A red coat worn by Princess Diana and a tweed coat worn by EastEnders’ Dot Cotton will go on display alongside clothing from M&S, Moss Bros and Wallis in a new major exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands showcasing the role of Jewish designers, makers and retailers in making London an iconic fashion city.
From East End tailors to the couture salons of the West End, Fashion City tells the stories of Jewish makers who became leaders in their industries, created some of the most recognisable looks of the 20th century, founded retail chains still on the high street today, and dressed the rich and famous- from David Bowie and Princess Diana to Mick Jagger and Muhammad Ali.
Featuring fashion and textiles, oral histories, objects, ephemera and photography, Fashion City uses the places and spaces of London to weave individual stories together with a broader social history.
Bringing together new insights from in-depth curatorial research, it is the first major exhibition in two decades centred on the museum’s extensive Dress and textile collection.
Setting the scene is a space dedicated to London’s East End, where many Jewish migrants arrived between the late 19th and mid-20th century. Personal ephemera from ordinary Londoners will tell stories of some of the 200,000 Jewish people who arrived in Britain during that time, over 50% of whom were involved in the fashion, clothing, and textile trade.
A small travelling case used by a child arriving in London as part of the Kindertransport (the rescue effort of children from Nazi-controlled territory in 1938-1939) is displayed alongside a leather bag owned by a woman who fled from Vienna in 1938.
A depiction of independent shops and businesses- from umbrella sellers to bag makers – demonstrates how the area grew into a hub of activity for the manufacturing of clothing, shoes and accessories from the late 19th century.
The exhibition highlights the little-known connections between different immigrant communities, telling the stories of Caribbean tailors and Bengali seamstresses who came to London and found employment and mentorship from Jewish employers.
Travelling from East to West of the city, visitors journey from the realm of Jewish tailoring, manufacturing and accessory making to the boutiques and couture salons of the West End.
Here, the exhibition uncovers the leading designers and enterprising retailers who put London on the map for fashion by introducing new styles and transforming shopping experiences.
Alongside a coat created for Princess Diana by David Sassoon (Bellville Sassoon), highlights include:
- A newly acquired Alexon tweed coat worn by beloved EastEnders character Dot Cotton will be on display for the first time.
- Items from some of the UK’s most recognisable high street stores, including an M&S bra and Moss Bros suit.
- A Mr Fish maxi-smoking dress with beaded panels, found as a result of the public call-out in January 2023. Mr Fish was a leading figure of the Peacock Revolution whose flamboyant menswear was worn by stars including Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and Muhammad Ali
- A bag created by Rosenthal, Jacob & Co (1881-1892) that belonged to Queen Victoria or her daughter Princess Louise
- Hats and objects relating to Otto Lucas, the ‘milliner millionaire’ who changed the global reputation of British fashion in the mid-20th century and whose hats graced the cover of British Vogue
- A wedding dress by Neymar– a brand founded by Netty Spiegel, who arrived alone on the Kindertransport at just 15 years old and went on to become one of London’s go-to wedding dress designers. Her work is remembered by generations of Jewish brides and in national collections at the Jewish Museum London, Museum of London and V&A.
Wandering the facades of Regent Street, Fashion City explores the stories of Jewish entrepreneurs and retailers who shaped the British high street, founding well-known retail chains including Marks & Spencer, Wallis, River Island, and Moss Bros.
It will pinpoint the impact Jewish people had in shaping the ready-to-wear industry and new kinds of shopping experiences. Cecil Gee (below), whose menswear store on Shaftsbury Avenue became a destination, attracted stars, including John Lennon, with its trend-setting clothes.
Dr Lucie Whitmore, Curator at the Museum of London, said, “Jewish people were working at all levels of the fashion industry in London throughout the twentieth century, but the extent of their contribution has been widely unrecognised.
Jewish makers established the ready-to-wear industry, worked their way into the highest levels of London fashion and dominated Carnaby Street in the swinging sixties. Many of these designers were internationally famous – favoured by the rich and famous and highly respected for their creativity, skill, and originality.
Fashion City explores a wide range of experiences, with stories that are both deeply personal and connected to major events in global history. It’s a recognition of the excellence of London fashion, and we hope people will enjoy finding out more about those who made London the iconic fashion capital we know today.”
Fashion City: How Jewish Londoners Shaped Global Style
Exhibition Dates: 13 October 2023- 14 April 2024
Tickets are available through the Museum of London website starting from £12. For further details, please visit www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
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