London Couture and Swinging London: The Riposte

Fashion and Textile Museum, London, London, United Kingdom

Tuesday, October 8, 2019 - 14:00 to 15:00

An afternoon lecture with author and historian Michael Pick

In 1968 London was still swinging. The most famous of all London couture designers with international fame was Norman Hartnell. Asked about the survival of couture in the radically changing fashion world, he explained that irrespective of what women wore in the daytime, for the evening his clients of all ages continued to demand long, individually designed and hand-made dresses. This was partly wishful thinking, as this lecture will illustrate.

Whilst the world’s fashion capitals came to terms with ‘The Youth Revolution’, epitomised by ‘Swinging London’, the rapidly evolving changes embraced new attitudes to what constituted fashion. London became the focus of attention on young designers such as Mary Quant and her King’s Road shop ‘Bazaaar’. Her style did not transform world fashion overnight, but was adapted and blended by others not only into the era of the mini-skirt, but also into a lifestyle change including new looks in interior decoration, the design of fabrics, household objects and cars. A wide ranging introduction of new synthetic fabrics often used in a proliferation of inexpensive clothing for the young was epitomised by Carnaby Street. Youth had spending power unequalled by previous generations and manufacturers rapidly catered to this.

The impact of new British design in 1960s Britain extended beyond Swinging London clothing, for example, into films, especially James Bond films, tv serials such as The Avengers, newspapers with new colour magazine supplements and the redesign of magazines such as Vogue and Harpers. They all played their part in celebrating and selling London’s renaissance as a vibrant city with a new youth culture expressing itself most visibly in the clothing of its inhabitants.

All London couture designers realised that exclusivity was no longer enough to attract clients to their collections. They accepted that their traditional client base was ageing, many already late middle aged or elderly, as were some of the designers – Hartnell himself had been in business since 1923 – constantly adapting to changing times and tastes. The designs of all the top INCSOC designers, including Hardy Amies, Digby Morton, Sherard, Paterson or Lachasse were carefully angled to attract younger affluent clients, whilst not excluding the older from the appeal of their collections and reflecting radically changing lines and silhouettes as far as possible. Their part in the fashion history of Swinging London forms the subject of this lecture.

Michael Pick’s books include, Rayne: Shoes for Stars, published by ACC, Be Dazzled!: Norman Hartnell, Sixty Years of Glamour and Fashion, published by Pointed Leaf Press, Hardy Amies, published by ACC, and The English Country Room, published by Harmony Books. Michael’s biography on Norman Hartnell, published by Zuleika will launch at a special talk and event at the Fashion and Textile Museum in October 2019. An accompanying display on Norman Hartnell, curated by Michael will be in the Museum’s small gallery from September 2019 – Jan 2020.

A selection of titles will be available to purchase in the Museum shop.

Free with exhibition ticket
Exhibition tickets: £9.90 adults | £8.80 concessions | £7 students

Please note this event has been rescheduled to Tuesday 8 October from Friday 31 May.

United Kingdom
Fashion and Textile Museum, 83 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3XF