I’ve spent a good part of time back in England over the past year scrabbling about in the family attics, sorting out crumbling cardboard boxes of great antiquity, in preparation for the house being sold. I’ve found all manner of wonderful things. The very first Next Directory a silk kimono from 1913, my great grandmother’s couture dress from the 1930’s, my maternal grandmother’s wedding album, the first Kate Moss cover from The Face in 1990 and a lot of clothes from my mother’s heyday in the 60s & 70s.

I was beyond thrilled to dig out this dress by John Bates, from his Jean Varon label. I remember it hanging in my mother’s wardrobe when I was very small, but I never saw her wear it. Such a product of its time ( the early Seventies), it was very out of date by the time I had started to engage with what my mother wore.)

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She thinks she bought it in 1973 or 74. My paternal aunt Mandy was a founder of the Chelsea Cobbler, (their shoes are now in the V&A Permanent Costume Collection), and knew someone at the Jean Varon studio, so off they went to get my mother a party frock. Even with a hefty discount it cost £25, a vast sum for my mother in those days. (That’s about £375 in 2010 terms.) She says she wore it out a lot, and pointed out an invisible mend where someone had dropped a cigarette end when they were dancing. I love having this tangible reminder of my mother’s deeply stylish past.

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John Bates is quite possibly the most influential designer of the 1960s. His name isn’t as well known as his contemporaries,  as he began designing under the name Jean Varon from 1959. He was doing futuristic, plastic clothing in the early sixties, long before Courrèges and Cardin lit up the Paris runways, and in 1965 the Fashion Museum in Bath chose a Jean Varon piece as their highly prestigious Dress of the Year.

He’s probably most famous in the minds of the public as the man who dressed Diana Rigg as Emma Peel in The Avengers in 1965. Her iconic wardrobe was classic John Bates. Although history likes to think of Mary Quant, and maybe Courrèges, as the inventors of the miniskirt, it’s arguable that Bates got in there first and certainly British Vogue and the legendary Ernestine Carter of The Sunday Times were John Bates cheerleaders.

Because his name isn’t so recognisable, there’s quite a lot of very well-priced Jean Varon kicking around on line. There’s a wonderful piece for sale here &  lots of Jean Varon on eBay, as in this wonderful dress here (someone please buy it –  it’s too small for me, & lace is lovely for the coming season.)

ps In answer to reader questions: I can just fit into it, but I look obscene-ly busty. More like the Nurse than Juliet…Clare has made me promise never to wear it in public. Which is why it is hanging up, rather than being photographed on me.

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14 comments

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This is lovely – are you able to wear it? The floaty maxi dress style seems to be making a return, so I would think you could get away with it (especially with an ample bust to fil out the top). I do love John Bates, he deserves to be better known.

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Brown was big in 1974 – I just blogged about my brown bedroom. Aren’t the intertubes full of weird and wonderful co-incidences?! My mother, now that I think about it, bought me a brown long dress for the School Christmas Party. I was so not cool in a brown frock. Although this one might have turned some heads….my brown crimpolene number simply caused static burns.

Ali x

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THIS is why I LOVE this blog – it is full of fascinating fashion facts (plus the adorable dog pictures. – is all so beautiful. And btw – I didn’t TOUCH the ambrosial puddings, was trying to be good, then got hammered and gorged on the Animal Farm sausages). What can you tell me about Susan Small? Fx

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love the dress beautiful 🙂
xx

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Yes, Ali is right…brown was big then. I sewed several things to go to university in Strasbourg, France. Though I was young & wearing jeans, black turtlenecks, & embroidered flower child tops, I still needed a few travel & evening items, I bought some lengths of fabric for a dress, trousers, & a long evening skirt that had lovely brown in them. My also deeply stylish mother that I was nuts when I told her (before she saw the fabric). She looked in the shopping bag & shrugged. “I guess you don’t need my advice anymore.” (That was her way of saying “Great buys!”) I wish I had those now, because they were classic Vogue patterns. Gawd, if I think about it too much, I’ll be up all night looking on eBay.

Thanks for a blast from the past, Sasha. xx

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What a lovely find. What are you going to do with it?

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Store it in my clothes archive…if I don’t have children, it will go to my god daughter…

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This dress is perfection. The floaty fabric is seen everywhere right now. I just wish John Bates got as much recognition as his contemporaries. I mean, he was huge!

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Beautiful dress – brown chiffon love it! very feminine.

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That dress is gorgeous. If I hadn’t already secured a dress for the Emmys – I would be begging to borrow it. xx

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