A vintage fashion mystery

Width 5cm each, with various lengths, ca. 1945/1950; V&A Archive of Art and Design GC10/1

The Gilbert fashion ornaments: width 5cm each, with various lengths, ca. 1945/1950; V&A Archive of Art and Design GC10/1

Dress trimmings for Rosalinde Gilbert Models

Sometimes even with our combined efforts, the V&A’s curatorial team can only get marginally closer to solving the mysteries posed by even the most intriguing pieces. This is very much the case with four petite ornaments made of vibrant red resin, a light faux turquoise and faux pearls. The all have the same width of 5cm, but different lengths, which implies that they might have been cut from longer bands. You might wonder why fashion items find their way in the Gilbert Gems blog, especially because the red beads are resin rather than rubies. The reason for this is very simple: the bands were discovered between the pages of a scrapbook compiled by London fashion designer Rosalinde Gilbert (1913-1995) during the 1940s.

We are sure that this is the period when they were made and believe they might be belt buckles or trimmings that would have been applied as horizontal ornaments to dresses. Even though we have yet to find comparable pieces, those small objects, sewn onto a piece of ragged fabric offer an absolutely fascinating glimpse into the lives and loves of the young Gilberts and their London-based fashion business during and after the Blitz. Many of their designs were for export only, as strict rationing made it impossible for most Londoners to afford such lavish fashion just after the War. Thankfully a couple of images and newspaper clippings in the Gilbert album paint a vivid picture of the period.

Bespoke dresses advertised around 1946; V&A Archive of Art and Design GC10/1

Rosalinde Gilbert Models: bespoke dresses advertised around 1946; V&A Archive of Art and Design GC10/1

Rosalinde Gilbert campaign image, ca. 1946; V&A Archive of Art and Design GC10/1

Lavish sequin decoration, Rosalinde Gilbert campaign image, ca. 1946; V&A Archive of Art and Design GC10/1

A Rosalinde Gilbert advertisement in Fashion Trade Weekly, November 1946 Both: V&A Archive of Art and Design, GC10/1

A Rosalinde Gilbert advertisement in Fashion Trade Weekly, November 1946
Both: V&A Archive of Art and Design, GC10/1

Womens Wear News, 11 April 1946; V&A Archives of Art and Design, GC10/1

‘Beads and Sequins’, Womens Wear News, 11 April 1946; V&A Archives of Art and Design, GC10/1

Decades and a move to Los Angeles later, Rosalinde and her husband Arthur became the most successful private collectors of decorative arts in their generation. Their success as collectors is intimately linked to the taste they developed in their years as fashion designers in London. Compare the fashion ornaments with some of the Gilbert’s later purchases, now part of the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection at the V&A, and you can’t but notice an ongoing theme.

The Gilberts acquired this gold box around 1978. This box is on display in the display Close-Up and Personal at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (until 1 March 2015) and will also be included in the gold boxes exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (24 March – 6 September 2015). From early 2016 it will be back on permanent display at the V&A. Museum number Loan:Gilbert.1029-2008

Gold box with red enamel, marked Paris, Jean-Etienne Blerzy, 1775-1776; museum no. Loan:Gilbert.1029-2008. The Gilberts acquired this gold box around 1978. This box is on display in the display Close-Up and Personal at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (until 1 March 2015) and will also be included in the gold boxes exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (24 March – 6 September 2015). From early 2016 it will be back on permanent display at the V&A.
Museum number Loan:Gilbert.1029-2008

The eighteenth-century Paris gold box shown above displays several similar characteristics: its colour and meticulously executed details echo the very taste for the miniature, rich detailing and careful craftsmanship. There is one difference, though: while the ornaments are costume pieces imitating precious materials the box is made of gold, partly covered in costly translucent enamel (some of it restored) and set with diamonds. There are many other wonderful masterpieces in the collection that also reflect this taste – such as this magnificent miniature of Queen Charlotte and an intricate micromosaic necklace.

Johann Heinrich Hurter, 1781. Acquired 1982. Museum number Loan:Gilbert.242:1,2-2008

Enamel miniature of the Queen Charlotte, Johann Heinrich Hurter, 1781. Acquired 1982.
Museum number Loan:Gilbert.242:1,2-2008

Rome, early 19th century. Acquired 1969 Museum number 136:1-2008

Micromosaic necklace, Rome, early 19th century. Acquired 1969
Museum number Loan:Gilbert.136:1-2008

The Gilberts kept album and ornaments at their home in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles. According to those who had the privilege to be invited to their home, Rosalinde also owned a collection of couture dresses, referred to as ‘frocks’, which might have been memorabilia of her own business, or designer clothes by other preeminent makers that she acquired over the years. We know, for example, that her wedding dress was by Schiaparelli. The pictures, advertisements and newspaper clippings in the album show the enterprising young Gilberts making their mark in London’s fashion business.

Today the name Rosalinde Gilbert is now largely forgotten in the fashion world, partly because many of her designs were sold by fashion retailers under their own label, including some of department stores still associated with luxury and quality. Understanding the history of the Gilberts helps my colleagues and me to understand the collection itself. The fashion ornaments reveal much about the Gilberts before they became collectors and indicate the origins of their taste, while all the time remaining mysterious themselves. If you can help solving the mystery, please do get in touch! Gilbert Gems will continue to post on new discoveries around the fashionable Gilberts and the history of the collection. Rosalinde pioneered ‘austerity fashion’ after the Second World War with ensembles that women could wear from day to evening – a future blog will look at this aspect of her work in more detail.

Plate from the Rosalinde Gilbert Models scrapbook, kept by the Gilberts and covering the years between ca. 1940 and 1949. The images date from 1946. The photograph on the right was taken at a fashion show at the Royal Albert Hall, possibly in conjunction with the famous exhibition Britain Can Make it! at the V&A where the Gilberts exhibited; The V&A Archive of Art and Design, GC/10/1

Plate from the Rosalinde Gilbert Models scrapbook, kept by the Gilberts and covering the years between ca. 1940 and 1949. The images date from 1946. The photograph on the right was taken at a fashion show at the Royal Albert Hall, possibly in conjunction with the famous exhibition Britain Can Make it! at the V&A where the Gilberts exhibited; The V&A Archive of Art and Design, GC/10/1

3 thoughts on “A vintage fashion mystery

Sue moore:

Hi I have a Rosalinde Gilbert long evening dress 1940’s straight, with sequence down the dress and a shawl that comes from the shoulder to shoulder and drapes down the back. Is it possible to send you pictures via email as I would like more Information about the dress and it’s worth ,
Regards
Sue Moore

Alexandra:

I also have a Rosalinde Gilbert model dress, found in a thrift store a few year ago. Would be interested to know more about it too – can send you some pictures.

Colin gilbert:

Please contact me about the Rosalind Gilbert dress I am interested in hearing about it thank you

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