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This week in history...

The summer womenswear of 1899 in Paris, a government Bill ruffles industry feathers, and catalogue retailer Freemans is sold to Otto.

1899…

Strolling around Paris in “magnificent” weather, a Drapers Record correspondent cast an eye over the current women’s fashions in France for the April 8, 1899 issue of Drapers Record.

Outfits were “charming and spring-like in appearance,” Drapers Record reported. The pick of the dresses was one in pale turquoise with a double tunic fitted tight to the body and falling to the end of the skirt, embroidered with chenille and wool in different shades of blue graduating into green. According to the writer, “the ensemble was very sweet and modest looking.”

Hats also grabbed the eye, being very large with trimmings of “birds with outstretched wings, butterflies and garlands of flowers.” A pair of magnolia flowers was considered a must-have on a torque hat for the Parisian summer.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, the participants in a meeting of the Credit Drapers’ Federal Union in the Windsor Hotel confessed their worries that new, strict legislation could soon be enforced which would restrict their credit arrangements.

Judge Parry, a high-ranking judge, had accused credit drapers (a credit draper was a travelling salesman who peddled goods on credit on behalf of warehouses) of “reckless credit”, and of “collecting their money with much suffering to the poorer classes of their customers”. The judge then said he hoped the government would “enact at least as favourable laws for the insolvent poor as the so-called insolvent rich”.

The credit drapers “emphatically protested against the assumption that much of their trade was conducted on such lines”.

1921…

Two new bills to prohibit imports of plumage into the UK, which were due to be presented for a second reading in the House of Commons, prompted a plea for compromise from the chairman of the Plumage Committee of the London Chamber of Commerce in Drapers on April 9 1921.

HC Braham pointed out that egret feathers imported from Venezuela consisted of moulted feathers, rather than those plucked from live birds. To prove the point, the Plumage Committee drafted in the help of the Natural History Museum in London.

The Plumage Committee director Sir Sidney Harmer said: “As far as they could see, it was quite possible to differentiate between picked-up feathers and those of full plumage…and from the samples submitted there was reasonable ground to suppose that there were supplies of feathers which had been picked up.” 

The Committee also pointed out the existence of egret farms in India, and called for such farms to be encouraged to prevent the exploitation of wild egrets.

However, the Committee held little hope that its plea for compromise would be listened to. However, Braham wrote: “With the evidence which the trade has accumulated…there is some hope that if a Plumage (Prohibition) Bill is placed on the Statute Book it will be a Bill drafted with regard for all the interests concerned, and not one inspired merely by uninformed zealots.”

Also in this issue was a report from an exhibition of the latest fashions at the Agricultural Hall in London. Drapers praised the “instinctive chic” of British designers, adding that it was no longer necessary to travel to Paris to view the latest styles. The key look was for longer skirts with a more comfortable width, while bodices came with a lower waistline and a bloused effect. Among the exhibitors was Messrs HA Francis (pictured). 

1969…

The April 10 1969 edition of Menswear looked at recent menswear advertising. With the wedding season about to get into full swing, the focus was on suit retailers.

John Collier won praise for a recent Daily Mail ad featuring three men of different age groups posing for a wedding shot – the young groom, slightly older best man and the father. “There are not all that number of occasions when these three generations can be shown together so naturally,” wrote Drapers. This happy photograph came with the headline: “You can afford to smile.”

Burtontargeted young executives in a Daily Mirror ad. The tag line: “Burton, the expensive look that’s not,” targeted young executives that have “gone beyond the extremes of Carnaby Street but are still keen about style,” said Drapers.

A “glorious” Austin Reed ad in The Sunday Times impressed Drapers with its “breath-taking” picture of a crew-neck pullover in jaffa. As for the copy, the headline read: “This Mother’s Day, remember the one who means so much and asks so little: Father.” It concluded with the words: “Austin Reed are on Dad’s side.”

An image of a man dressed in an Alexandre suit casting a backwards glance at five mini-skirted women seemingly pursuing him demonstrated, according to Drapers, that “in this permissive society sex is with us all the time.” The Daily Mirror ad (pictured) featured the catchphrase: “It all happens to the man in the Alexandre suit.”

Also in this issue, a fashion shoot titled ‘That Cashmere Feeling’ highlighted the diversity of the material, and the fact that it “is going stylish in 1969”.  The picture reproduced here shows a zip-fronted bush jacket with four flapped pockets and leather buttons by Barrie Knitwear.

1999…

The rapidly globalising market was the subject of the Drapers Record Challenge for UK Manufacturing conference, with coverage of the conference in the issue of Drapers Record on April 10 1999.

Nigel Smith, merchandise director at department store chain Bhs, told UK suppliers they must focus on design, flexibility and an innovative company culture to win business from UK retailers.

“It is absolutely critical that our suppliers understand our customer and what he or she wants as much as we do,” Smith told delegates. “Quality is a major issue. Five years ago the major fault level at Bhs ran at 20%, completely unacceptable. It is now down to3% and edging lower.”

Meanwhile, New Look chief executive Jim Hodkinson said UK manufacturers should develop a “can do attitude”. He said retailers’ reliance on fast fashion presented a major opportunity for UK suppliers. “UK manufacture has the advantage but it has to maximise that advantage with systems and processes that are streamlined and flexible. Inflexible bureaucratic British businesses are unlikely to survive in today’s climate.”

German mail order giant Otto was also in the news, after buying catalogue retailer Freemans (pictured) from Philip Green’s January Investments group for an undisclosed sum.

However, the deal was passed straight to the European Competition Commission for approval due to the size of Otto’s mail-order business across Europe.

A source close to Freemans said staff were shocked by the deal, after being given assurances by Green that it was business as usual.

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