After reading about this new book in three different blogs, having two friends email me about it, and then seeing it mentioned in several articles, I knew I needed to add it to my library. What I didn’t guess though, was how much I was going to love London Society Fashion, 1905 – 1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank.
Heather Firbank was born in 1888, and made her society debut in 1908. As a figure in London society she found it necessary to have an extensive and varied wardrobe. Thank goodness Heather loved clothes. She spent large amounts on money on them, even after the family fortune disappeared. After her mother’s death in 1924, Heather was forced to leave the home they had shared to live in various apartments, hotels and lady’s clubs. She packed away all her wonderful clothes, along with receipts and her collection of fashion articles and clippings, and put them into storage in 1926. After her death in 1954 the trunks were found, and the contents were distributed among several institutions.
The first Curator of Dress at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London was Madeleine Ginsburg, who in 1957 accepted two hundred pieces of the collection as the foundation of the V & A’s clothing collection. Other museums then selected pieces, and the remainder was sold at auction in 1974. In all, Heather had saved over four hundred pieces. Remarkably, this was not the total of all the garments she owned during the time period of 1905 through 1925, as there are receipts for many items that were not found in the trunks.
I’ve mentioned before how interesting it is to see exhibitions that are based on the wardrobe of one woman, as in the case of Ann Bonfoey Taylor. You get a complete picture of the wearer of the clothes. The Heather Firbank collection has an added layer of meaning because so many of the original receipts are present, along with, in many cases, sketches, photographs, or clippings of a particular dress.
The dress above was made in 1912 by Lucile, the famous Lady Duff-Gordon. The V & A not only has the dress, they have a photograph of Heather wearing it, and they have a sketch showing the original design by Lucile.
Heather not only got her dresses at Lucile, she also patronized lesser-known establishments like Machinka. The material in the Heather Firbank archive has provided valuable information about such obscure makers.
This stunning velvet dinner dress dates from 1909, and was made at the London House of Redfern. I love how the photo of Heather shows the back of the gown and that beautiful diamante clip.
As a member of society, Heather needed the proper country clothes, as seen in this golf suit and hat. It was made by “Frederick Bosworth, Ladies Tailor and Court Dressmaker.”
Here’s an example of a costume that is not in the V & A collection. We see Heather dressed for tennis, circa 1905. The hat was for motoring, circa 1910.
Another thing that makes the collection so interesting is that it is not just evening wear. Day dresses and suits, and even corsets are represented. The blue linen dress is circa 1915. Can you see the fantastic pockets?
And then some of the photographs are pure eye candy. This tailored suit is by Frederick Bosworth, circa 1908.
And here is a lovely afternoon dress, circa 1909, by Mrs. Pickett of Savile Row.
Yes, I do love this book. It reminds us that fashion history is about more than just frocks. Real people wore the clothes we love – clothes that contain stories of how people lived in the past. What a treasure the Heather Firbank collection is.
Authors of London Society Fashion, 1905 – 1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank are Cassie Davies-Strodder, Jenny Lister, and Lou Taylor.