Wanted: David Bowie’s dress, Greta Garbo’s hats and the shirts worn by Sean Connery in his first role as James Bond.
They are iconic items of 20th-century clothing – but their whereabouts is unknown. Now the Museum of London Docklands has made a public appeal for help locating these and other garments before a big exhibition scheduled for later this year.
The missing clothes are important because of what they have in common: all were created by Jewish designers working in the London fashion scene, a legacy the museum believes has been overlooked.
“Jewish people were working at all levels of the fashion industry in London throughout the 20th century, but the extent of their contributions has been widely unrecognised,” said Dr Lucie Whitmore, fashion curator at the museum.
While the tailors and shoemakers of the East End may be familiar, she believes few recognise the influence Jewish designers and makers had at all levels of the fashion trade, from establishing the ready to wear industry to dominating fashion meccas such as Carnaby Street in the 1960s.
“New research has allowed us to pull out some really rich personal stories that show the contributions that those people made to the London fashion industry.”
Among them is Mr Fish, born Michael Fish in Wood Green, north London in 1940. He rose from cleaning counters at a London department store to working at some of the capital’s leading tailors, before opening his own shop, which quickly became a destination for the fashionable set.
He dressed Connery, Princess Margaret and Jimi Hendrix, made the robe worn by Muhammad Ali at the Rumble in the Jungle, invented the kipper tie and – notoriously – devised the “man dress”, examples of which were worn by Mick Jagger at Hyde Park in 1969, and by Bowie on the cover of The Man Who Sold the world, which Whitmore calls “an absolute dream piece to find”.
“He was quite a radical thinker in terms of how he approached the dynamics of gender in his design, and we want to celebrate the contribution he made,” she said. “I think he deserves to be a household name.”
Also sought are hats made by Otto Lucas, a German-born Jew whose eponymous Bond Street label had huge global success in the postwar years and whose clients included Garbo and Wallis Simpson, and more elusive names such as Rahvis, a couture label worn by aristocracy and film stars, and Madame Isobel, called “London’s leading dress designer” in the 1930s, but whose surviving pieces are rare.
Not all of these diverse characters will have related to their Jewishness in the same way, acknowledges Whitmore, but with an estimated 60-70% of Jewish immigrants to London in the early 20th-century working in fashion or textile trades, “for many people, this is a really personal story”, she said.
“We are not going to be talking about one shared experience, but we are using Jewishness as a lens through which to view London fashion. When you do that, you realise that Jewish people’s contribution is massive and really important, and we are just celebrating that.”
Fashion City: How Jewish Londoners shaped global style opens 13 October at the Museum of London Docklands. Anyone with information about the items in question is asked to contact the museum before 1 March