From the Archive: Elizabeth Handley-Seymour

Read about the interesting story of this English dress maker’s sketches collected in Europeana Fashion!

Elizabeth Handley-Seymour was an English dress maker and fashion designer, who worked between the 1910s and the 1940s. She designed the dresses and gowns for the English Court and Society, including the wedding dress and the Coronation dress for the Duchess of York, later the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

Madame Handley-Seymour. One of 4863 fashion designs. London, Spring 1926. Collection Victoria and Albert Museum, CC-BY-NC.

One of 4863 fashion designs by Madame Handley-Seymour, London, Spring 1926. Collection Victoria and Albert Museum, CC-BY-NC.

What is interesting about Madame Handley-Seymour wonderful sketches, collected in Europeana Fashion and provided by Victoria and Albert Museum, to which they were given by her daughter Mrs. Joyce Whitehouse, is not just that they offer a perspective on her work but also that they let us give a glance at what were the favourite Parisian designs of her time. This is because some of her sketches were designed after those of the Parisian couturiers, with their name accurately written beside the drawings, as it was common for London clientele to request copies of the creations of the most fashionable designers from Paris.

Madame Handley-Seymour after Balenciaga, Paris. White organdy dress with wide red leather corselet belt. London, Spring-Summer 1936. Collection Victoria and Albert Museum, CC-BY-NC.

Madame Handley-Seymour after Balenciaga, Paris. White organdy dress with wide red leather corselet belt. London, Spring-Summer 1936. Collection Victoria and Albert Museum, CC-BY-NC.

Though it is not certified that Madame Handley Seymour actually realized the copies she sketched, it is sure that the business of copying was quite diffuse at that time. In fact those of Paris couturiers were considered to be the most avant-garde creations, with a great disadvantage to non-Paris based designers and dress makers. This custom has been also documented by American fashion designer Elizabeth Hawes, author of the book “Fashion is Spinach”, who started her career as a copyist replicating Paris designers’ creations for the American market.

Madame Handley-Seymour after Molyneux. Red evening dress with ruched front and self-fabric roses at bust and matching cloak. London, 1934-35. Collection Victoria and Albert Museum, CC-BY-NC.

Madame Handley-Seymour after Molyneux. Red evening dress with ruched front and self-fabric roses at bust and matching cloak. London, 1934-35. Collection Victoria and Albert Museum, CC-BY-NC.

However, what is actually left to us today, in over 4000 sketches by Elizabeth Handley-Seymour, is an accurate overview of the most desirable creations of her time, and through her wonderful illustrations we can have a look at the early creations of designers like Molyneux and Coco Chanel, and of the other less known designers who were the utmost desired of their time.

Find on Europeana Fashion Madame Handley-Seymour’s beautiful designs and illustrations: http://bit.ly/1WddGr6
Things to consider do you want new or used, do you want print or e-, do you try over there need the current edition or will the previous one do just fine, do you want to own the book or would a semester-long rental be adequate

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