Isobel Spevak Harris
Isobel Spevak Harris was born in Russia in 1888 but grew up in Lancashire. She started her career by sending sketches to Parisian designers, which they bought. The money she earned allowed her to set up a business, which was a success by at least 1918.
Her brand, Madame Isobel, was a leading British fashion house of the interwar period. She travelled extensively to promote British couture and to help make London a fashion destination over Paris, on the Auspices of the Fashion Group of Great Britain.
A newsreel film from 1930 displayed Isobel’s designs: “It is no longer necessary for the discriminating woman of elegance to go to Paris for her gowns” the presenter announced. “Isobel models [designs] mean British models” became her slogan, and her adverts averred that “Isobel does not copy Paris models. She creates her own.” They also firmly told readers that her “creations mean employment for British workers all year round.”
Isobel had a clear aesthetic which ran through both her designs and the interiors of the shop. The window displays would exhibit just one item at a time, with a grey quilted screen as a backdrop. She employed 400 staff. Norman Hartnell was one of her neighbours on Grosvenor street. Her designs were noted for their simplicity, dignity and femininity, as well as the high quality of the fabric and finish. Her clients were the cream of London society.
The coronation of King George VI meant an endless amount of court and social events for socialites and a busy time for couturiers like Isobel in 1937. After that, the advent of the Second World War meant a drop in sales for luxury clothing businesses like Madame Isobel, although the shop and workshops remained open.
She designed a wedding dress for her assistant Anne Hodson/ Molyneux in 1953, which is on display at the V&A museum.
The business closed in the mid 50s and she died in 1973.
Angele was born in Belgium in 1908 and moved to London at the outbreak of WWI as a refugee. She was designing in Paris in the 30s and by 1939, was presenting her first collection in London, which coincided with the outbreak of WWII. She was among the early members of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers. She was known for soft tailoring and feminine gowns, particularly romantic evening wear and wedding dresses, as well as using antique lace and unusual fabrics from abroad. In 1947, she presented a collection featuring draped and brocaded evening gowns with stiffened hems slightly raised at the front, while daywear was characterised by simple designs with high necklines and checked and plaid fabrics. Her designs had broad appeal, a fashion writer in The Times noting in 1948: "Angele Delanghe has built her collection on the three Balzac types – the unmarried girl, the woman of 30 and the woman of the world”.
By 1949, Delanghe was designing for department store Fortnum & Mason. Part of her job there was conserving, renovating and updating gowns. The press breathlessly reported that she was working on a ballgown dating from the Eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 for the Countess of Sefton – covered in gold Brussels lace, it was worth £800 (£25,000 today) and had to be kept in the Fortnum’s vault.
Her work regularly featured in newspaper reviews. In 1949, she presented a collection of lightweight woollen suits with soft silhouettes, slim waists and pleated skirts. A review in 1950 noted her clever use of featherweight tweeds and worsteds, alongside cotton and linen and the fact that she had, as usual, designed with a focus on colour and suitability for the British climate.
1951 was a huge year for Angele Delanghe, as for all of London’s couture businesses. It was the coronation of Elizabeth II and gowns needed to be made not only for those invited to the historical service but for all the balls, parties and other events that were going on around town in honour of it.
She left Fortnum’s in 1954 and opened her own store again opposite Norman Hartnell.
By the early 60s, she was part of the old guard and losing touch with contemporary fashion. The Times commented that she appeared to hanker for an age gone by. Her label closed in ’66 and she worked for a short time for Lachasse. She soon retired and passed away in 1971.
Bianca was born in Italy and was a cousin of Elsa Schiaparelli, whom she had worked for in Paris. In 1937, she came to London, after being appointed the head designer of the London branch of the House of Paquin. The Paquin building was bombed at the start of WWII but Mosca chose to stay in London. In 1939, she became head designer for the Jacqmar studio. She subsequently became a founding member of the Society of London Designers in 1942 and was its only female member at the time. She was described as "one of the big 10 of the British fashion world”. Her signature was her bold and imaginative use of printed textiles.
She began designing prototype utility clothing designs during WWII under the label ‘Austerity Bianca Mosca’.
With other members of IncSoc, she designed costumes for film to promote British couture. Among her film credits are Dead of Night and Maytime in Mayfair.
In 1946, she launched a couture label. Her label was black satin featuring a fly with white wings, in a translation of her name.
A 1949 review of her latest collection highlighted "semi-eveningwear—sleeveless, floor length gowns in organza or brocade with full underskirts and coats designed on similar principles.” One of her notable clients was the Duchess of Kent.
She donated a permanently pleated nylon dress to Doris Langley Moore in 1949, who later established the Fashion Museum in Bath. It was the first British couture dress in nylon. Also in 1949, she designed a dress for the prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn who wore it to a reception after the opening of her performance of Sleeping Beauty. She was photographed wearing it by Cecil Beaton for Vogue. It was named the best dress of 1949 by the Bath Fashion Museum.
There was a post war slump in sales of British couture and the business was failing as American’s opted for Parisian couture. She opened an office in Paris to promote British fabrics in France. However, Bianca sadly fell ill and underwent an operation, passing away in 1950. In 1951, a trust fund was established in her name to award fashion scholarships, which was eventually taken over by the Royal Society of Arts and judged by Edward Molyneaux.
In 2015 the Bianca Mosca label was re-launched as a luxury leather goods label by Timothy de Rosen.
Jean Muir was a British fashion designer. She started her career in Liberty of London’s ready-to-wear department and from there went on to design for Jaeger in 1956. She launched her own label Jane & Jane in 1962. Her designs demonstrated an understated look and easy fit. Jane & Jane was one of the first companies to bring couture standards and quality to the wholesale fashion industry. Muir used Liberty textiles in many of her designs. Following this, she launched Jean Muir Ltd. in 1966. She used high quality soft fabrics with a focus on form and fluidity. The woman who wore her deigns was modern with a restrained elegance. She has been described as bringing common sense to clothing.
Among her accolades, she won the Dress of The Year award three times and was a fellow of the Chartered Society of Designers. She was awarded a CBE in 1984.
She also did the wardrobe for Eleanor Bron in the 1967 film Bedazzled and again for Betrayal in 1983.
She passed away in 1995 due to breast cancer but her husband continued the company before eventually closing it in 2007.
In 2005, her husband donated Jean Muir's archive collection to the National Museums of Scotland.
In April 2021 English Heritage announced that Muir was one of six women who they were honouring with a blue plaque that year, marking the central London showroom and office of her flagship brand, Jean Muir Ltd.
We are lucky enough to have one of her dresses for sale in our shop.
Maureen Baker was born in London in 1920. She rose to prominence when she was appointed head designer for the RTW fashion label Susan Small in 1943. This label, founded in the 1930s, was best known for party dresses and evening wear in colourful and exotic prints, specializing in petite sizes. In 1950, their advertising featured the slogan, "To the smaller smart woman ... it's a Susan Small world!"
Baker went on to create the wedding dress worn by Princess Anne in 1973, with Anne having a lot of input into the design. It was an embroidered Tudor style dress with a high collar and medieval-style sleeves. It was embroidered by Lock’s embroiderer’s and described as simplistic in comparison to previous royal wedding dresses.
After the closure of Susan Small, Maureen started her own company in 1978- Maureen Baker designs, and employed just three seamstresses. Anne continued as her loyal customer and Margaret Thatcher became another high profile client. She was consulted for the creation of Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding gown in 1981.
She retired in the 90s and passed away in 2017.
Her work can be viewed at the V&A.