Mad Men Era 3: London’s Old Guard

October 11, 2011 § 4 Comments

English expats Lane and Rebecca Pryce (Jared Harris and Embeth Davidtz) in Mad Men, Season 3

Lane (Jared Harris) and Rebecca Pryce (Embeth Davidtz) in “Love Among the Ruins” (Mad Men, Season 3)

This week my series on designers of the Mad Men era continues with four couturiers associated with London: Ronald Paterson, John Cavanagh, Michael Donéllan, and Edward Molyneux. The first three, as heads of London couture houses in the postwar period, had their licensed designs released through Vogue’s Couturier line. (These designers aren’t all that well documented online; a useful print source is Amy de la Haye, ed., The Cutting Edge: 50 Years of British Fashion 1947-1997.)

Ronald Paterson (1917-1993)

Born in Scotland, Ronald Paterson moved to London in 1936 to attend the Picadilly Institute of Design. After winning a fashion design contest judged by Elsa Schiaparelli, he worked briefly at a London couture house until the beginning of the Second World War. Paterson established his own house in London in 1947. Following its 1968 closure the designer turned to costume work for films including the Bond movie “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977). Paterson was known for his tweeds and tailoring.

Vogue 1302, modelled by Jean Shrimpton, is an example of one of my favourite types of early sixties ensembles: the suit consisting of a dress and matching jacket. The sleeveless dress has a bodice that’s gathered into the dropped back waistline, and the short jacket has a fabulous funnel neck, cuffed sleeves and the option for self bow trim at the waist:

1960s Ronald Paterson dress suit jacket pattern feat. Jean Shrimpton Vogue 1302

Vogue 1302 by Ronald Paterson (1964) Dress and jacket. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

John Cavanagh (1914-2003)

The Irish-born John Cavanagh trained with Molyneux in London and Paris from 1932 to 1940. Starting in 1947 he worked as design assistant at Balmain until he established his own house in 1952. Cavanagh had an early success in his 1953 ‘Coronation’ collection, and his royal commissions included the Duchess of Kent’s wedding dress in 1961. (See photos and video of the Duke and Duchess of Kent’s wedding here.) In 1966 he shifted his focus from couture to ready-to-wear, and the house closed in 1974. Cavanagh was esteemed for his classic tailoring and evening wear.

Vogue 1347, another design modelled by Jean Shrimpton, is a wedding dress with optional cathedral-length train. The dress has a raised waist, wide three-quarter sleeves, and a rolled, stand-up collar. I love the extravagance of the Watteau train, and how the rolled cuffs match the collar:

1960s John Cavanagh wedding dress pattern - Vogue 1347

Vogue 1347 by John Cavanagh (1964) Wedding gown. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Michael Donéllan (1915-1985)

Another Irish-born designer, Michael Donéllan is called Michael of England and, later, Michael of London on Vogue patterns. From the 1940s he was head designer at the venerable London house of Lachasse before establishing his own couture house, Michael of Carlos Place, in 1953. (Carlos Place was also home to the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers.) From 1961 Mr. Donéllan also worked as a design consultant for Marks & Spencer. The house closed in 1971. Michael Donéllan was called the Balenciaga of London for his elegant, uncluttered tailoring.

Vogue 1437 is an evening ensemble consisting of a short, bias evening dress and matching jacket with three-quarter sleeves and welt pockets. I like to think the hat serves to advertise the design’s Britishness:

1960s Michael of London (Michael Donéllan) evening suit pattern - Vogue 1437

Vogue 1437 by Michael of London (c. 1964) Evening dress and jacket. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Molyneux (1891-1974)

Although Edward Molyneux is today’s most senior designer, I’ve left him to last because the house closed during the postwar period and didn’t reopen until the mid-1960s. The London-born Molyneux worked as a sketcher at Lucile from 1911 until the outbreak of the First World War. During his military service he lost an eye, and in 1917 he was made Captain, so you’ll sometimes see him referred to as Captain Molyneux. He established the house of Molyneux in Paris in 1919, moving his business to London during the Second World War. The house closed in 1950, with the Paris studio passing to Jacques Griffe; however, in 1964 Molyneux announced the relaunch of his label, presenting his first collection in early 1965. (For more on Molyneux’s comeback see Worn Through‘s recent post.) The designer retired a couple years later, leaving the business in the hands of his nephew. Molyneux’s work is famous for its spare, modern lines and understated luxury.

Vogue 1502, modelled by Simone D’Aillencourt, is a day dress with a contrasting ascot that’s framed by the shaped, stand-up collar. (Click on the image to see the technical drawing.) The design also features contrast trim inside the neck and sleeves (barely visible in the photo):

1960s Molyneux dress pattern with ascot - Vogue 1502

Vogue 1502 by Molyneux (1965) Dress with ascot. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

The London College of Fashion has some pictures of Molyneux’s later work online, including this photo of the Vogue 1502 design:

Edward Molyneux 1965 dress model photo Vogue 1502

Dress by Molyneux in navy wool crepe by Nattier, 1965. Image via VADS.

It may be a truism to say that tailoring and evening wear are British strengths, designed for aristocratic social life, but Vogue’s selections do look perfect for the Season’s requirements…

Next: Old House, New Designer: Lanvin, Patou, Nina Ricci, and Dior.

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