Bellville Sassoonlorcan Mullany
BELLVILLE SASSOONLORCAN MULLANY
British couture and ready-to-wear firm, Bellville Sassoon & Bellville Sassoon-Lorcan Mullany, respectively.
Founded: Belinda Bellville founded own company, 1953, joined by designer David Sassoon to form Bellville Sassoon, 1958; Bellville retired from company, 1983; Bellville Sassoon-Lorcan Mullany founded, 1987. David Sassoon born in London, 5 October 1932; attended Chelsea College of Art, 1954-56, and Royal College of Art, London, 1956-58; served in the Royal Air Force, 1950-53. Lorcan Mullany born 3 August 1953; trained at Grafton Academy, Dublin; worked for Bill Gibb, Hardy Amies, and Ronald Joyce in London before producing collection under his own name in 1983; joined Bellville Sassoon in 1987. Company History: Ready-to-wear collection sold in, among others, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's, and Henri Bendel, all in New York, and Harrods and Harvey Nichols, both in London; flagship store in Chelsea, London. Exhibitions: Fashion: An Anthology, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1971. Company Address: 18 Culford Gardens, London SW3 2ST, England.
On BELLVILLE SASSOON-LORCAN MULLANY:
O'Hara, Georgina, The Enyclopedia of Fashion, New York, 1986.
The Cutting Edge: Fifty Years of Fashion, New York, n.d.
Thomas, Jacqueline H., "Profile," in Vogue Pattern Book (New York& London), 1984.
Holder, Margaret, "That Sassoon Touch," in Royalty (London), 1989.
Griffiths, Sally, "Well-Dressed Surroundings," in House & Garden (London), 1991.
Polan, Brenda, "Vital Sassoon," in the Tatler (London), September 1992.
Watson, Ines, "Sassoon Assesses South African Talent," in the Dispatch Online, 13 November 1998.*
I like clothes that flatter a woman and are sexy; if a woman feels good in the clothes I design, she looks good. I enjoy designing cocktail and eveningwear with my codesigners Lorcan Mullany and George Sharp. We work together as a team to produce ready-to-wear dresses, sometimes in a romantic mood, sometimes whimsical or sexy… I love colour and beautiful fabrics. Each season we try to do something different, but always with a distinct Bellville Sassoon-Lorcan Mullany handwriting, which our buyers always look for. Our collection is sold internationally and each country looks for a different fashion concept, so our collections are always varied, never sticking to one theme. I do not like to philosophize about clothes; they are, after all, only garments to be worn and discarded as the mood of fashion changes.
The company of Bellville Sassoon-Lorcan Mullany has been jointly run by David Sassoon (who owned the company and designed the couture), and Lorcan Mullany who joined in 1987 and was responsible for the ready-to-wear. Together they provide a very English version of glamorous occasion dressing and eveningwear, uncomplicated, clear, and immensely flattering clothes worn by society ladies and the international jet set, which included the late Princess of Wales, Ivana Trump, Shakira Caine, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, and the Countess von Bismarck, to name but a few. The company has also been renowned for its romantic wedding dresses, designed to order, and the selection of designs available in the Vogue Pattern Book 's designer section, which sell internationally.
"You have to find your own niche," declared David Sassoon to the Tatler in September 1992, when questioned about his approach to design. "You cannot be all things to all markets. My philosophy of fashion is that I like to make the kind of clothes that flatter. I am not interested in fashion for its own sake. If you make a woman feel good, she looks good automatically." On leaving the Royal College of Art fashion school in the late 1950s Sassoon was recruited as Belinda Bellville's design assistant. She recognized in him a designer who had a strong, distinctive signature and a simple approach that was romantic in style but dramatic and very feminine.
Together Bellville and Sassoon became business partners, naming the company Bellville et Cie, to capitalize on the prevalent conception that all smart clothes were French. From the start it attracted vast attention from press and buyers. "We gave our first show in my grandmother's house in Manchester Square and the next day there was a queue outside the shop, with Bentleys blocking the street," declared Belinda Bellville.
Sassoon identified the peak of his career as being the period between the late 1960s and 1970s when he believed the taste for high romanticism and fantasy clothes endorsed his style. The company was constantly featured in the pages of glossy magazines, sharing the stage with contemporaries such as Zandra Rhodes, Gina Fratini, and Bill Gibb. Sassoon regrets that the British fashion press often flippantly discarded designers as no longer newsworthy, comparing this with the American press who always acknowledged good design. Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta, he declared, may no longer be in the forefront of fashion but the press still regards them as newsworthy.
In the 1970s emphasis on couture was dwindling and the company realized that in order to survive, the ready-to-wear line had to be built up. The decision proved correct as the firm's business grew immensely in America and was promoted with fashion shows across the U.S. and at trade fairs in London, Paris, New York, Munich, and Dusseldorf. Their agents had little problem building a strong and impressive clientéle.
Lorcan Mullany, who joined the company upon Bellville's retirement, had a strong background in occasion and eveningwear. He trained at the Grafton Academy in Dublin and before joining David Sassoon, worked for Bill Gibb, Ronald Joyce, and Hardy Amies. The label soon bore the joint name Bellville Sassoon-Lorcan Mullany, justifiably crediting all designers for the product. By the mid-and late 1990s the company's clothes represented the top end of British occasion dressing, from sumptuous ballgowns to flirty cocktail dresses. Frills, sinuous draping, streamlined side splits, and plunging backs evoked memories of Hollywood in its glamorous heyday. Tulle, encrusted embroideries, taffetas, duchesse satin, mink, and double silk crepes were characteristic of the luxurious fabrics used. Unlike some eveningwear, the clothes were never gaudy or overstated; their success was reliant on a streamlined sense of style.
In 1998, after more than 40 years in the design business, David Sassoon was selected as the secret "international judge" of J&B's Rare Designers award. Sassoon traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, for the competition and enjoyed the experience. He told Ines Watson of the Dispatch Online (13 November 1998), "It's been an interesting experience because I arrived with no preconceived idea of the South African fashion industry." He did, however, see "two huge differences between European and South African design—the latter is more individualistic but the former has the advantage of the enormous resources of textiles on offer."
In the 21st century, Bellville Sassoon-Lorcan Mullany continues to clothe a discerning clientéle, creating an annual ready-to-wear collection sold to the best of stores worldwide, including Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Nieman Marcus to name a few. Additionally, vintage designs remain popular Vogue patterns, available in sewing stores and at various international websites.
updated by OwenJames
Born: William Elphinstone Gibb in Fraserburgh, Scotland, 23 January 1943. Education: Studied in Fraserburgh until 1960; studied at St. Martin's School of Art, London, 1962-66, Royal College of Art, London, 1966-68. Career: Founder/partner, Alice Paul clothing boutique, London, 1967-69; freelance designer, working for Baccarat, London, 1969-72; founder/chairman Bill Gibb Fashion Group, London, 1972-88; opened first shop, in Bond Street, London, 1975. Exhibitions: British Design, Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1971; Fashion: An Anthology, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1971; Bill Gibb: Ten Years, Albert Hall, London, 1977. Collections: Bath Costume Museum, Avon; Leeds Museum, Yorkshire; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto. Awards: Vogue Designer of the Year, 1970; ITV Best Fashion Show award, London, 1979. Fellow, Society of Industrial Artists and Designers, London, 1975. Died: 3 January 1988, in London.
"Getting Going Again," in The Designer (London), May 1981.
Howell, Georgina, editor, In Vogue, Sixty Years of Celebrities and Fashion, London, 1975; New York, 1976.
Carter, Ernestine, The Changing World of Fashion, London, 1977.
Bond, David, The Guinness Guide to 20th Century Fashion, Enfield, Middlesex, 1981.
Glynn, Prudence, Sixty Years of Faces and Fashion, London, 1983.
Sparke, Penny, et al., Design Source Book, London, 1986.
Bill Gibb: A Tribute to the Fashion Designer of the '70s, Aberdeen, Scotland, 1990.
"Top of the Bill," in the Sunday Times Magazine (London), 8 May 1977.
Ebbetts, L., "The Fall and Rise of Bill Gibb," in the Daily Mirror (London), 12 October 1978.
Boyd, Ann, "Gibb's Comeback," in the Observer (London), 22October 1978.
"Bill Gibb Comes Back with Flowers," in Art & Design (London),November 1985.
"Obituary: Bill Gibb," in the Daily Telegraph (London), 4 January 1988.
"Bill Gibb, 44, Fashion Designer for the Famous," in Chicago Tribune, 7 January 1988.
O'Dwyer, Tom, "Bill Gibb—An Appreciation," in Fashion Weekly (London), 14 January 1988.
Rancer, Katherine, "Bill Gibb: 1943-1988," in Vogue (London),March 1988.***
Arriving in London at the age of 19 from northern Scotland, Bill Gibb was already obsessed with the dream of a career in fashion. He trained at St. Martin's School of Art, then at the Royal College under the aegis of Professor Janey Ironside. An unprecedented flow of new talent was to emerge from the college in the early 1960s. For the next three years Gibb worked for Baccarat, the prestigious London fashion house, before setting up his own company in 1972 with a complete team, including designers, cutter, and business manager. By 1975 he was in retail.
In the early 1970s unconventionality was the order of the day and Gibb was one of several young designers in the British wholesale market whose work reflected this trend. He responded to the new predilection for romantic and ethnic clothes, inspired by the folk costumes of Europe or the Near East and displaying, too, a feeling of nostalgia for the dress of an earlier historical age, with his full-length skirts and billowing slashed sleeves.
Gibb's was a career of considerable variety and change, "I strove for the top and achieved it within ten years," he said. He believed consummately in his "rare gift…to design beautiful clothes" which would appeal to the sensuality of women. This talent led him through a series of outlets from the personal customer to department stores, from boutiques to newspaper and magazine fashion features, to the opening of his first shop in London's Bond Street in 1975, and was to earn him an international reputation for unique special occasion clothes.
Always an individualist, Gibb was faithful to his own design principles, which relied on the enterprising and ingenious use of textures, weaves, and patterns in fabrics and knitting. Boldly inventive to the point of abandon at times, he mixed and matched materials and colors. His mood was romantic and far out: the effects often larger than life and always unmistakably his own. "I feel," he had said, "rather than dictate. I create a mood." Gibb wanted to create coordinates that gave women choice and pleasure to assemble in the "Gibb style," and with homage to the ethnic feeling of the day, he mixed florals with geometrics, tartans with checks, and produced sunray pleated, beaded and fringed separates, all of which became very popular.
Gibb's output during the 1970s was of such a consistently high standard, it verged on couture. He was probably best known for his evening gowns, fabulous concoctions in floaty and exotic fabrics embellished with appliqués or heavily embroidered nets and lace, silks, brocades, and chiffon panels. In this vein was his 1976 hooded cape, a favorite shape, and voluminous smocks, and kimonos with colored braid trims.
Gibb confessed to a strong feeling for knitwear, which he attributed to his Celtic roots, and he certainly produced some very fine knitted garments, reflecting an interest in soft, thinner fabrics, layered upon themselves, which originated with the Italian school of designers, notably the Missoni family. He also made some beautifully elaborate outfits in printed wool, often Liberty fabrics. By the mid-1970s Gibb was creating stunning leather clothes, using the softest of skins for coats and jackets with wide collars and peplums.
Throughout most of the 1970s Gibb ran a small wholesale business, but was forced into liquidation. A brief period of financial support followed, but it is doubtful whether he enjoyed the restrictions and deadlines implicit in such an arrangement. The mid-1980s saw a brief recovery and, with a renewed collaboration with the knitwear designer Kaffe Fassett, Gibb showed a collection at the London Fashion Week in 1985. His clothing was roundly applauded, with critics dubbing him the "the master of the decorative," praising his "simply cut, richly colored knitted suits and throws," and what was characterized as his "fairytale exercises in the baroque, the beaded, and the burnished."
Gibb will best be remembered for his flights of fancy, and his unique contribution to 20th-century fashion. As Vogue said in 1962, in a feature called "Fresh Air in the Rag Trade," for "the first time the young people who work in the rag trade are making clothes which are relevant to the way they live…ours is the first generation that can express itself on its own terms." Bill Gibb was very much a product of his time, a free spirit. He died at the very young age of 44, in January 1988, from bowel cancer.