Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Toggery: Stockport's rock'n'roll tailor

I found this jacket at Stockport's flea market about four years ago.  The stall holder told me he bought it for 13 guineas when he was 16 years old from a local menswear shop called The Toggery.  Judging by its condition, it looked like there had been few occasions (if any) when he had summoned up sufficient courage to wear it.  Its quite a piece.

Of course, I was filled with curiousity about The Toggery so I looked it up online and most of the references I discovered related to the 1960s band The Toggery Five, managed by the proprietor of the shop, Michael Cohen, who obviously supplied their enviable wardrobes as well.  Olaf Owre has composed a very thorough account of the band's story, and there's some fabulous pictures of them on the original singer, Frank Renshaw's website.  Including this one:

The Toggery Five outside The Toggery, Mersey Square, Stockport, 1964.  Picture source The Toggery Five 1963-1966.

Graham Nash of the Hollies had worked there and, in fact, Michael Cohen went on to become their manager too.

This shop was evidently a leading source of ultra fashionable menswear in the north west during the 1960s, and supplied 'fab gear' (apologies, it seemed appropriate!) to numerous local, regional, and not so local, bands.  Including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones (allegedly) - we'll come to that soon enough.

The Toggery, it was becoming clear, was an historically significant nexus of the music and fashion scenes of the time, so how come I'd never heard of it? 

Anyway, some people I know, of a certain generation, remember The Toggery vividly.  My mum worked at a branch of Boots which was opposite The Toggery, and fondly recalls glimpsing the steady procession of handsome young men who patronised the shop.  Joe Moss remembers getting his best ever suit from The Toggery in his younger days, not to mention boots and numerous shirts.  He also has a friend called Pete Maclaine who used to work there, who was still in touch with Michael Cohen himself.

I wondered if it would be possible to interview Mr Cohen to find out more of this story, and, thanks to the kind efforts of Pete Maclaine, it turned out it was.  What follows is material drawn from an interview with Michael Cohen conducted on 5th August 2009, with Pete and Joe in attendance (and sometimes chipping in).

An aside - Pete is a significant player in the Manchester music scene himself.  As Pete Maclaine and the Dakotas (later Pete Maclaine and the Clan) he has been a musician for nearly 50 years, and is still going strong.  His band were the first from Manchester to play the Cavern in Liverpool, and he has the unusual distinction of having had the Dakotas stolen from under him by Brian Epstein, who installed Billy J. Kramer as the lead singer instead.  He has a phenomenal store of anecdotes about the music business and his adventures in it, (this article has a few good ones) not to mention an inexhaustible fund of jokes and patter.

On to the story, which follows after the jump:

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The Story of a Dress

 "The Story of a Dress" by Lorraine Timewell, The Saturday Book 7, 1947, pp. 71-80.

Our dress was designed in England.  The scissors point to the North, where the finest fabrics are made.  Across the Channel lies Paris - a city of silk.  Uniting the fashion centres of London and Paris is a current of industry and needlework.  We send them woollens, they send us silk.

The dress begins in the mind's eye of the designer, Angele Delanghe.  Her long, supple fingers are idle only when she is visualizing another design.

At the age of six Angele Delanghe was draping and pinning her doll's clothes, and she has been designing ever since.  In 1914, when Belgium was invaded, she came to England as a refugee with her doll and a precious box of scraps and pieces.  Now she is British.

Mr Strange, of Coudurier Fabrics, the great silk house, knows well how her imagination is fired by fine fabrics, and keeps her informed of his new arrivals.

In a tiny room she works with the selected fabric straight onto the dummy, its shoulder scarred with pin-marks.  In picture one, she is concentrating her mind not on the checked silk, but on the floral printed silk lying on the table by Smuts the cat.  She knows exactly what she wants to do with it, and in picture two begins to drape and pin.  It is a fine silk in a pale oyster white, with burnt rose and grey outlined flowers scattered over it.

When the model has been assembled by Delanghe, it goes to the fitter in one of the workrooms, who cuts a pattern in 'toile' from the original.  Then, under her supervision, the dress goes into the hands of the young sempstresses.  In the picture above the moment of judgment has arrived.  Miss Garner, the fitter, is taking the completed model to be tried on by a mannequin and viewed by Delanghe.

Audrey Kenney, the mannequin, with her head in a bag, is helped into the dress.  The bag protects the fabric from lipstick and powder, and protects also her new 'hair-do.'

The date for the showing of the collections for each new fashion season is decided by agreement amongst the various designers, or couturiers.  In London, they are known as the 'Big Ten' - the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers.  Their present president is Norman Hartnell, and Delanghe is one of the 'Ten.'  The eve of the collection finds the models facing their most formidable audience - the people who made them.  The dress whose story we have been tracing (it has a name now, 'Madame Butterfly') passes the critical inspection of the staff.  Then the clients arrive on the important day.

This is what they see: the soft feminine grace of 'Madame Butterfly,' which resembles an old oriental painting in the lines of the drapery, and has a short kimono-type sleeve.

They also see 'Madame Butterfly's' 44 companions, including its opposite number, 'Gleneagles.'  Some of the models are never again seen in England: they go to the United States and elsewhere abroad.

And what next?  The fabric manufacturers, the button makers, the fashion-supply companies, the printers, the Press, the fitters, the sempstresses, the secretaries, the telephonists have all been involved in the life of 'Madame Butterfly,' the demure navy and white checked afternoon dress (left), which we saw being designed on the stand, and their companions.  Well, Angele Delanghe is looking abstracted.  'I am thinking of the next collection,' she says.  And so it begins all over again.


This photo story appeared in the seventh edition of The Saturday Book - one of those compendiums of miscellany from the arts to anthropology, history and antiquities, social observation, folklore and all manner of diverting stuff - that were once so popular.

This edition was published in 1947, at pretty much the height of post-wartime austerity and a time when most women could only dream of a new evening gown made of silk, so its interesting to see that Ms Delanghe appeared to have no problem securing such scarce and valuable supplies.  But then, as the piece points out, some (most?) of her output was destined for export.

Its great to see that the author, Lorraine Timewell, chose to feature Angele Delanghe rather than one of the more well known members of the London 'Big Ten' such as Hartnell, Hardy Amies or Digby Morton.

In fact I've found precious little about her, apart from these scraps:

Delanghe was an early member of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers, formed in 1942, which included the Hon. Mrs Reginald Fellowes (its first president), Norman Hartnell, Peter Russell, Worth of London, Digby Morton, Hardy Amies, Bianca Mosca, Creed, Molyneux and Michael Sherard.   (Information from In Vogue: Six Decades of Fashion by Georgina Howell and Exploring 20th Century London).

She was known for creating "soft feminine tailored clothing and beautiful romantic eveningwear and wedding gowns" (from The Cutting Edge: 50 Years of British Fashion, 1947-1997 by Amy de la Haye).

After the war she took over the Ladies' Outfitting and Ready to Wear Departments at Fortnum & Mason and "revitalized" them.

Former women's editor of the Yorkshire Post, Valerie Webster, recalls with palpable frustration that she was required to attend "the couture shows of people like Angele Delanghe and Lachasse who made tweedy suits and hefty jewel-encrusted evening gowns for the grouse moors and hunt ball scene."  To be fair, this was probably in the early 1960s, and young Valerie was more interested in Mary Quant than grouse moors and hunt balls, and perhaps Delanghe was past her prime.

This little 'backstage' story of Angele Delanghe's work at least adds a little more to our knowledge of her.