Do you ever walk past a shop and get drawn to it because it oozes beautiful clothes, bags, jewellery and shoes? Its windows give a glimpse of an emporium of colour and warmth and its door opens welcomingly, the clothes enticing you in. Bohemia Road is such a shop. Its bright fuschia pink exterior with mannequins filling the windows, dressed in the most desirable of garments caught my eye and I entered to be greeted by Rosa-Lee, the owner.

Rosa-Lee opened her shop in 2012 and it has become a treasure trove for the discerning shopper. She has a gift of sourcing exclusive designer vintage clothes and knows what women like to own. Her shop is often busy with women who travel from afar to explore her latest acquisitions. Imagine my surprise when I found a dress by Guiseppe Mattli – a black tea dress that had a photograph attached to its hanger.

Jo Mattli, or Giuseppe Mattli, (1907-1982) was a Swiss fashion designer who worked mostly in London. He was famous for dresses for film stars with plunging necklines and wool coats for The Woolmark Company. Examples of his clothing can be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Fashion Museum in Bath. Mattli’s Vogue Couturier Design patterns remain collector’s items combining, ‘Swiss charm and Parisian taste.’ Jo Mattli designed for many English films in the 50s and featured heavily in the tug-of-war between fashion houses vying to establish hemlines. The 1958 London Fashion Week reported: hemlines climbed, but stayed at knee-level in the opening show of London’s high fashion week today. The display by Jo Mattli launched London’s top designers on a season of spring showings in which for once they have the last word over Paris and Rome. Fashion buyers and buyers from all over the world are here from the French and Italian salons, where skirts went up. Mattli bore out predictions that British fashion men are not disposed to follow tamely the Continental edict. His skirts were distinctly shorter than last year but they stopped discreetly at the knee. He showed buckles and roses clipped to shoes, explaining: “With higher hemlines men will pay more attention to women’s feet and ankles.”

If I had to date the black tea dress I would guess that it was a Mattli from the late 1950s or early 1960s. Made from grosgrain gaberdine – a natural wool fabric – sculptured beautifully for a petite woman’s body. The design appears simple at first glance but on closer examination the folds reveal a bold cut almost defying the fabric. Gabardine was also used widely in the 1950s to produce colourful patterned casual jackets, trousers and suits.

Buttons were an important feature of couture design from this period and Jo Mattli even had his own button maker. Lionel Nichols, born in London 1909 died in 1993 was a glass button maker. Lionel Nichols set up a workshop in Marylebone, hand-making buttons from glass, cutting raw sheets of vitrolite glass into squares, melting these in a furnace, painting and shaping each piece. He was commissioned by couture houses including Jo Mattli to make buttons for specific pieces.

As I held the dress I wondered about the original owner whose black and white photograph was attached, signed by the photographer Anthony Buckley. She had an aristocratic air about her and looks out of the frame with the confidence of someone who enjoyed her Mattli tea dress. Anthony Buckley opened his first portrait studio in 1937 and quickly gained a reputation for his portraits of leading actresses of the day. During the 1960s his reputation as a leading stage portraitist grew and he became internationally known as a royal photographer. His prints spanning the years 1937-75 were donated to the National Portrait Gallery in 1995.

Holding the original Anthony Buckley photograph and feeling the texture of the fine wool I realised that I am a very curious person. I like to dig into details, uncover a process beneath from many angles and I love to experience things by chance. To find out what I don’t know is exciting and to research and uncover something which captures my imagination can be very rewarding. I will be visiting Bohemia Road often!

Our MSL Behind the Seams product is fuelled by this curiosity, the search to find out more about fashion stories is exactly what we do. Do you have something in your wardrobe that you would like to know more about? Or what about a friend and her wardrobe? Get in touch!



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