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The restrictions resulting from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic meant that no meetings were held in September, October or November 2020.

Meetings resumed in January 2021 using Zoom on-line.

The following reports of meetings in the 2020-21 season are available:

2021:

Jan 27: "Women at Pompeii" - Helen Lockhart.

Members were treated to their first experience of an online talk from HHA by local historian and club secretary Helen Lockhart on Wednesday 27 January via Zoom. Starved of regular face to face talks since February last year, over 100 members via 65 screens logged on to hear Helen’s fascinating account of the lives of women who lived in the Roman town of Pompeii in the First Century AD.

Research following excavations of Pompeii reveal that, prior to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79, women were often able to be quite independent and influential; maybe unusual for a male dominated society of its time. Helen illuminated her talk with colourful slides showing evidence of material culture in public buildings, villas, gardens, brothels, bath houses, tombs, statues, wall paintings, relief sculpture, mosaics, jewellery, wax tablets and inscriptions. Stories about the women gleaned from these varied sources was all the more interesting because it was much harder to find than evidence of what the men were up to at the same time.

Not only elite women such as a priestess and local benefactress or successful business women and wives of wealthy men were discovered. Artistic, literate women, barmaids, money lenders, female slaves, freed slaves and prostitutes had also left their mark in the material fabric of the town. Helen covered a variety of topics including marriage, motherhood, inheritance, political influence, mystery cults, education, fashion, hairstyles and make-up. It was especially interesting to learn how many women in this ancient society were acquiring greater freedoms and how they used their influence in the politics of their society through their husbands or independently. Although women had no right to vote, it was perhaps surprising to learn that they were able to inherit and keep money and property rather than hand it over to their husbands. Divorce was legal and relatively informal and husbands who abused their wives could be punished by law.

Contrasting stories told of Eumachiae, a wealthy priestess who paid for an important public building and built her own magnificent tomb so that she would be remembered, and of the slave who was freed and went on to become the wealthy mother of a public official. A large number of wall paintings in the excavated ruins revealed scenes of women writing, playing instruments and readings scrolls. Daughters of the elite were educated, learning Greek and Latin as well as practical skills. At the other end of the social hierarchy, Helen had found evidence that prostitutes and adulterous women were forced to wear male togas as a punishment for their behaviour.

This successful foray in to online events during the pandemic restrictions will be followed on 24th February with a talk from Dr Caroline Ness on Jo Mattli, a once famous London fashion designer of the 1950s who lived and died in the Newbury area.

[Dr Caroline Ness HHA Committee]

February 24: “‘Mattli of Mayfair’ Berkshire’s famous couturier of the 1940s-1970s” - Dr Caroline Ness.

Fashion historian and textile conservationist, Dr Caroline Ness, also HHA committee member, delivered a truly fascinating and immaculately researched online Zoom talk about Swiss-born, London based fashion designer Giuseppe ‘Jo’ Mattli (1907-1982) and his local connections.

She delivered an illuminating account of the once famous couturier who lived at Curridge, near Newbury. Caroline presented a vast array of fashion photographs, press cuttings, newspaper and magazine articles, drawings and garments from the Mattli Archive at the Fashion Museum, Bath, which she has been instrumental in organizing, researching and curating. Caroline has also contributed a chapter on Mattli for the V&A book of London Couture.

Mattli grew up in Lugano, moving to England in 1926 to learn tailoring and then continued his training in Paris, returning to London and opening his own couture house in Sloane Street in 1934. In the same year he married his first wife Olga, a White Russian émigré who had modelled for him and created hats for his collections. In 1947 he married his beloved French-born second wife Claude, who modelled for him and became sales director for the business.

As Caroline explained couture was the highest form of clothing design, created as an individual piece, expertly made to measure, carefully fitted, finely embellished and expensive to buy. From 1934-75 Mattli ran his couture business from prestigious addresses in and Mayfair and Knightsbridge, sharing premises in Basil Street with fashion designer Charles Creed from 1955-64. Mattli was a contemporary of Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell, but unlike these more high-profile designers his name was rather lost to memory when Mary Quant and Biba captured the headlines in the 1960s.

Mattli was part of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers (IncSoc) established in 1942, to reinvigorate London's post-war couture industry, promoting British fashion design, while being economical with the quantities of material used. This minimal approach to fabric during post-war austerity in Britain made it hard for London designers to compete with Paris couture houses like Dior. Meanwhile, Mattli also worked with nylon and synthetic fabrics and was exporting designs to the USA by 1948.

During the 1950s Mattli was famous for his haute couture designs commissioned by aristocratic and wealthy women, as well as stars of stage, screen and television. He designed costumes for several British films from the 1940s-1960s including ‘The Red Shoes’ in 1948 starring Moira Shearer. He also designed costumes for Anna Neagle and Margaret Lockwood. During the run up to the 1953 Coronation, London couturiers were busy creating garments for debutantes and society women. The ‘Coronation Parade’ held at Claridges and attended by the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, included gowns by Mattli. Coverage of the Coronation abroad was important in promoting British fashion. However, Mattli is not known to have created garments for senior members of the royal family, perhaps due to rumours of his youthful Communist sympathies.

Mattli was known for practical, wearable, understated, finely detailed garments, which included tweed coats, slimline afternoon suits in boucle wool, cocktail dresses in silk jersey and lace. He was famously photographed by Norman Parkinson for British Vogue in 1953, with top models including Barbara Goalen, wearing his designs. In 1955 Mattli was the first London couturier to move into ready-to-wear fashion, under his own label, retailing at Marshall & Snellgrove, Fortum’s, Harrods and exclusive boutiques, while also exporting to Canada and New Zealand. He went on to design for wholesale enterprises such as the Co-operative Society and Grattan Catalogue. He contributed to Reynolds News in 1954, advising women on how to present themselves. Unlike many of the other IncSoc members, Mattli's name remained familiar throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, through his ready-to-wear clothing and his Vogue series of couture dress making patterns. He also appeared on the BBC television sewing series Clothes that Count in 1967. He continued to create some couture for special clients into the 1970s, but his legacy is for making ready-to-wear fashion available to all.

In the 1960s and 1970s Mattli and Claude rented Grange Farm at Curridge, staying first at weekends and then more permanently. An article in the Newbury Weekly News for 24th February 1773, included a photograph of the Mattlis happily at home in Curridge. Many years later Caroline approached the Newbury Weekly News about contacting local people who had known Mattli. The paper published a letter to that effect and many locals responded. Rachel Furr of the family jewellers in Hungerford, suggested to Caroline that Mattli’s executors should donate press books, newspaper cuttings, drawings and garments to the Mattli Archive. Mary Crosthwaite who had worked for Mattli in the 1960s, helped Caroline better understand the construction process of his garments. Mary had been photographed in 1955, modelling for Balenciaga in Paris, in one of the most iconic images of 1950s fashion. Another local resident Genevieve Mather was friendly with the Mattli and Claude, inheriting their pet pug dog, when they sadly died within a year of each other. Debutants Emma Heape, Susan Ward at Chilton Foliat and Mary Ann Parker Bowles at Donnington, all wore Mattli wedding dresses. Joanna Burrows the Mattlis’ physiotherapist from Newbury also talked to Caroline. Apparently, they were keen art collectors owning sketches by Lucien Freud. After Mattli’s death at Curridge in 1982, obituaries appeared in the Newbury Weekly News and The Times. Memories, photographs and garments from those who worked for him, were his assistants, seamstresses and tailors, his clients and friends, make a major contribution to the assessment of Mattli’s significant contribution to the post-war British fashion and textile industry.

[Helen Lockhart, HHA Secretary] 

March 24: “Hungerford in 1795 - a close-up look” - Dr Hugh Pihlens.

 

April 28: “Coleridge in Calne” - Nick Baxter.

 

May 26: “Designing the part - Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928)” - Dr Veronica Isaac.