Interview with Jane Ormsby Gore
Widely perceived as a style leader of her generation, Jane Ormsby Gore worked for Vogue in the early 1960s and was involved in Hung on You, an avant garde men's clothing shop in Chelsea owned by her then husband Michael Rainey. She has worked for antique dealer Christopher Gibbs, interior designer David Mlinaric, and now runs her own interior design company, JR Design, based in London.
Below is a transcript of an interview recorded with Jane Ormsby Gore in March 2006.
I was born on the Welsh borders into a traditional, upper-class English family, but quite liberal. My mother, for most of her things, used Belinda [Belville] and for Royal occasions or something she would go to Hartnell or Worth. She was an incredibly elegant woman, beautifully dressed and took terrific care of her clothes… She had about three of these [embroidered velvet Turkish robes] which she used to wear in the evenings if it wasn't a very important occasion, which is also what I do now. Anyway, that was a real inspiration and certainly what I liked best in the wardrobe… a huge influence.
In 1960 I 'came out' and went to all those parties. People were very conventionally dressed. The kind of dress I had to wear was of white tulle, fluffy and puffy. But by then I had already been buying jeans in America (where later on, my father, Lord Harlech, was British Ambassador). We were cutting off the belts, making hipsters, sewing them up for drainpipes and putting them in the washing machine for four goes, much to the fury of every one in the household. My eldest brother was a huge fashion person, going to that place Stan's where you had winkle pickers made - amazing shoes. When he was at Eton he wore elastic sided boots and had long hair. Coming Out was pretty good torture… Bazaar was OK for Ascot and that kind of thing.
Working life and clothes in London
When I came back to London from New York in about 1961-62 that was when I started buying lots of second hand clothes and mixing and matching and cutting off skirts. I went to work for Christopher Gibbs in his first shop in Islington.... I'd stay out all night dancing and used to loll about in the back room and put up a notice saying 'Ring the bell if you need a hand.'
Then, I think because of my amusing way of dressing, I was asked to work for Vogue… selecting things, finding things that I thought were interesting. I must have been a complete nightmare. I remember not being allowed to wear trousers to work there. I used to try and sneak in by the back lift. The editor was Beatrix Miller. She was so heavenly… she used to lay out photographs and we would look at them.
Hung on You
In that time my then husband, Michael Rainey opened Hung on You in Chelsea Green. He was like a mannequin, incredibly well dressed. He always had quite a conventional approach to things, but with a twist. We were seeking the Holy Grail at that moment and always very high-minded and spiritual. He was very influenced by that. Those leather jerkins he made were all to do with the rising spirit. We started going to Glastonbury and all that kind of thing… We all had rather a different look.
My contribution to Hung on You was purely talking and discussing things at home. We were very influenced by Byron… those Byron shirts with frilly fronts and big sleeves. And literature: Spencer's Fairie Queene… that sort of mood, rather romantic. He would find… lovely materials, all made in London in the East End by proper old fashioned tailors. Everything beautifully made. He was a great stickler. I suppose the Stones and Beatles would come in and say, 'We want four of those ...'
Michael made the most gigantic mistake of leaving Cale Street and going onto the King's Road. He felt that it was happening on the King's Road, but it cost a lot of money to move, and people didn't know where we were. It became less successful then. Before it was slightly more slick, with a big jardinière mirrored thing in the middle of the shop. We had got two children by then, and we were seriously into soul seeking and going on fasts and meditating… We left London, sold everything, gave away everything, and went to live in Gozo. London times and everything were over.
There was Ulla at Chelsea Antique Market. She was fantastic, Ossie Clark's absolute mentor. Before you would go down Portobello Road or to a flea market. But nobody actually gathered things together and made them into a shop… so you did have to dig about in old antique shops.
I remember finding a shoe buckle with huge great emeralds, all paste with fake jewels. I loved that sort of thing … suddenly to have flashy jewels which you wore with your jeans, which now everybody wears all the time. From the Biba tailored look to the ethnic look with all those wonderful embroidered Indian and Palestinian dresses. I started wearing all of them when I was pregnant. I did wear mini skirts but they were very uncomfortable for being pregnant in. Ethnic clothes translated well for wearing in the 'gypsy' caravans… that was very hippy, the change from the slick look to the hippy look with long dresses. As far as I was concerned I liked them because they were embroidered and then it turned into the serious hippy shakes… We were walking round the streets in our embroidered boots and long dresses and stuff.
Tapestries, needlework and embroidery very much influenced me, the rich wonderful things in those houses; the amazing textiles… all the chairs were silk velvet.