Impress with a Dress from Top Drawer Designers

“The term “vintage” is generally associated with the 1940’s – 60’s era” mused my colleague and fashion expert Debra Brown the other day, as she busied herself, dextrously dressing a mannequin in readiness for her next specialist auction to be held at TW Gaze on Saturday 21 October, “but the 1970’s is definitely the “new” vintage period.” “And”, she added “these are what makes it exciting!”

With that, I was shown three dresses, each submitted by a private vendor and each with an undeniable “Wow!” factor. They represent cutting-edge high fashion from the second half of the 20th Century and bear highly acclaimed labels which make them covetable collectables today.

The first is a 1971 vintage Jean Muir dark olive full length moire rayon jersey dress, pin tuck button front with puff elasticated sleeves, with V&A Museum provenance, guided £150-250 

 Jean Muir (1928 - 1995) was born in London and was self-taught. She worked as a seller and fashion sketcher for Liberty's in London from 1950 and was then employed as a designer by Jaeger. She is known to have considered herself as a dressmaker, not a fashion-designer and had a perfectionist’s eye for detail and quality of workmanship. Muir was recognisable by her dark bobbed hair, pale complexion, painted lips and navy coloured attire.

In 1961 she established the firm Jane and Jane and a dress she made from Liberty print silk for this label won the Bath Costume Museum Dress of the Year Award for 1964. In 1966 Muir started her own business with her husband, selling clothes to selected shops worldwide. Muir's outfits were known for their long, fluid lines and skilful tailoring, utilising fabrics including jersey, crepe and suede. The dress offered for sale here is a good example of all her trademark qualities. The extensive Leuckert Collection of Jean Muir garments bequeathed to the National Museum of Scotland has cemented the importance of Muir’s legacy, and therefore the auction presents an ideal opportunity to buy and own a piece of fashion history. Actress Joanna Lumley was Muir’s first model and went on to have a close and lasting friendship with her, as well as advocating that every woman should have a least one Jean Muir garment in their wardrobe. She herself built quite a collection, as did many stars, celebrities and leading ladies around the world.

The second is a 1970’s Lee Bender at Bus Stop purple and lilac crepe full length dress with button loop fastening, estimated £100-150

Lee bender studied at St Martin’s School of Art and the London School of Fashion. Bus Stop was started by Lee Bender along with her husband Cecil in the late 1960s and they opened the first Bus Stop shop in 1969 in Kensington's fashionable Church Street, right next door to the iconic Biba. The Bus Stop name was chosen as it represented something identifiably British, and the red interior of the shop continued this theme based on the colour of telephone kiosks, post boxes and London buses. 

The Bus Stop ethos was to bring designer styling to the high street, at prices that everyone could afford and this approach led to their enormous success. They aimed to produce collections of stock that could be mixed and matched, something which was relatively unprecedented. Their clothing was manufactured in their own factories, and Lee insisted on trying on the stock herself to ensure that it was made to the proportions of 'real' women, hence Bus Stop designs were always beautifully tailored and flattering to wear. Again, the dress for sale on Saturday epitomises all that is superb about Lee Bender’s eye for design.

Famous customers included Brigitte Bardot, Marianne Faithfull, Pattie Boyd, Angie Bowie and Nina Simone. So, you could be in good company if you secured this dress; The “Lee Bender at Bus Stop” label has become a highly collectable 1970’s classic and her work is frequently referenced alongside that of Biba and Ossie Clark.

Coincidentally, the third dress in question here is indeed by Ossie Clark (9 June 1942 – 6 August 1996).  An Ossie Clark for Radley black moss crepe evening dress, waterfall effect to sleeve edged in emerald green, estimated £150-220

Raymond "Ossie" Clark was an English fashion designer and a major figure in the fashion industry of the Swinging Sixties scene in London. He was born in Warrington, Lancashire, but moved with his family to Oswaldwistle during the war, and so acquired his nickname “Ossie”. Like Bender, Clark is compared to the 1960s fashion great Biba and influenced many other designers, including Yves Saint LaurentAnna Sui and Tom Ford. His clothes were worn by well-known models such as Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell.

No one of his era could cut like Clark and his height of success came between 1964 and 1976. He opened a small fashion boutique called Quorum with Alice Pollock, first in Kensington, then in Chelsea, and from there he influenced a significant shift in fashion in the mid-Sixties. He replaced “the square cut, mini-shift dresses that projected an adolescent, coltish figure, all knees and elbows” with “a sinuous shapeliness that celebrated female curves”. The beautiful gown consigned for auction typifies his skill in understanding femininity translated through fabric.

For further details about valuing, consigning and selling Vintage Fashion, please contact Debra Brown on 01379 650306

By Elizabeth Talbot