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The Fashion & Textile Museum 2015 Exhibition Previews


Riviera Style Resort & Swimwear – 22ndMay – 30thAugust 2015

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Riviera Style Resort & Swimwear since 1900 brought up to the present day. Over 100 objects and garments worn by or in the sea will be on display, many having come from the archives of Leicestershire County Councils collection. The exhibition will be broken down into five chronological sections: Bathing Beauties 1900-1920; Cling, Bag, Stretch 1920 -1940; Mould & Control 1940-1950; Body Beautiful 1950-1990; Second Skin – Contemporary Designs.

The exhibition represents a perspective on the moral code for public behaviour of the time enduring the limitations of what was regarded as appropriate, modest attire for beach wear, alongside the design aesthetic limitations of what the fabric available would permit. In time of course, the moral code was loosened and subverted by public demand, enabled greatly by new fabric technologies and design innovations.

Originally all public bathing was segregated by gender. Men generally swam nude, but when segregation broke down, men were obliged to wear swimwear, usually wool, with an outer cloth tied around their suits for added modesty on top of the swimwear. Women wore wool bathing dresses, and stockings and hats, with modesty dictating dark colours to avoid wet see-through improprieties. However wool when wet is heavy, saggy, uncomfortable and prone to smelling. Gradually, women wanted more mobility and lighter more flexible fabrics started to emerge.

At the same time, blush-sparing public changing was the norm with the now, almost farcical act of wheeling a bathing hut into the sea, so that you could get changed unseen. The men were still required to be quite formal with stiff collars and ties and hats at this time even while on the beach. In fact, many families took the opportunity to have studio family portraits taken while they were at the beach in their best clothes.

The ‘cling, bag, stretch’ section describes the tendency of the bathing suit of the time once wet, to unflatter the wearer and presented a big dilemma confronting designers and manufacturers wanting to cultivate the swimwear market. The British aspired to be like the continental Riviera holiday-goer, with much of the copied styling coming from Chanel in the 1920s, epitomising fun and a celebration of sea in various styles. Manufacturers were trying to perfect fabrics, with the additions of button fasteners at the shoulders, and often with skirts attached to shorts to maintain discretion.

Chests for men were still not allowed to be shown in public. Many of the designs were unisex knitted costumes, with more emphasis on flair and style, with cutaways for optimum sunbathing, with the ‘speed-suit’ designed by companies such as Wolsey, often with buttons fastened to detachable tops.

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The next major innovation was the introduction of elastic ruching, enabling the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. By the 1940s and 1950s, ‘Mould and Control’ was the major driver, influenced by Hollywood film stars, heralding the introduction of new fabrics and man-made fibres, creating ‘utility costumes’. The 1950s were really the decade of elastic, the big story for underwear, which directly impacted swimwear. ‘Lastex’ was created – latex rubber strands made into fibre as the base material for the costumes. Corset cut swimwear, looking like underwear, with far more shape became vogue using this fabric with detachable straps for tanning. Film stars such as Esther Williams were employed by Coles of California, and encouraged to introduce her own swimwear range.

Meanwhile in Britain, shiny satins and more glamorous fabrics had been introduced for women and men, with their own ‘comfort pouch’ supports – possibly the equivalent of today’s euphemistic micro ‘budgie’ pouch at the modesty-bypass end of the scale. Nylon takes off in the 1950s, with a lot of automatic advantages for swimwear: it dries quickly, doesn’t absorb much water and is flexible and more comfortable to wear. There was now a distinct move towards two-piece costumes, but still without revealing the (potentially outrageously erotic) belly-button. The bikini had in fact been invented in 1946 but not shown in UK until much later, according to modesty mores.  Brands such as Myers Tailored Leisure introduced ‘play suits’ for men and women to wear around the beach, appearing alongside the popular adoption of the holiday camp in Britain by the industry stalwart Butlins.

By the time of the 1960s lots of flesh was exposed during the height of the ‘package holiday’ concept, with lots of brochures printed with sunbathers enticing people towards holidays with sun ‘guaranteed’. The iconic photo of Ursula Andress in ‘Dr No’ which was quite daring at the time, inspired numerous copies and a beach style. The eensie-weensie bikini was also produced in the 60s. This period sees a greater move towards figure controlling designs – fashionable but predominantly shapely, with even PVC used in swimwear. The tri-kini, made from three pieces of fabric was introduced in the 1970s and almost became synonymous with beauty pageants such as ‘Miss Great Britain’ with models paraded in swimwear shown on TV screens influencing the fashion trends. The far more daring ‘topless suit’ as modelled by Peggy Moffet had a relatively short shelf life, with a mesh version causing less notoriety – both revealing and concealing and perhaps more considerate for the unsuspecting passer-by.

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The exhibition will have many unique 60s prints on display provided by King & McGaw, showing changing styles over the years. Men’s suits got smaller and with the help of Gloria Smythe’s Speedo, deliberately so. With each subsequent Olympics, she trimmed off a little more until she got down to two inches and stopped cutting. A wise decision for all parties. This was contrasted in the 1980s with a different aesthetic emphasis on length, epitomised by the TV series ‘Bay Watch’ where it was all about the cut giving as much leg length as possible.

The current trends in the ‘Second Skin’ section covers technological advances. Just after the 2008 Olympics, the increased speed of the swimmers was deemed too great because of a specific design of one piece swimwear and subsequently banned. Many well-known fashion designer brands have their own swimwear range – Stella McCartney designed an Olympic range, not to mention ranges from Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, John Galliano and Jerry Hall. Innovations gave rise to the ‘Miraclesuit’ advertised by the slogan “look 10lbs lighter in 10 seconds.” Imagine what could happen in a minute or half an hour? Nowadays, swimwear design and manufacturing is a global market, particularly in Brazil and Australia and the UK also.

The exhibition has been curated by Dr Christine Boydell, a design historian and Principal Lecturer in Design History at De Montfort University, Leicester, and supported by Sarah Nicol at Leicestershire County Council Museum Service and Dennis Nothdruft at the F&T Museum. The event is in the 2015 calendar of events organised by the Fashion & Textile Museum and Newham College in partnership with Leicestershire County Council. Prints covering fashion and travel for the last 100 years provided by King & McGaw.


Rayne, Shoes for Stars 22nd May – 29th August 2015

fash text rayne shoes nickHow many people have instant recall when they hear the name ‘Rayne’? Is it an automatic reflex that takes them on a journey to Hollywood, Royalty, aristocracy, theatre and ballet? Perhaps it’s a question to ask mum? The information on their website tells its own story – Royal Shoemakers Rayne were the pre-eminent British ladies luxury shoe brand throughout the Twentieth Century.”

If you were too young to have lived through any of these direct or subliminal associations, fear not – the brand is being re-launched under the guiding hand of Nick Rayne (pictured right), the son of Edward Rayne the original family proprietor of the famous Old Bond Street boutique. A twenty year Rayne shoe hiatus, that saw all manner of dysfunctional elements conspiring to edge the family out of its own crafted international business, is having a renaissance as part of its re-launch in a timely exhibition at the Fashion & Textile Museum, occupying the entire ground floor. The exhibition will showcase over a 100 pairs of shoes and boots, many made from extraordinary materials, from ten decades.

Nick described the business during his association and its turbulent period (tongue in cheek), as one might view a divorce – “something that started in love, got complicated and very messy and extremely glad to have no more to do with it…only to find twenty years later, the love is still there and you want to get back together again.” Great news for us the relationship is back on track! Curiously enough, with the depth of interest afforded the longer-established brands at the recent London Collections: Men, it seems as Nick firmly believes, “ this is now the right time for Rayne again.” Apparently according to Nick, many of the same big name brands we naturally associate with success, twenty-five years ago were not doing so well and nearly died. Great fashion brands clearly have their moments to shine and quality always endures over time.

The Rayne brand is a great British fashion story and a rare treat for viewers to the exhibition to appreciate so much fashion history in parallel to the genesis of the brand. Unbelievably rare in any period for example, was the granting of three Royal Warrants to this illustrious shoe-maker – the Jimmy Choo of its day from the 1930s and for some considerable time after. Starting with Queen Mary from 1935, the Queen Mother and the current Queen Elizabeth, during the period 1955-1957 – Rayne had the unique and justly earned privilege of holding all three Royal Warrants, which for historians, can be seen as the crests on some collectors item shoe boxes on display.

Starting out as a theatrical costumier in 1885, by the turn of the century Rayne was London’s biggest stage provider and serviced all the biggest productions. Notably with visiting troupes and performances by the famous Ballet Russes, with its enigmatic impresario Sergei Dhiaghilev (not the greatest of bill payers), and its principle dancer, Madame Anna Pavlova, the prima ballerina who, with her own dance company which toured the world, became the face of Rayne as original client and chief ambassador in the 1920s.

When the grandfather came back from World War One, he saw a commercialised brand opportunity for the shoes outside of the theatrical business. The theatrical business ran in parallel to the specialist shoe business up until being sold in 1947, with its famous ‘three legged man’ logo, a humorous take on the notoriously bad practice of payment in theatre, with Nick telling me, “when I started out as a runner, the instruction was very clear…take stuff to the stage door and don’t leave it until you get the money!” The V&A in fact holds potentially outstanding Rayne invoices addressed to Ballet Russes, with key pricing information highlighted in red and translated into Russian.

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The second prominent thing about the Rayne brand, after the Royal Warrants, is the design of its flagship store opened in 1920s in Bond Street, now the site of Fenwicks. It was re-designed by the famous artist and stage designer, Oliver Messel, uncle of Lord Snowden in 1959, as ‘the most beautiful shop in the world.’ Sadly on the receiving end of a somewhat ignominious demise when property developer owners having caught wind of the fact that the building and interior would have a protection order, dating from the Monday, maliciously elected to smash it down during the preceding weekend, destroying one of the city’s best loved retail interiors forever. The Messel family tradition and association is being gloriously maintained with the nephew of Oliver, Thomas Messel, creating the look and style of the exhibition, working with the guest curator, the renowned Michael Pick, fine art advisor, author and lecturer. Michael has a timely book due to be launched parallel to the exhibition, “Rayne: Shoes for Stars” published by ACC. Indeed, when the time is right it is the firm intention of Nick Rayne to open a UK retail outlet (anyone interested in a great collaborative opportunity?) “to work with Thomas to do the shop in the Messel style.”

Another significant enduring aspect of the Rayne history, is its roll call of great design names that have all at one stage been commissioned to design shoes for the brand, including: Perugia, Roger Vivier, Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell, Mary Quant, Bruce Oldfield and Jean Muir. Currently the creative role is managed by French designer Laurence Dacade working with an Italian factory just outside Venice. In the game of lists, Rayne is always likely to win. After the list of designers, you can move onto the celebrities and pretty much stay there, including for instance, Vivienne Leigh, Brigit Bardot, Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor…to name a few. But if you consider that every leading film actress, every débutante and the aristocracy all religiously wore Rayne shoes. Nick mentions without any arrogance, “it was almost like if you weren’t in Debrets kind of thing, anyone who was anyone wore Rayne – it was as simple as that.” It is a long, illustrious list. And for those curious you can read Michael Pick’s book, just to be sure.

The third most important historical association that Rayne shoes have is its ‘Wedgwood’ created heels – unique in the history of the shoe. ‘Rayne’s most famous shoe design is probably the Wedgwood Jasperware heels made originally in 1958. The original design was a vestal within a wreath and a small cameo on the front, in blue, cream and green variations.‘ (Vintage Chic blog). There’s a publicity shot somewhere apparently that has a London bus balanced on four Wedgwood heels from the Rayne shoe collection, as part of the launch in 1970s. I suggested to Nick he might like to try this stunt again on the day of a London bus strike. He laughed and said, “not a bad idea actually!”

With Italian licensees overseeing the distribution and launch internationally, some very exciting developments are on the horizon for this great historical English shoemaker. There was a time Nick says, when most of New York’s shoe departments were controlled by them. Just think all the big stores in Manhattan. Then add the colonies through the British Empire, add Japan and Russia – all with a long history of admiration and respect for English hi-end fashion and shoemaking. I think Raynes’ time has definitely come again. As Nick says, citing the famous line regarding changing fashion epochs, “the 1950s was a time when every daughter wanted to look like her mother. The 1960s was a period when every mother wanted to look like her daughter.” Now, with contemporary Rayne designs, still paying homage to the past in some of its collections, we just imagine we can look like anyone we choose, if at all, inspired by the heritage of an illustrious brand undergoing a well-deserved new lease of life. Brush off those cobwebs mother, there’s probably a valuable Royal Warrant approval staring back at you. 


Thea Porter 70s Bohemian Chic 6th  February – 3rd May 2015

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An exhibition acclaiming the creative genius of fashion and interior designer Thea Porter, featuring her seven signature looks: the Abaya and Kaftan; the Gipsy dress; the Faye dress; the Brocade-panel dress; the Wrap-over dress; the Chazara jacket; and the Sirwal skirt.

Visitors can see outfits on display worn by some of the best-dressed women in the world, and those publicised in the pages of Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and Women’s Wear Daily.

A fascinating retrospective covering Thea Porter’s life, (1927-2000) that has influenced so many designers and set so many trends, following her career from her early years in Jerusalem and Damascus, exploring the influence of Middle Eastern and North African textiles; Soho in the 1960s and New York, Los Angeles and Paris in the 1970s.

“Entering Thea’s shop was an experience I will never forget. I had never seen such sumptuous and exquisite clothes and fabrics before. It was my first taste of real adventure in fashion.” Sir Elton John, 2014

In a fashion industry keen to draw from the specialist knowledge and talent of the producers of world textiles, this is a must-see event, showcasing the talent of Thea Porter, responsible for influencing so many designers still today. “Porter’s use of antiques and world textiles in her designs stood out from trendy mass-market examples. Her knowledge of and passion for world textiles also inspired her work, in particular Islamic textiles such as the suzani embroideries and the ikats of Central Asia, Ottaman velvets and the embroidered textiles and brocades of Damascus.”  (Fashion & Textiles Museum) Often commissioning exclusive textile designs in the search for something more exotic or unique, Porter’s legacy is one that the British industry is able to cherish and remember, via this important testament to her work. 

(A full review of this exhibition will be posted on Feb 5th).

By Paul Markevicius


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