Friday, 4 September 2015

Martin White and Horrockses - a tale of vintage dating

1960s Op Art swimsuit by Nina Ricci

Hello - long time, no post! I can't believe it's been two whole months since I last wrote on the blog. Summer has been and gone in a flash and I'm only just getting round to posting details of the third and final installment of my 'summer' updates. Better late than never, I hope! And, actually, the pieces in this update are so lovely that it doesn't matter if it it's Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter in my book!

The last in the 'summer' series consists of three wonderful swimsuits, all belonging to the same original owner. The monochrome Op Art suit is by Nina Ricci circa the late 1960s and is in brilliant, near mint condition... but it's the two early pieces that I'm especially excited to share. 

It has been so much fun researching these two. Both were made by the British swimwear manufacturer, Martin White. Fortunately, there is quite a bit of information regarding the company online, including two short Pathe films of bathing belles modelling the latest suits in 1946 (available here and here) and a wonderful advert with a design remarkably similar to the satin suit.

 Amazingly, when acquiring this collection, I was provided with a scanned photograph of the original owner wearing the blue and white piece on her honeymoon in 1943. It was fantastic to see the suit being worn on such a special holiday and a good reminder of its age - with its 'two-piece' cut, this particular suit looks so fresh and modern, it's actually hard to believe that it's over 70 years old!

 This lovely costume has also been essential in dating these swimsuits as two clues were provided in its interior label: a mysterious patent number; and the exciting words, 'Horrockses Fabrics' (which immediately brought to mind 'Horrockses Fashions' stunning mid-century dresses). I managed to find a link to the label's patent online, which was dated to 1936/7, and started to research the Horrockses connection.

I was soon wading through an online sea of 'Horrockses Fashions' dresses and playsuits but finding little information on 'Horrockses Fabrics'.

Getting more and more intrigued, I sought the advice of the fashion historian, Dr Christine Boydell, a Horrockses expert and the curator of the Fashion and Textile Museum's current exhibition on the history of beachwear. Dr Boydell explained that the 'Horrockses Fashions' label was not established until 1946, although cottons were produced by Horrockses prior to this date (the company dates back to the eighteenth century). Furthermore, swimwear production virtually stopped during World War II so it was highly likely that the swimsuit was bought as 'old stock' when acquired in 1943. Horrockses also restricted production to war essentials from 1939-1945. This, combined with the online patent, dates the blue and white swimsuit to around 1937-1939. I believe that the satin suit heralds from around the same period, perhaps even ever-ever-so-slightly earlier than the blue and white piece, judging by the style of the label. 

Dating vintage must be one of the most satisfying aspects of working on Elly Maggy Vintage (hearing from happy customers and finding the vintage itself are always the most pleasurable...). Both these swimsuits are so beautiful in person (I think the Horrockses suit is my favourite item ever listed in the shop) and they feel so much more complete with their history in place. Take a look in the shop for further photographs and information.

If you're interested in seeing more 30s and 40s swimsuits, I've posted images on a special pinterest board. And if you're able to get down to London next week, I would also recommend visiting Dr Christine Boydell's exhibition, Riviera Style: Resort and Swimwear since 1900, which has examples of Martin White suits and other wonderful swimming costumes on display. 

1940s Horrockses Fashions beachwear

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