GREETINGS

 

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During the research for my latest book (more soon), I was thrilled to get this wonderful artefact in the post. It is a GPO telegram that was received by Vanessa Denza in 1961 from Vogue’s legendary ‘Young Idea’ fashion editor Lady Clare Rendlesham. It was sent from a South Kensington postal office on 19th September, five days after a fashion show that was staged by ‘Young Idea’ for the opening of the groundbreaking 21 Shop at Woollands department store in Knightsbridge. At the time Vanessa was a buyer for the 21 Shop and worked on the show, which featured models such as Jean Shrimpton and Celia Hammond, who danced through the store accompanied by live music performed by The Temperance Seven, actually nine young jazz musicians born out of the Royal College of Art. Their efforts obviously did not hit the right note with Rendlesham.

I love this telegram, not least for it’s personal place in fashion history and it’s cut‘n’paste aesthetic (always a favourite) but also because of the colourful illustration. The joyful band of Cavaliers (laughing, singing and dancing) is the work of book illustrator Peter Roberson, who I believe also illustrated for London Transport.

Below is an extract from an interview with Vanessa Denza. The full version appears in Foale & Tuffin: The Sixties. A Decade in Fashion (pubished ACC Editions)

 

‘When I was 18 years old everybody’s thing was to become a secretary. I decided I didn’t want to go that route so I went over to Paris and went to see Vogue, but they said my typing skills were ridiculous so they shipped me off to Jacques Fath and from there I went to Galleries Lafayette, where I started to learn about buying. I realised that was what I wanted to do, so I came back to England and went to Woollands and met Martin Moss (the husband of photographer Jane Brown) who was the architect of a new department store style.
One day Moss announced that he wanted to open the 21 Shop at Woollands and he wanted me to be one of the buyers. The whole idea of the 21 Shop was to make clothes for young people, because back then there was only Mary Quant and Kiki Byrne. Nobody made size eights or tens apart from Jaeger, and girls were wearing white gloves on the tube. I used to make my own clothes and people would come up and ask if they could buy my clothes but I never wanted to be a designer, I realised my forte was picking.

The whole project was on the ground floor so people could come straight in opposite Harvey Nichols. Terence Conran was brought in to design the 21 Shop and Clare Rendlesham was appointed the equivalent of creative director; she was of course Young Ideas director of Vogue.

At the start we had to strong-arm manufacturers to do what we wanted because nobody really believed there was a market. We were working totally in the dark; you didn’t know if it was going to be a success. Clare was pushing people like Susan Small. Martin brought in another buyer from Simpson’s called Maggie Arkle and the two of us were given the brief to develop all this. Terence Conran’s design for the shop – it was the first days of pine – was wonderful but after the first six months we had to pull it apart because it was a shoplifters paradise. Terence was wildly furious. Nobody thought about security tags and that sort of thing because before that nobody had stocked clothes that anybody had wanted to shop lift!

We had fabulous windows. The windows were changed twice a week. Can you imagine?

In September 1961 Martin hired The Temperance Seven for three shows. Nobody had music for their shows; I think Mary [Quant] had music but nobody else. The shows were at six o’clock, nine o’clock and midnight, and were staged in the department, so we had to clear all the clothes out. By the midnight show there was a queue right the way round the block trying to get in – we could have done twenty shows. Vidal [Sassoon] did the hair, and Clare did photographs with David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton to promote the event. These were big breakthroughs.

It was like a dam breaking when we started. In those days buyers had to run the department, meet the staff, do the budgets and check the sales; you had to do it all. I was twenty-two.’

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