’t see the back as it’s cut away to reveal the small of your back and shoulder blades. There’s a scrap of the fabrics pinned to the picture, it was silk chiffon covered in paillettes over a layer of silk satin and lining, all the edges were finished with bias binding so that the sequins didn’t cut the wearer to ribbons! The skirt is silk organza with a net underskirt.
the same dress worn by Bridget Nielsen, Sylvester Stallone’s then-wife
Same dress again, I think this was editorial in a magazine

Whilst the showroom was in the King’s Road, Chelsea at that time the evening wear workroom was set up across town in Farringdon around the corner from now-trendy Exmouth Market, it was definitely not glamorous and the Woolworth’s pick-n-mix counter was the only interesting eatery back then!!

As well as Caroline, who is still a friend all these years later, there was a designer (David didn’t design, he had no drawing or making skills, he employed others to do it for him) a highly-skilled pattern cutter, a sample machinist and a sample cutter (me) When I wasn’t cutting and costing samples and special orders, Caroline and I would cut production too which was all sewn by out-workers who came in regularly to drop off the garments they had made and to collect the next batch, they were paid an agreed piece rate per garment. Each one was a highly skilled, and fast, machinist who would make the whole garment from start to finish. They all had different capabilities so some would stick to simpler garments like skirts or bodices whilst others made the fantastic evening gowns and ball dresses which David Fielden had become known for. Some of them worked in their own homes and didn’t make a massive quantity of garments, and a couple had set up their own workrooms where they then employed a few extra machinists so they could make larger quantities, we are still only talking about several dozen garments per week though, not hundreds or thousands.

Twice a year the designer, Charlotte, would go with David and his business partner Walter to various fabric shows such as Premier Vision to select beautiful fabrics for the next collection. A lot of the fabrics such as silk taffeta, dupion or Duchesse satins would come from local London suppliers in very quick time, often the same day if the colour was in stock, but the premium fabrics from France or Italy would be ordered in sample lengths ranging from as little as 3 metres up to 10 or 20 metres in the new seasons colours. If those styles then went into production then larger orders would be placed at a later date.

Each new collection was often an evolution of the previous one with a few of the most popular styles being developed in new colours and fabrics, plus some completely new styles. It was always exciting to have the new fabrics starting to arrive from overseas, there were some exquisitely beautiful embellished laces and tulles, occasionally further down the line one or two would prove problematic because the supplier couldn’t produce them quickly enough, or in the quantities required. Each ‘piece’ of lace often came in a 5m length which didn’t go very far. My least favourite fabrics to cut were slipper satin or chiffon, they moved about like the very devil and often it was best to sandwich them between two sheets of spot and cross paper.

Short dress with a velvet bodice and ‘rolls’ of velvet on the shoulders, hip and hem (I wish I could remember what went inside the rolls, it could have been wadding)
It may not look it but this was the most expensive fabric I ever worked on costing around £125 per metre back then! It was a base fabric of lace which was embellished with sequins. THEN it was covered in another more open lace fabric and over-sprayed with gold so that it left a stencil-type design. It came in just 3m pieces if I remember rightly.

I would cut everything for each garment as required and then make a ‘bundle’ including all trims (covered buttons, zip, piping cord etc) and labels. All the cut pieces were folded neatly and layered up and then the whole bundle was carefully folded in several layers of tissue paper and tied up along with identifying sticky labels for the outworker to use when they returned it to us in plastic cover.

Once the new collection was underway Caroline would sew samples as well to speed the process up. Models would come in periodically for fittings and to assess a design on the body. As well as cutting the new samples I also cut one-offs and special orders which could be interesting. For example, we made the gown that Sarah Brightman wore to the party after the world premier of Phantom of the Opera [we memorably made another dress for her to wear for a Gala at the Royal Albert Hall, she had a fitting at the showroom and declared it should be taken in which we duly did at the workroom. It was delivered back to her but with only hours to spare she realised she now couldn’t inflate her lungs to actually sing in it!! Back to the workroom it came to be let out again!] I cut gowns for Daryl Hannah (star of Splash with Tom Hanks) allegedly for the Oscars but I never saw her in it, and I cut a dress for Aretha Franklin too but I never saw that one photographed either. Sadly we never got to meet any of the celebrity clientele, we would just get a set of measurements and fittings would usually take place at the shop. Some stars would borrow gowns for swish parties and premiers so nothing much changes does it? Vogue magazine especially commissioned a version of one dress for a shoot, it was a black taffeta column gown with a wide pale pink sash as I recall. When it returned to the workroom afterwards the hem was water-marked and full of sand! It had been photographed on a beach!!

Dame Joan Collins with her then-partner Bill Wiggins. The dress was a beautiful rose pink colour, I think it was the teensiest bit snug on her.
Dame Shirley Bassey, that ruched bodice and skirt took so much fabric!
a black and white studio shot of the same style that Joan Collins was wearing, this sample was made in beautiful French printed silk taffeta, there was a large puffed bow on the back.
and another version in shot silk taffeta
I remember cutting this little dress, it was made especially for the photo
I think style was being made when I first went to work at David Fielden.

There were times of stress and all-hands-on-deck but lots of laughs too. I have very positive memories of my 3 years at David Fielden, we were a good team and I learnt so much from my colleagues, they were all brilliant at their jobs with so much experience under their belts already. The company was growing fast during those three years and David took on catwalk shows at London Fashion Week (that was very stressful for everyone because of the workload and short lead times involved!) David and Walter travelled to many overseas shows to exhibit which garnered orders from prestige stores in the US such as Neimann Marcus and Bloomingdales among others, stores in Europe, and Harrods in London. [we could have cried though to see these beautiful dresses being crammed into boxes for despatch]

In the end I left after three years because I got fed up with commuting into London every day, I went to work in the dress fabrics department of our local John Lewis branch so that was more textiles and cloth knowledge to store away in my brain to come in handy another day. I’m sorry the quality of the pictures isn’t great, the cuttings were all torn from magazines and newspapers at the time so they are a little tatty in places.

David Fielden is still in business I believe although the premises have moved to Fulham now, I think they specialise entirely in bridal wear but I’m not sure. The website isn’t particularly up to date but you get an flavour.

This turned into quite a long post (I hope you had a coffee in hand?!) but there’s a few pictures to look at too!! I’ve really enjoyed thinking back to my early working days to tell you all about them and I guess I was very fortunate to work with such a variety of very beautiful fabrics, maybe now you can see why I’m always SO particular about cutting out at the start of any project! So until next time,

Sue

50 fabulous years of Zandra Rhodes at FTM

I thought I’d write a quick review of a newly-opened show at the Fashion & Textiles Museum in London in case you’re thinking of paying a visit to the city.

Zandra Rhodes is something of a one-off in the fashion industry. She has always ploughed her own unique furrow by being primarily a textile designer who then uses her beautiful fabrics to create exotic garments. They are not for the faint-hearted because they are frequently bright colours and intricate patterns but over the decades they have been worn by many high-profile personalities including Princess Anne in her engagement photos, and Princess Diana wore gowns by Zandra Rhodes to many events. Actress Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Onassis were photographed wearing the gowns and, more recently, designers Anna Sui and Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino have commissioned her to design original textile prints for their own collections.

I was first aware of Zandra Rhodes while I was still at school when her punk-inspired collection of 1977 hit the headlines. Punk clothing was seen as something a bit scuzzy and tatty but her evening gowns were made in luxurious jersey fabrics adorned with rips and tears that were accessorised with chains and zips. Later on while I was a young student taking a one year art foundation course at college her use of striking colours really caught my eye.

The new exhibition features at least one look from every year of Zandra Rhodes’ fifty year career so there are many beautiful garments to see. One of the striking features of many of them is the embellishments. The signature dipped or pointed hems are frequently finished with tiny seed pearls or sequins, as are necklines or sleeves. A favourite fabric is silk chiffon which is notoriously difficult to work with, satin and velvet appear too.

a close up of the hand-embellishments used to trim hems
you’re greeted by a cavalcade of colourful gowns as you enter the main exhibition space, each outfit has its year of creation in front.
Early outfits already feature Zandra’s signature squiggles.

As I’ve said in other reviews before the FTM isn’t a huge space so you get the chance to see the exhibits at very close hand and often from different angles. I’ve shared lots of my photos here although they aren’t in chronological order.

Vibrant pinks and oranges are recurring colours although more subtle shades and blacks and blues do make regular appearances too
more recent dresses from the 2000s
‘sparkling sequin’ collection from 2008
this dress ‘Renaissance/Gold’ dress from 1981 was modelled by Diana Ross in a photo by Richard Avedon.

Because I’d bought a ticket for a meet-and-greet prior to the official opening of the exhibition we also had the chance to chat with Zandra Rhodes and get copies of the new book signed by her.

You might have noticed that I have pink hair (well, a pink fringe at any rate) I always admired Zandra’s pink hair but I always imagined there was someone (who?) or something (what?) that prevented me doing it. Eventually, about 4 years ago, I did it, and I’ve realised it was the subliminal influence of Zandra that had planted the idea. When I finally got the opportunity to chat to her I told her as much, which she seemed chuffed about, and we swapped pink-hair-dyeing tips!

Zandra seems entertained by my hair-dye story!
and of course she signed in bright pink marker pen
I can’t match the vibrancy of her shade of pink though
Elizabeth and I really enjoyed our encounter with Zandra and I so admire that even in her late seventies she still fully embraces and inhabits her own look.

Also, upstairs in the exhibition space, you can see how the printing process works. The designs are screen printed using huge frames and each colour in the design has its own screen. This means that each print run could have quite a few stages to the process depending on the number of colours.

The prints are meticulously placed on the fabric so as to utilise as much as possible and avoid unnecessary wastage too. There is film to watch too so you can see the exactly how carefully the prints are created by Zandra’s team. The finished fabrics are then passed to the atelier team of expert pattern cutters and sample makers who turn them into finished garments for each collection.

If you’re interested in seeing the work of a British fashion icon close up, and in the museum and gallery space which she herself originally founded incidentally, then get along there now. The show is on until January 26th (closed on Mondays) As a bonus, in a separate small gallery space, there is also a Norman Hartnell exhibition too with quite a few of his designs on display. If it’s a grey day in London it’s bound to cheer you up!

Until next time,

Sue

Dior: Designer of Dreams at the V&A

The last few weeks on the blog have been very much about Sew Over 50 which has all been very exciting but that has meant that I haven’t had as much time to write about the other things which interest me a lot.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I’m really interested in the history of fashion and so visiting exhibitions of clothing from across the decades, or even centuries, is something I love to do. Living where I do I’m fortunate to be well placed to get into central London in less than an hour making most galleries and museums very accessible.

London’s blockbuster fashion exhibition this spring is Dior: Designer of Dreams which opened at the beginning of February in the V&A in South Kensington and it is such a beautiful show with literally hundreds of outfits on display. It’s being staged in their newest space, the Sainsbury Wing, which is underground but doesn’t feel remotely subterranean when you’re in it. Each room is different and begins with the single most famous outfit of all, the Bar suit from the first ‘New Look’ collection of February 1947. Nearby are other interpretations of it by the designers who followed Dior himself as head of the house which he created.

Bar suit February 1947

The show is thematic rather than chronological which personally I think makes it more coherent, not less. Whilst each designer has brought their own aesthetic to the label there is an element of timelessness about many of the creations. [It’s quite a fun game to see if you can work out which era a gown comes from, I was wrong a number of times, sometimes I went modern and they were from the 50’s and other times the opposite was true] The show takes you through a series of rooms which contain gowns of every shape and hue. Early on you come across the gown created for Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday ball in 1951. She and her mother continued to be Dior fans even after Princess Elizabeth became Queen in 1952, she herself has only ever worn British designers since.

The rooms are cleverly arranged because you move from one to the next and they all feel quite spacious and different to the previous one, some have dark backgrounds whilst others are light and airy. Some gowns are behind glass but many are not so you can get a good view of the exquisite workmanship and skills that have gone into each of them.

When he was alive Christian Dior made full use of the allure of Hollywood film stars to promote his collections and he dressed many leading ladies including Rita Hayworth and Jane Russell, their shapely figures were perfect for showing off his womanly designs. In fact Coco Chanel was very critical of his New Look because she saw it as a step backwards for women in terms of having to wear restrictive garments like corsets again, this coming after the relative freedom she had created with her boyish shapes in the pre-war years.

The pastel colours in the next room are beautifully lit and there are gowns by many of the designers who have come after Christian himself including the 21 year old prodigy Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. I loved this room…

Moving on from this room to the next there is a marked contrast with the gowns or ensembles being influenced by or referencing travel around the world. Several of John Galliano’s most fantastical creations are here alongside more wearable dresses by the other designers.

At various points there are also smaller cabinets and display cases containing other items of interest including beautiful perfume bottles, and photographs from Christian Dior’s beloved garden.

It might not look like it but this is dress is only about 30cms high
a perfect miniature dress embellished with flowers
A Raf Simons gown in front of a Christian Dior original
the setting in this room is stunning with thousands of papercut flowers and petals cascading from the ceiling
Lily of the Valley were one of Christian Dior’s favourite flowers and they featured regularly in his collections.

I actually wish that perfume had been wafted into this room to enhance the beautiful ambience…a hint of Miss Dior perhaps (named for his sister Catherine) or the scent of lily of the valley from Diorissimo?

The talents of all the Creative Directors are show-cased in the next room starting with Yves Saint Laurent’s brief tenure (he left to do his National Service in the army) Marc Bohan who served for the longest time and is still alive at the age of 93. After him came Italian Gianfranco Ferre followed by the notorious and flamboyant Gibraltarian John Galliano. When his reign ended abruptly under a cloud he was eventually followed by Belgian Raf Simons, and finally the first woman to hold the role, Italian Maria Grazia Chiuri.

Raf Simons
I love this pleated skirt by Raf Simons
This could only be John Galliano in his pomp
Maria Grazia Chiuri’s ‘Tarot’ coat looks as if it has been made from pieces of Medieval ecclesiastical embroidery

The next room is of particular interest to keen dressmakers because it is entirely filled with toiles of gowns, jackets and ensembles. It’s snowy whiteness is a stark contrast to all the bright colours and embellishment in the previous rooms and it heightens the drama of the superlative cutting and construction skills of the all-too-often unsung atelier staff or ‘petit mains’ as they are usually known. These are where the ideas are tried out, where the unusual cut of a sleeve is experimented with, or a dart on a collar attempted. It doesn’t waste costly and precious fabric and it helps visualise unusual proportions or new concepts. These toiles are about way more than just checking the fit on a garment.

Moving next through a narrow space displaying hundreds of magazine covers over the decades featuring Dior fashions old and new on one side, and a glass cabinet on the other side containing many shoes, bags, scarves, jewellery and other accessories and miniature versions of gowns and ensembles perfect in every detail like the full-size originals.

And finally you arrive at the best room of all. I had no idea what was coming so to round the corner and emerge into a huge ballroom space with lighting, music and special effects was breathtaking to say the least. There are literally dozens of gowns to look at, including three iterations of the J’Adore gowns worn by Charlize Theron in the perfume adverts.

J’Adore gowns
gowns worn by Lupito Nyong’o and Nicole Kidman.

You need to spend as long as you can in this room to fully experience it, there are places to sit too so you can rest and take it all in.

There’s only one more gown to see before you leave and it’s set between mirrors so you get the sense that there are many dresses, not just one.

The final gown was created by Maria Grazia Chiuri and it harks back to Christian Dior right at the beginning. It is soft and feminine and it references the New Look with its full pleated skirt and elegant lines. It could be from 1947 but it is very much of the now.

I absolutely love this exhibition! I’ve been able to go twice so far, as well as attend a talk between exhibition curator Oriale Cullen and Harper’s Bazaar editor Justine Picardie. As I keep mentioning in other posts, I’ve had such good value from my Membership of the V&A and this year will be no different. In April a retrospective of the work of Mary Quant also opens too. I purchased my own membership and all views expressed here are entirely my own.

You have until July 14th to see this exhibition and if you have any chance of being in London I urge you to try and get a ticket. I believe there are 500 additional tickets available every day but they sell out very quickly, check the website for updates would be my suggestion. I hope I’ve been able to give those of you who can’t get to London a small taste of the show, and for those of you who hope to get here my photos in no way do it justice and you’ve definitely got a lot to look forward to!

Until next time,

Sue

Balenciaga at the V&A

I finally managed to get to this gorgeous exhibition the other day and it was frustrating to think it was both ‘worth the wait’ and ‘why did I wait so long!’  Whatever the answer I really glad I did.

I’ve loved the V&A since I was about 14 or 15 when I was studying for O-level Needlework (!!) and I used to visit to draw the clothes that were on display in what was then known as the Costume Court. I would sit patiently in front of the cabinets to sketch the details of historical garments, it’s definitely where my love and fascination for the construction of garments began.

Amazingly I found some of my original sketches from that time (although if you look carefully one of them seems to have been tampered with by a small child!) They were drawn on graph paper donated by my Dad. At that time I’d decided I wanted to be a costume designer, although through a few educational twists and turns I finished up doing bridal and evening wear instead which was the next best thing. Fortunately since then the fashion galleries have moved on a fair bit in the way they display things now, more rotation of garments from the collections and less dusty mannequins. That said, a few of my favourite garments from that era are still on display so I can still get my nostalgia-fix.

magenta crinoline
one of my favourites, a magenta crinoline

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This is another of my favourites, it’s from 1937 designed by Charles James and made in a silk chiffon with a print by Jean Cocteau…I’d wear it now given the chance!

Nowadays they utilise the central downstairs area to host changing exhibitions along with the upstairs gallery. [This is was an inspired move in my opinion because all that the upstairs area used to contain was ancient dusty stringed instruments and, as far as I could tell, no one ever went up there!!]

And so to Balenciaga…he was a Spaniard born into a humble background in 1895 who eventually worked for almost all of his illustrious career in Paris and came to be hugely respected and influential amongst the pantheon of great designers.IMG_3077

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He developed innovative ways of handling fabric to create extraordinary shapes and styles, many of them had hidden foundations which enabled them to hold their shape. Fabric was all, it was always his starting point and the design came from there, not the other way around. He was extremely proficient in all aspects of the design process, he understood fabric and its capabilities, so he could drape and cut the fabrics into his chosen shapes, he was an expert tailor, pattern cutter and could sew too. Not every designer is capable of all this and many rely on the expertise of others to realise their visions. I have great respect for designers like this.

Balenciaga at work
Cristobal Balenciaga at work in his atelier, a calm and quiet place where he always wore his customary white overall.

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One thing that is different about this exhibition to most others I’ve been to at the V&A is being allowed to take photos-I can only assume this because they’ve given up trying to stop people, or they don’t need to protect anyone’s copyright or intellectual property??

The dress in the foreground here was, apparently, adored by fashion editors of the time and much photographed. Only a few were sold though because it was nearly impossible to go to the loo whilst wearing it!!

The exhibition has a several displays at the beginning which illustrate Balenciaga’s use of fabric and his swatch system and the designs that stemmed from it.

His Spanish heritage was often a source of inspiration too, boleros being typical of this but also the use of lace and flamenco-influenced ruffles and flounces.

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a bolero jacket…sorry, not a good photo…

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The whole of the downstairs part of the show is given over to Balenciaga’s own designs for both his couture collections and the ready to wear line that he also developed. There are evening gowns, coats, day dresses, tailoring and pant suits. There’s an opportunity to try on mock-ups of a garments for yourself, and there are also a number of toiles that have been recreated in calico by MA students from UAL including Claire-Louise Hardie who blogs as The Thrifty Stitcher and who was the sewing producer on the Great British Sewing Bee series.

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Claire-Louise Hardie’s toile

There are several exquisite beaded coats and gowns as well as a fascinating accompanying video showing exactly how the beading is done-don’t miss it, it’s enthralling. IMG_3102IMG_3103IMG_3104

I adore this dress, my photo doesn’t do it justice as it’s a vibrant fuchsia pink in reality. On the wall behind is one of several specially commissioned x-ray photos taken by Nick Veasey and showing the secret interior construction of the dress.

This is a strapless gown that has been turned inside out so that you can see all the details that mean the dress won’t fall down! My previous blog from a visit to the FTM also tells you about my ‘hands on’ experience looking inside beautiful couture clothing, read it here. 

Upstairs there are lots more clothes created by many contemporary designers who acknowledge the debt that their designs owe to Balenciaga’s influence. These include Roksanda Illincic,  Erdem and Nicholas Ghesquiere, who became chief designer in 1997 when the Balenciaga brand was reinvigorated for the 21st century.

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Roksanda Illincic-love this!!

 

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Erdem

 

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Nicholas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga

There’s so much more to see than I can show here so I’d urge you to go along to the V&A if you love finding out about the history and development of fashion design. This exhibition is on until February next year so there’s plenty of time at the moment. Make sure you look around the rest of the fashion exhibits that are on display in the surrounding gallery too-there are so many interesting garments, often dating back centuries, and you can see the influence and development that they’ve had on clothing over that time.

I’ve been a member of the V&A for 3 years now so I can go as often I like to their exhibitions but, as ever, all opinions here are my own! I hope you enjoy this show as much as I did and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Sue

Strictly dresses part 2!

So here I am with another collection of photos and, I hope, interesting info about how the dresses come together on Strictly Come Dancing (Dancing with the Stars elsewhere but I guess you know that)

With the start of every new series Vicky Gill is given a set budget and from this she has to create every single costume. At the beginning that’s a LOT of outfits because initially there are 16 celebrities and their professional partners, there will be group dances every week on the main show and Sunday night, as well as other dances accompanying any guest acts. Theme weeks like Halloween, Movies or Musicals mean there might be other accessories too which wouldn’t usually be needed. The budget restrictions also means that each week some dancers will get more elaborate or expensive outfits whilst others are less costly. This usually results in a ’swap’ over the following weeks so that everyone gets something very special at some time or another…unless they are voted out early doors. As I said in my previous blog, some of the dresses can cost as much as £2000 so they will almost certainly be reused in subsequent series whenever possible or sold on the DSI website, or on the SCD cruises for that matter.

I mentioned how Vicky might have particular fabrics cropping up throughout a series and Claudia’s two piece featured here is another example of the lace or embroidered fabrics that she used in the last series. It’s also the sort of style that wouldn’t be seen in real Ballroom dancing competitions, they have their own trends going on and SCD doesn’t particularly reflect them, it’s often more fashion-led than competition clothes.

Claudia F
Claudia’s skirt is an example of the use of ‘crin’ around the hem to make it stand out. It’s used in different widths, usually 1″, 3″ or 6″

Claudia F blue
Theresa told us how this skirt changed shortly before the actual show from being a peach underskirt with navy organza and satin overlay to having a navy tulle overskirt. This was because Vicky decided it was too shiny under the lights in the studio.

 

The dress run takes place on Saturday afternoons and in the 2 hours between the end of that and the live show starting the team will often have to make changes to costumes for lots of different reasons-too long, too tight, too shiny, too daring etc etc. Vicky and Theresa are at the studio in Elstree from Friday evening and take a supply of fabrics so that skirts can be recut, repaired, whatever is needed. The dresses are made at DSI’s base in Croydon but they are then taken by car by a member of staff direct to Elstree on Thursday evening, this is because they can’t risk putting everything in a taxi or a van and then it ‘disappears’ en route-no costumes=no show!. Bearing in mind that the costume designs aren’t usually finalised and started until Tuesday morning that is an incredibly tight turnaround. The machinists are extremely skilled and adept at working with stretch and other tricky fabrics, it isn’t for the faint-hearted that’s for sure. Vicky often watches training footage too to ensure that her designs will work in conjunction with any tricky lifts for example-too much skirt or fancy details at the waist might make it really difficult.

Before the live show begins everyone is sewn into their outfits so that no disaaaasters like straps or hooks coming undone, ties flapping about in the male dancers faces and so on can happen. This is fine unless they need the loo, in which case it has to be redone after they’ve been!

Katya and Ed
Ed the knight in shining armour swept new dancer Katya off her feet in this dress.

Katya 2

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This was an unusually sober dress although it did have some stoning on the polkadots

Ed Balls was a good example of a male celebrity who didn’t want any sparkle to start with but quickly embraced the whole ‘Strictly-fication’ of his outfits!

I loved this dress that Daisy Lowe wore to dance to the old music hall song “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do” with Aljaz. It was so understated with a simple daisy lace trim added to the neckline and crystals on the front. It’s a good example of a less costly dress too.

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It had an unusual cowl back too.

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Tameka Empson’s Charleston costume was probably one of the least expensive outfits to create in plain navy fabric and very few sparkles. Theresa told us the red trim was an example of a costume getting altered after the dress run because the front was too low and revealing, especially for an active Charleston!

Tameka Charleston
I loved this dance, it’s a shame Tameka didn’t get further in the competition.

Tameka green dress

 

Green, blue and pink was an unusual combination but it works beautifully. There are a lot of stones on this dress so it will reappear in a future show in a different guise. IMG_0510IMG_0511IMG_2635

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These are 2 of the most unusual costumes to feature on SCD. They were worn by Judge Rinder and Oksana when they danced the Paso Doble and the skirt and ‘moth wings’ were both hand-painted by an artist-friend of Vicky Gill. Theresa was telling us that the jacket didn’t have enough colour on it so they were daubing it with Dylon only hours before the show and drying it with a hairdryer!

Strictly Come Dancing 2016

Just a few more pictures now and they are some of my favourite costumes, all worn by Joanne Clifton, who won the competition dancing with Ore Oduba.

Ore Singin' in the rain
This lovely canary yellow ‘raincoat’ wasn’t out on display to see close up but it did feature in the fashion show and was modelled by two members of the crew!

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The dress featuring in the fashion show on board.

A very different sort of dress, it featured shorts under a long georgette skirt (which wasn’t always georgette, it got changed late on) and a roll-neck top which was stoned. The striped fabric is more usually used for the men’s shirts.

This dress worn by Joanne for the Quickstep was one of the hardest to create because of the centre front seam between 3 different fabrics. It also featured heavyweight metal zips from the side and across the back as well as crystals, sequinned fabric and gemstones! The finished result looked amazing but took a long time to achieve.

Ore showdance
Old school Hollywood glamour for the Final

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So simple yet so lovely, sheer navy over a nude base.

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Feathers, multiple godets and crystals-gorgeous!

Lesley Joseph was the oldest person so far to compete in the main series of SCD and she looked stunning in this beautiful raspberry pink heavily beaded dress. Unusually it has a centre-front zip because of the beading details on the back.

I’ll finish up with two more hot pink outfits [because it’s my favourite colour] as worn by Breakfast television presenter Naga Munchetty and  professional dancer Karen Clifton.

Karen’s outfit for her dance with singer Will Young to Jai Ho! was made using sari fabric and embellished with Indian necklaces bought in a sari shop.  The gold belt was made using plaited elastic and, like the bodice, it was stoned to make it sparkle.

So that’s about it, I took masses of other photos of the Showcases which the professionals danced as well as the fashion shows but sadly many of them aren’t good enough quality to publish here.

I hope you’ve found it interesting because I certainly enjoyed finding out all about the creation of the outfits and all the back-stage stuff, there’s probably still masses more I could have learnt and I would have loved to chat more with Theresa [it turns out we both went to London College of Fashion at virtually the same time although she went on to work for the Emanuels…. and I didn’t]

As before, the information I’ve shared is as I remember it from the cruise so I hope none of it is incorrect or misleading, and I’ve received no payment either. If you think it is then do let me know so that I can rectify that. Most photos are my own but others were sourced from Google images.

It’s only a couple of months before the whole cycle starts again with lots of new celebrities and we can marvel at what Vicky Gill and her brilliant team create in almost no time at all.

I, for one, cannot wait!

Keeeeeep Dancing!

Sue

close up with the Strictly Come Dancing costumes

I haven’t written a blog for absolutely ages because I’ve either been super-busy with sewing, teaching and alteration commitments, or I was away from home, and now two blogs come along in quick succession…

In early May I went with my good friend (and sewing student) Sue to south west France to walk a section of the Camino de Santiango between Cahors and Moissac. After taking Eurostar and the TGV all the way to Cahors we walked from one destination to the next every day, carrying all our belongings with us in our rucksacks. It was challenging at times but a positive one. We had little contact with home, no TV or news (lovely!), no make up, simple accommodation and delicious home-cooked meals. It also meant I couldn’t worry about anything back home so it was very liberating in that respect. One of the things I didn’t have to think about was sewing and, much as I love it, I didn’t particularly miss it!

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all of my belongings for a week were in this bag…it was quite heavy

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spotted in the window of a French dry-cleaners….seems all the world needs things fixing!

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best foot forward….

After my French sojourn I had a couple of weeks in which to start/continue/finish as many projects as possible before heading off on a cruise around the Baltic. What we didn’t realise when we booked it months ago was that it would be a Strictly Come Dancing themed one and not only would judge Craig Revel Horwood be on board (with his Mum Bev and his sister Di!) along with dancers Aljaz, Janette, Giovanni, Oti, Oksana and her husband Jonathan, but LOTS of the costumes would be on display too!

We were sailing on the P&O Cruises ship Britannia from Southampton and once we were on board we set about exploring straight away…actually that’s not quite true because we had some lunch first!

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3 of the dresses on display in the atrium of the ship.

I discovered that the costumes were on show in the central atrium area of the ship so we generally had to go past them most of the time if we were walking elsewhere, which wasn’t a problem as far as I was concerned. They were all displayed on mannequins and you could get right up close and have a good look at them. This was thrilling enough, and I would have been happy with that, but then I discovered that there was going to be a guided tour of the dresses so we could find out more about each of them in detail. Fab-u-lous.

So my husband (bless ‘im) put my name down on the list [we were first and second hehe] so on the second sea day we rocked up nice and early for the ‘tour’.

So the first thing I learned is that all the costumes (men as well as women) are made for the BBC by a company called DSI London based in Croydon. If you ever watch It Takes Two in the week during the run of Strictly you’ll see designer Vicky Gill talking about the dresses for Saturday night’s show. Although she wasn’t on the cruise her production manager and indispensable right-hand woman, Theresa Hewlett, was. What might seem like a dream job she described as hectic, stressful, fun, very long hours, pressurised, sparkly, rewarding and exciting.

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Theresa…oops, eyes shut 😉

Theresa walked us through the various dresses on display, many of which were from the most recent series of Strictly [I bet you didn’t know that you can buy the actual dresses as worn on the show? They go onto the DSI website on the Monday morning so you too could own a piece of telly memorabilia…although it doesn’t come cheap]

Over the course of the series they will have to design and create in the region of 350-400 dresses and outfits! That’s a lot of crystals, ruffles and godets! Incidentally DSI are also responsible for the male judges outfits but not Tess, Claudia or Darcey-they have to sort themselves out-although they quite often have to shorten Claudia’s frocks as she’s so diddy.

This is a selection of the dresses I saw and wherever possible I’ve accompanied them with a picture of the celebrity wearing it in the series.

Anastasia wasn’t in the series for that long but several of her dresses featured and they are interesting because they were made from ready made basques which were bought on the high street and then customised. She liked a slinkier silhouette so they had lots of fringing and were heavily embellished with crystals by Ash who does most of the stoning and you’ll hear Vicky singing his praises on SCD ITT on a Thursday night regularly.

This black Guipure lace with baby pink lining was worn by Laura Whitmore, it was such a pretty combination. Theresa told us that Vicky gets sent samples of all sorts of fabrics and last season there was a lot of heavy laces which aren’t traditionally used in ballroom dresses. The dress worn by Oksana dancing with Judge Rinder was also lace although it was a more ‘fun’ dress. Because lace doesn’t stretch like the other fabrics used it would often have to be cut in small segments for the fitted bodices and pieced back together over body curves.

I loved this pretty dress Oksana wore in a peachy shade with heavily-crystalled bodice and neckline. We were lucky enough to see her wearing this dress for real in the second week because she and her husband came on board. It’s an example of a bodice and skirt which Vicky uses quite often because of the flexibility it offers by being adaptable and getting a good fit in double-quick time.

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Oksana in her ‘Prom’ dress in the on-board fashion. show

Judge R Flintstones
The white Flintstones dress was interesting close up, it was lots of feather-shaped pieces sewn on singly to strips of elastic which, in turn, were stitched to a white leotard.

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The ‘feathers’ look really effective but were, apparently, a real pain in the neck to sew on.

Theresa told us how all the dresses start out on the base of a leotard, everything is made from scratch so they have a huge range of colours and fabrics at their disposal, almost all of them stretchy to allow full movement. They have bra-cups in them when needed, or made in such a way that the dancer or celebrity can wear their own bra under it,  invisible straps or flesh-coloured mesh. The celebrities usually start out quite shy and want to be covered up but as they progress, and often slim down a little, they become happier to expose more flesh.

Louise Rednapp was a good example of this. She didn’t want anything figure-hugging at the beginning (even though she has an enviable figure!) but by the Final she was much more confident about herself and her abilities and her outfits got more revealing.

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Louise’s Argentine Tango dress

Louise Argentine Tango

This is Louise’s show dance dress from the final in a lovely grey and pink combination. You can also see that it’s been the victim of a mishap at some point because the front decoration has been damaged. The dresses frequently go overseas on loan to other versions of SCD and, although they shouldn’t, they often fiddle with or alter the dresses.  This particular dress got sold to a passenger on the cruise so the front will be rectified before she takes delivery. Louise showdance

Because the dresses are so stretchy they will fit anyone from a size 6/8 up to about a 14 which can be useful during the run of the show. Dresses which are heavily embellished are extremely costly both in terms of crystals used and the man hours making them so one garment could cost as much as £2000! These dresses (if they don’t get sold) are frequently recycled in later series by using the bodice and/or skirt on a new outfit. Unless you’re very eagle-eyed though I doubt we’d recognise it. I was fascinated to learn that the dresses will all go into the washing machine! on a gentle cycle mind you, and not the ones with feathers on, they get carefully hand washed.

Greg and Natalie
Natalie Lowes and Greg Rutherford dancing a Samba

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Close up of the stoning on one of Natalie’s outfits

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these are strings of bugle beads which are glued in position. It’s used to give a lovely feathery or swishy effect but is pretty time-consuming.

Natalie samba
The outfit in action, it was memorable because Natalie managed to finish up with the skirt up around her waist by the end of the dance!!

Natalie’s dress from Movies week when she and Greg danced to the theme from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.Natalie Robin Hood

Theresa told us that Natalie always likes a belt or sash to emphasise her waist.

black and white dress

This dress is one which featured in the group dance at Blackpool so it’s one of about 12 the same or very similar! It’s a lovely example of stoning too, as is the dress below .

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More fringe beading on Oti’s show dance dress, it was amazingly heavy!

Oti red dress
Oti Mabuse and Danny dancing in the Final.

This is an example of a dress which will be reused sometime in the future because of the the amount of work in it, even though it is essentially a tube of stretch fabric. When Oti came on board during the second week she brought with her another of her dresses from the Final.

This one was also extremely heavily stoned, probably one or two days work alone!Oti showdance

The crystals are applied by picking each one up individually on a small stick which has a blob of bees wax on the end and then glued on. Ash has several people who help him but it still takes HOURS.

When Oti and Danny danced their jive (I think…) she wore this heavily-stoned two piece in green, a colour that she wasn’t very keen on. It was green because the dance had a snooker hall theme so it was the colour of the baize. Another factor that Vicky Gill must take into account every week is that each couple has a different colour from one another so that there shouldn’t be two shades the same or too similar, to give a balanced look to the show. It’s one of those things that the audience wouldn’t even think about probably.

I’ve got loads more pictures and interesting info to share so I’ll finish this blog here and write up a second one, that way you don’t get Strictly overload! I’ve got lots more insider facts to come yet…

All the information I’ve shared here is as I understood it from the guided walks and fashion shows that I was fortunate to take part in. If you know any of it is incorrect or misleading in any way please let me know so that I can rectify that.

Most photos are my own, others were sourced from Google images,

Until next time,

Sue