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Obituary: Jean Parry-Billings, founder of dress brand Jean Allen

Jean Parry-Billings, the driving force behind womenswear brand Jean Allen, has died aged 88.

Jean parry billings

Parry-Billings founded Jean Allen in 1959 and her mid-price cocktail dresses and eveningwear rose to prominence over the course of the following decade.

Born in Ilford, Essex, she had lived and breathed fashion from the age of 16, learning the tricks of the trade from her cousin, Peggy Allen, an established couturier.

When Allen retired in 1959, Parry-Billings took over the business and began to create collections under her maiden name, Jean Allen.

“[Peggy] gave me a friendly push in the right direction,” Parry-Billings told Woman and Beauty magazine in 1961.

She went on to design eight collections per year. At its height in the 1960s, Jean Allen was stocked by Harrods, Peter Jones, Rackhams (later purchased by and rebranded as House of Fraser) and County Clothes in Cheltenham. It also exported to Europe and North America.

“The first thing I learnt about fashion – the designing end, I mean – is the marvellous, magical power of fabrics,” she said in the magazine interview. “I can dream up a dozen dresses, just while I’m holding some gorgeous, sumptuous cloth in my fingers.

“Naturally, I do the fabric buying – all of it. This is the one job I won’t hand over to anyone.”

Her husband, Kenneth Parry-Billings, whom she married in 1954, helped to run the company as managing director. He died in the mid-1980s, after which Parry-Billings wound up the business.

Her brother, David Allen, told Drapers: “I worked with my sister for five years in the 1960s and at that time it was a very successful enterprise. You only have to look on Ebay now to see her dresses are still in demand.”

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