Fashion Drawing & Illustration: 1930s
Following the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, new, more down-to-earth attitudes forced on the world offered great scope for a new simplicity, as encapsulated by Coco Chanel (1883–1971). In Britain, fashion became more eclectic but also more feminine and graceful and, by 1930, the 'boyish' look had disappeared.
Victor Stiebel (1907–76) was born in South Africa but settled in England in 1924. After working for three years at the House of Reville, he opened his own fashion house in 1932. A founding member of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers, Stiebel was appointed its Chairman in 1946. Stiebel was highly successful and his clientele included the leading actresses of the day, but also royalty and members of the aristocracy. He created the going-away outfit for Princess Margaret on her marriage to Lord Snowdon in 1960.
The designs by Victor Stiebel in the V&A collections span from 1927 to 1935.
1) Since the mid 19th century, couturiers had dressed major theatrical stars. Victor Stiebel had designed productions while at university, before working in dress design at the House of Reville. In 1932 he opened his own fashion house and was soon in demand to provide contemporary costumes for leading actresses. Mary Ellis, for whom this costume was designed, was a leading actress and singer, and to dress her in a prestigious musical written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II and produced by C B Cochran would have been an excellent advertisement for the young couturier. He designed all her dresses in the production and those for her co-star, Eve Lister, and all the modern clothes in the Zoo and rehearsal scenes; the remainder of the costumes came coming from the Cochran wardrobe and the costume firm of Morris Angel & Son.
The dress was the height of chic, with its huge pleated shoulders, bold bow, nipped in jacket and long skirt. The gauntlet gloves helped balance the wide shoulders, while the large bow drew attention to the face. Although the design is coloured pale orange, the notes indicate that it should be made in chartreuse green satin, contrasting with the skirt's dull fabric and the exotic fur of the gauntlet gloves. Such designs were meant to flatter the wearer rather than the wearer be subservient to the designer and the leading lady would have had approval and maybe even a choice in the couturier.
2) The flared lower skirt of this blue dress by Stiebel is an example of the new cut introduced in this decade. The cut is characterised by its simplicity and Stiebel introduced a collar with a bow and tall cuffs all designed with multi-coloured ribbon to break the monotony.
These details match the slim orange belt. There is an inscription in pencil reading: "I am enclosing bits of ribbon the type I should like for the collar and cuffs".
3) In the 1930s it became fashionable to wear 'house pyjamas' – trousers with large bottoms made in a soft material. This design by Victor Stiebel shows how this concept could be transformed for more formal occasions from house cocktails to cruise parties.
Similar designs were also created by the Surrealist designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Stiebel's halter neck, sleeveless top contrasts the large bottom trousers wonderfully. The design includes bright orange gloves, a brim hat and matching shoes.
Norman Hartnell: fashioning royalty
In 1935 Norman Hartnell received his first Royal commission and from that moment right up to his death in 1979 he continued to create original designs for the Royal family, important members of British society, as well as international figures. The V&A collections contain a great number of examples of Hartnell's pre-war designs reflecting his highly sophisticated, elegant, and unsurpassed use of material and embroidery. These two After Six dresses were designed for H.R.H Princess Elizabeth; both are extremely feminine and delicate.
4) This evening dress was designed for H.M. Queen Elizabeth. A pencil inscription 'Gala' at the bottom of the page suggests that it was designed for an important occasion. The dress is entirely covered with an array of coloured sequences and would have undoubtedly bedazzled fellow guests. The boat line neck is also trimmed with sequins; the sleeves are three-quarter in length and embroidered to the tip of the shoulder.
The back has a long detached trail also fully embroidered edged with blue and pink patterned sequins in the shape of pyramids. The Queen is depicted wearing a diamond tiara. This ensemble is further enriched by elaborate pearl necklace and matching earrings. Across the left shoulder the Queen is also shown wearing a royal sash - supported by a ruby and diamond jewel. This dress exemplifies Hartnell's skill in designing dresses with elaborate embroidery.
5) The design on the right is a full-skirted tier dress with minute waist with tiered yoke forming puff short sleeves. The skirt is all threaded with light blue coloured ribbon which emphasises the different layers. The dress is worn with matching jewellery and gloves.
The second design in pink net has a pointed waist band which holds a full net skirt scattered with pale blue ribbon. The body has a small heart shaped decolté trimmed with the same blue ribbon and the sleeves are exaggerated short and puff. In addition there is a flower decoration on the left side of her neck.
6) This design for a formal evening dress was specially created for H.M. Queen Mary. The dress falls in a straight line with a slight trail at the back. The elongated v-neck line is trimmed with lace.
On top of the dress he created a loose jacket with sleeves trimmed with Mink fur and edged with lace. This luxurious ensemble is completed with a magnificent row of jewels at the neck and a sparkling tiara.