Bowie, Princess Diana pieces to go on exhibit

Fashion City will explore the stories of Jewish entrepreneurs and retailers who shaped the British high street, founding well-known retail chains.
A Bowie dress designed by Mr Fish will go on exhibit. Photo: Trinity Mirror Mirrorpix & Alamy.

A red coat worn by Princess Diana when she announced her pregnancy with Prince William will go on display for the first time in over a decade as part of a new major exhibition Fashion City: How Jewish Londoners shaped global style, opening at Museum of London Docklands in October.

Created by her designer of choice David Sassoon (Bellville Sassoon), the coat is one of a number of pieces that will uncover the contribution of Jewish designers in making London an iconic fashion city. It will be displayed alongside a newly acquired Alexon tweed coat worn by beloved EastEnders character Dot Cotton, and items from some of the UK’s most recognisable high street stores including M&S, Wallis and Moss Bros.

From East End tailors to the couture salons of the West End, Fashion City tells the story of Jewish designers, makers and retailers responsible for some of the most recognisable looks of the 20th century. Individuals who became leading figures in their industries, founded retail chains still present on the high street today, and whose businesses helped boost the British post-war economy.

Featuring fashion and textiles, oral histories, objects, ephemera and photography, Fashion City will use the places and spaces of London to weave individual stories together with a broader social history.

Setting the scene will be 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) will be 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 – will demonstrate how the area grew into a hub of activity for the manufacturing of clothing, shoes and accessories from the late 19th century. The exhibition will also highlight 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 will journey from the realm of Jewish tailoring, manufacturing and accessory making, to the boutiques and couture salons of the West End. Here, the exhibition will uncover the leading designers and enterprising retailers who put London on the map for fashion by introducing new styles and transforming shopping experiences.

Alongside the coat worn by Princess Diana, highlights will include:

  • Garments by the charismatic Mr Fish, a leading figure of the Peacock Revolution whose flamboyant menswear was worn by stars including Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and Muhammad Ali
  • 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 15yrs 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 will explore 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, whose menswear store on Shaftsbury Avenue became a destination, attracted stars including John Lennon with its trend-setting clothes. For the first time ever, the museum’s new acquisition of a tweed coat worn by the beloved EastEnders character Dot Cotton will be on display. Designed by Alexon (Alexander Steinberg and sons), the brand sold the dream of high fashion at affordable prices, creating pieces that were made to last.

Dr Lucie Whitmore, Curator at the Museum of London said: “Princess Diana played an active role in the design process of her Bellville Sassoon outfits, and wore them for some hugely significant life moments. Similarly, June Brown was involved in shaping Dot Cotton’s wardrobe, and the Alexon coat is instantly recognisable as a piece of EastEnders history. We are delighted to be able show both coats as part of the exhibition, as they represent the significant cultural impact made by London’s Jewish designers.

Fashion City will explore a wide-range of experiences, with stories that are both deeply personal and connected to major events in global history. We hope people will enjoy finding out more about the people who made London the iconic fashion capital we know today.”

Tickets for Fashion City: How Jewish Londoners shaped global style are on sale online ahead of opening at Museum of London Docklands on October 13

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