Born: Digby (Henry) Morton in Dublin, 27 November 1906. Education: Studied architecture at the Metropolitan School of Art and Architecture, Dublin, 1923; London Polytechnic. Family: Married Phyllis May Painting, 1936. Career: Worked as sketch artist, Jay's fashion store, Oxford Street, London, 1928; founded tailoring firm of Lachasse in Farm St, Mayfair, London, 1928; own house established, 1934, closed, 1957; founded Reldan-Digby Morton, 1958; founding member of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers, 1942; designer of Utility clothing for British government, 1942; film costume designer in Hollywood during World War II; established Digby Morton (Exports) Ltd. for marketing British womenswear to the U.S., 1947; Digby Morton for Jacqmar collection, 1950; designer, and vice president, 1955-58, Hathaway Shirt Company, New York; designer/director, Reldan-Digby Morton, 1958-73; designed Women's Voluntary Services uniform, 1939. Awards: Aberfoyle International Fashion award, New York, 1956. Died: 1983, in London.
Amies, Hardy, Just So Far, London, 1954.
Carter, Ernestine, Tongue in Chic, London, 1974.
Lambert, Eleanor, World of Fashion: People, Places, Resources, New York & London, 1976.
Ginsburg, Madeleine, and Prudence Glynn, In Fashion, London, 1977.
Amies, Hardy, Still Here, London, 1984.
Mulvagh, Jane, Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion, London, 1988.***
The fashion for sportswear during the 1920s was the ideal environment for Digby Morton to establish the London house of Lachasse, which specialized in the tailored sporting suit for women. Morton was brought in as chief sportswear designer of a dress establishment owned by businessman Fred Singleton. Morton later claimed his decision to call the new house Lachasse was because at that time British women would not consider anything but French labels in their wardrobes.
Morton transformed the classic tweed suit into a fashionable garment through the carefully planned placing of seams that gave a more decorative line to the native Irish tweeds he used. Sir Hardy Amies acknowledges that Morton's intricate cutting technique and designs made the ordinary country tweed suit into a fashionable garment, worn confidently in town as well as the country. Morton's first collection, in 1929, featured Ardara tweeds, large herringbone wools, and diagonal stripes and checks in the then-unusual color combinations such as pale lime green and duck egg blue with dark brown. Morton used French printed silks by Rodier for blouses and linings which were clean cut and spare for detail, and far removed from what he called "postmistress blouses."
Morton's belief that British women could not successfully wear conspicuous clothes was evident in designs where he endeavored to "translate the trends of feminine fashion into the masculine medium of tailoring." His theory was that it was more difficult to eliminate details than to decorate garments, which resulted in simple lines that relied for effect upon his use of fabrics. Morton's preference for uncluttered designs was also reflected in his dislike of designing eveningwear, which he referred to as debutante clothes. When he began to introduce eveningwear into his collections in the late 1940s his designs were based on the tailored evening dress.
After five years at Lachasse, Morton established his own couture house in 1934. In 1939 he was invited to design the Women's Voluntary Service uniform and during World War II was an active member of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers, established in 1942 to promote exports of British fashion. Morton also designed a collection of garments for the British government's Utility clothing scheme (no-trim standards for wartime clothing and household goods), which went into production anonymously in 1942.
Morton became more closely involved in the field of ready-to-wear clothing in the postwar period and enjoyed particular success in the American market during the 1950s. In 1953 he was asked to design the Lady Hathaway shirt collection for the Hathaway company—a manufacturer of top quality men's shirts. By copying the cut of men's shirts, with slight adjustments for the female form, Morton created the collection in brilliant colors and patterns with contrasting bowties. The success of this venture earned him the title of Daring Digby by Time magazine. This may have prompted Morton to close his couture house in 1957 and enter the field of ready-to-wear on a full-time basis. Morton always acknowledged he felt constrained by couture, and his real design career began when he started designing clothes for the average woman.
In 1958 Morton formed the company Reldan-Digby Morton with Nadler, a large fashion producer owned by Cyril Kern. Morton's ready-to-wear designs for Reldan-Digby Morton introduced ready-made garments with a couture image to the British public. The collection of separates was renamed Togethers and produced at the company's High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire factory. They were also successful in America where some of the more adventurous designs such as bright yellow-and-black striped suits and jet black beach coats appealed to a particular market.
In 1963 Morton began designing menswear, an area that had always appealed to him—he had personally adopted the neo-Edwardian style so fashionable for men in the 1950s. Morton designed his first menswear collection in Trevira cloth for the Cologne Fair, one of the most widely publicized garments of which was the Mesh-Over-Flesh Vestshirt which featured string vest fabric with formal shirting. Other designs played on the traditional image of the male suit, with unusual features such as curved side slits on formal trousers.
Primarily a designer of tailored clothes, Digby Morton was recognized for his use of traditional fabrics in unusual color combinations. His couture designs for women reflected his belief that the British couture customer required unobtrusive suits in good tweeds that were wearable rather than dramatic.
British fashion house
Founded: by Fred Singleton as couture sportswear branch of Gray, Paulette and Singleton, 1928; company incorporated as Lachasse Ltd., 1946. Company History: Chief designers include Digby Morton, 1928-33, Hardy Amies, 1934-39, Michael Donellan, 1941-52; Peter Lewis-Crown (born, 1930) joined Lachasse as apprentice, 1948; became director, 1964; later became designer and sole owner; Lachasse has also produced clothes for theatre, film and television productions. Collections: Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Costume Gallery, Castle Howard, York; Costume Museum, Bath, England. Company Address: 29 Thurloe Place, London SW7 2HQ, England.
Ewing, Elizabeth, History of 20th Century Fashion, London, 1974.
McDowell, Colin, McDowell's Directory of 20th Century Fashion, London, 1984.***
Lachasse Ltd. was often referred to as London's tailoring stable and it saw a succession of British designers who completed their training there after Digby Morton established the couture house in 1928. The house of Lachasse was renowned primarily for its tailored suits which, in the tradition of British tailoring, were said to mature like vintage wine. Lachasse was representative of the distinctive type of British tailoring that evolved from the masculine style as opposed to the softer dressmaker tailoring employed in Paris.
The early success of Lachasse owed much to the popularity of sportswear during the 1920s, as advocated by Coco Chanel who also promoted the use of British wools and tweeds for these clothes. Certain other factors played a significant role in establishing Lachasse— Digby Morton presented his first collection there in 1929, the year of the Wall Street Crash, which saw a dramatic fall in the number of American buyers at the Paris couture houses. Many overseas buyers turned to London, attracted by the new generation of couturiers and the lower prices.
According to Peter Lewis-Crown, who joined Lachasse in 1949 and became the couture house's owner, its three main designers, all of whom left their mark, were Digby Morton, who popularized Donegal tweed for womenswear; Hardy Amies, who gave the tailored suit a geometrical approach by using the fabric selvedge around the body instead of downwards, and Michael Donellan, who made the tailored suit an acceptable mode of dress from morning through to evening.
Hardy Amies joined the house of Lachasse after Morton's departure in 1934, learning about the construction of tailored suits by examining copies of Morton's models. Michael Donellan followed Amies to Lachasse where he trained until he established his own house in 1953. Originally a milliner, Donellan was the only designer to have his name on the label, which read "Michael at Lachasse." The Irish-born designer was also likened to Balenciaga because of his strong, uncompromising signature. In the postwar period Lachasse enjoyed a sizeable export trade, particularly with America. The firm used to send a doll called Virginia around the world, dressed in the latest clothing by Lachasse, and took orders for her couture outfits. As a member of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers (ISLFD), the house also partook in the export and publicity ventures organized by the ISLFD.
Lachasse was exclusively a couture house until 1981 when Peter Lewis-Crown opened a mini-boutique on the premises. He was also responsible for introducing more dresses and feminine clothes to the house, once famed principally for its tailored suits. Former attempts to introduce eveningwear had been unsuccessful. Hardy Amies describes Lachasse's La Soirée department as "un-epoch-making" and it was closed down, with many of the evening gowns unsold. While Lachasse can make no claims to breaking any fashion barriers, it is one of the longest-surviving couture houses and continues to attract an international clientéle to its Kensington premises.