Fashion

Fairytale’ ballgown complete with a fairytale stitched with gold thread into its skirt. V&A exhibition  2012, ‘British glamour since 1950

The inspiration for my fashion designs came about from my deep love of nature. As a gamekeeper’s daughter who grew up in the woods and fields, I was aware at a very early age of a profound connection to the wildness and beauty all around me. This naturally awakened my imagination as well as my sensitivity to various nature creatures and fairy beings, who showed me where to find such wondrous things as six-leaved clovers, lost treasure and the very first spring flowers.

It is this refined sensibility to beauty and my all-embracing mystical connection to the whole, that has informed every creative impulse of my life, and was a major influence on my years in fashion. Consequently, I had to develop unique dyeing techniques to create the colours and effects I wanted. It also entailed inventing ever new and elaborate methods of construction or stitching, especially for such fragile fabric as silk habotai that had never been used for clothing before.

My vision obviously worked, as buyers often told me that although they could not afford my designs, they would come to see my collections just t o cheer themselves up. Fortunately, there were enough affluent stars and celebrities around the world to sustain a flourishing business in the seventies and eighties. In fact, one of my favourite buyers, who always had a fragrant flower tied to her finger , and who owned the most exquisite boutique in Rodeo Drive Los Angeles, where many of them shopped, was so inspired by my designs that she used to write a poem to go with her chosen pieces.

With such an appreciative market for my work, how could I not be inspired to give full reign to my prolific imagination – something I feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to do, even if it was cut short by illness.

This is the dress that began my career and inspired the Sunday Times to write, ‘Disarming originality, Cindy is a leader not a follower.’ That headline catapulted me overnight to the top of the fashion world.
My continual innovative use of fabric broke new boundaries in the fashion world. In this design I used ribbons of fabric to weave the bodice and to make knots and bows for the overskirt. The bolero was rouched with elastic to give it more body.
This is a design that hit the headlines when hemlines were the main focus of attention. Some went up and some went down. This dress caused a stir by managing to do both, dipping down at the front and back and up at the sides.
Made from hand-dyed silk satin, the multi-layered skirt was overlaid with ribbons of fabric and hanging hearts, whilst the edges were appliquéd with lilies and a cut out lace effect. It reflected the romantic eastern feel in fashion at that time.
Spring in Britain - Fashion Magazine
This is a display of my designs in a shop in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, frequented by such stars as Olivia Newton John who I was told bought my outfits. The owner also wrote poems to go with them and was never seen without a gardenia tied to her wrist.
Creating the complex dying effects, such as the cloudy skies and rainbows in this outfit was laborious and required complex airbrushing and stencilling. This, together with the stitch work, meant that my girls went through rigorous training.
The Long and Short of it
Fortunately I was never short of inspiration and could have designed six collections a year. In those days, however, there were only two seasons, spring and autumn, during which time buyers flocked to London from all over the world.
Every new design was a challenge. In this particular one it was to create enough ‘body’ round the edge of the silk satin to enable it to hold its shape whilst also maintaining the special fluidity of the fabric.
Another innovative touch I used was putting the seams on the outside, having first overlocked them in a shimmering Lurex thread. Thus giving a decorative quality to a design, such as this one from my ‘blushing rose’ collection.
This publication always loved my work, particularly the sheer delicacy of some of the designs. Here they write that they had the quality of petals, due again to the lightness of the silk Habotai that no one had ever used before in women’s fashion.
Living as I did overlooking the sea, many of my designs had oceanic themes. Although a simple shift dress, both the dying and embroidery in this design from my ‘coral reef’ collection was complex, and even incorporated a mermaid ‘swimming through it’.
Silk can be a testing fabric to work with but I always loved trying to find new ways of dyeing it or working with it, to try and create something utterly unique to surprise the buyers.
Film stars and celebrities bought my designs from ‘Gunn Tregere’ in Beverly Hills and from Saks 5th Avenue, New York. Here, an up and coming actress is featured on the front page of ‘Beverly Hills People’, in a design from my ‘seaweed’ collection. Film stars and celebrities bought my designs from ‘Gunn Tregere’ in Beverly Hills and from Saks 5th Avenue, New York. Here, an up and coming actress is featured on the front page of ‘Beverly Hills People’, in a design from my ‘seaweed’ collection.
The press particularly loved this bold design. It was inspired by a stained glass window and featured the Tudor rose to mark the Queen’s golden jubilee that year. It created quite a stir in the shows put on by London Collections.
Cindy for Luxury
Many of my collections were inspired by nature. Autumn leaves, a sunlit pasture, or the lichen on the branches of the trees on Dartmoor such as this dress featured in Country Life.
Living by the ocean, however, meant that I always found my way back there at some point. This design was quite literally made up of hundreds of pieces of silk. Each dyed separately by hand and then over-locked and cut out individually.
This design was from a collection I called ‘Space Gypsies.’ I used the silk in its natural, creamy-white state and then added a multi-coloured streak of lighting through it that broke out into all the colours of the rainbow.
The press obviously loved it and thought it was great fun as it was featured in numerous publications as an example of the ‘spacy’ feeling that was influencing the fashion market at this time.
The press obviously loved it and thought it was great fun as it was featured in numerous publications as an example of the ‘spacy’ feeling that was influencing the fashion market at this time.
Always popular with my buyers were those designs inspired by wild flowers. In this case it was a cornflower. Achieving all the different shades of blue in the many layered skirt that together created the exact shade was a labour of love.
Fashion Week's Glittering Prizes
Sometimes the most glamorous fashion balls have a hidden agenda. For this one I went all out to get some press coverage, which I managed to achieve by winning second prize for best design.
Each piece of seaweed making up the skirt of the dress was over-locked separately in a mother of pearl Lurex thread to imitate the shimmering effect of the moonlight catching it. It also had little fishes attached to it.
The inspiration of this ‘edgy’ collection was the shimmering granite rocks I saw on the coastal paths of Devon. The fabric was distressed and ‘holed’ and the hems were given a jagged rock-like look.
However, it was this particular dress that was chosen as the best of the romantic Tudor influence at that time in London. The overdress was cut away to look like the branches of a tree on which the creamy pink roses were seemingly ‘growing’.
From another oceanic inspired collection, this design consisted of literally hundreds of pieces of fabric, giving it a lovely ethereal quality. Seaweed with delicate mother of pearl sequins and fishes hung from the waist.
The growing numbers of buyers visiting London all year round, eventually led me to open my own showroom at ‘Hyper Hyper’ in South Kensington with a group of other highly acclaimed new designers at that time.
Here are two more pieces from the same ‘fairytale’ collection, which show the graded dying effect we managed to achieve, as well as the pretty, innovative cut out lace effect on the edges of the fabric.
In this design I show how the fabric can be used in many different ways, such as veining, rouching, appliquéing and also various cut out effects to emulate the fragility of a butterfly’s wing.
My undying love affair with the petal quality of silk Habotai never waned. I believe I am still the only designer to this day who dared use it. Here I use rouching again to condense the rainbow effect of the colours and to help it hold its shape.
The Silken Spring of '79
The ‘raised veining’ effect that wound around the body of this gently draping silk satin was achieved by double stitching a fine cord to the back of the fabric, a subtle but unique technique.
As well as stocking a selection of high-end designs, I also offered a range of off- the-peg designs for the trendy young buyers of South Kensington who frequented ‘Hyper Hyper’.
Collections appealed to different buyers depending on the climate of the country they came from. This particular ‘Autumn Leaves’ collection was naturally in tune with the sensitivities of British buyers.
Naturally this rather melancholic lily-inspired collection was also popular with the home market. The fabric of the raised garland of flowers and leaves that support the dress was padded and over-locked to give it more strength.
Torqay Dress on Permanent US Show
Many viewed my work more as art than as mere fashion. Spotted by a curator of the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art, this butterfly design appropriately ended up in its archives.
Spring in Britain
‘International Textiles’ had a very good circulation in the trade during the 70’s and 80’s and often picked up trends before any of the more glossy publications. In this case it was the market’s insatiable demand for romantic evening wear.
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