John Bryan Cavanagh was born in County Mayo Ireland in 1914.
In 1932 Cavanagh was employed as a secretary for the couturier Edward Molyneux, first in London, and then in Paris. Molyneux insisted that Cavanagh learn how to draw before employing him. Through trial and error, Cavanagh rose to become supervisor of Molyneux's London branch, before becoming his personal assistant in Paris, where he learned how the haute couture business worked. In 1940, after war broke out, Cavanagh left Molyneux to join the British Army Intelligence Corps, where he was responsible for military intelligence and security. He was demobbed in 1946, and the following year became a design assistant for Pierre Balmain, for whom he worked until 1952.
In 1952, Cavanagh launched his eponymous fashion house, John Cavanagh, at 26 Curzon Street, London. He made his name with his "Coronation" collection for Spring-Summer 1953, marking the coronation of Elizabeth II. It consisted of dresses made up in sumptuous fabrics designed by Oliver Messel for the Sekers fabric mills. Although he had only been in business for a year, members of the English aristocracy ordered his dresses to wear for the Coronation celebrations, such as the gold brocade gown worn by Lady Cornwallis (née Esme d'Beaumont (1901–1969)), wife of Baron Cornwallis.
Cavanagh was renowned for his elegant tailoring, sense of colour and sense of chic, as well as the high standard and quality of his designs. Many of his staff had formerly worked for couturiers such as Nina Ricci, Lucile, and Molyneux. His personal assistant from 1961–1966, Lindsay Evans Robertson, described his work as being:
"...Paris in London. There was a lightness of touch, a feminine delicacy, a fragility unlike the work of any of the other London couturiers."
Susan Abraham wears a tiered evening dress by John Cavanagh, London, 1954. Photo by John French.
This magnificent evening gown formed part of the John Cavanagh (1914-2003) spring/summer 1953 'Coronation' collection. It was ordered by Lady Cornwallis (nee Esme d’Beaumont, 1901-69) to wear for the coronation celebrations in June. Although Cavanagh had been in business for just one year, he had already secured a reputation as a talented designer.
The fabric designed by Oliver Messel (1904-1978), at the time Britain’s foremost designer of costumes and sets for stage and film, was commissioned by Nicholas (‘Miki’) Sekers, who owned West Cumberland Silk Mills.
The fabric of the gown was made using a weave particular to the Sekers company at this time. It is made of two separate layers of silk joined to form the design. This is of scattered semi-naturalistic orchids woven in oyster, pale-pink and green silk enriched with gold threads.
Jacket and skirt, 1963
John Cavanagh's immaculate streamlined two-piece is in a luxurious fabric with a slight sheen. Impeccable cut and construction together with skilled hand finishing are needed to create such a simple, pared-down style. The semi-fitted jacket has curved seams that skim the body's contours to just above waist level. The minimally flared skirt is attached to a half slip - a couture device that ensures that the skirt hangs perfectly. In 1960 Vogue said that "the woman who dresses at Cavanagh buys clothes that stand competition with the best that Paris can produce."
Fashion drawing, 1953-1954
This is an original artwork for a fashion illustration by Marcel Fromenti for The Lady, a weekly magazine for women published since 1885. At the time it was made, Fromenti was the main artist for The Lady's fashion articles. The glamorous women in his drawings modelled both couture and high-end ready-to-wear garments with equal panache and elegance. Couture dresses and suits by leading Paris and London couturiers such as Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain and Norman Hartnell were drawn with the same flair as designs from British ready-to-wear labels such as Susan Small, Roecliff & Chapman, and Marcus. The articles described the fashion developments of their day in simple, accessible terms that contributed greatly to The Lady's popularity with its readers. Pencil notes record the designers, fabric and colour details, alongside technical instructions to the printers as to how these images should be incorporated into the printed page and at what scale.
This drawing of two London evening gowns pairs a gown by the established couturier Norman Hartnell alongside one by John Cavanagh, who opened his fashion house in 1952. Norman Hartnell launched his couture career in London in 1923, specialising in romantic, ultra-feminine gowns and evening wear. Although he also designed daywear and tailoring, Hartnell is most famous as the designer of extravagant state evening gowns worn by Queen Elizabeth II, her mother, and other members of the Royal Family between 1935 and 1979. His evening gowns were often designed with full crinoline skirts. Here, the front of the skirt is caught close to the body with ruching, allowing the fullness of the skirt to blossom out behind. A halter neck extends down to form a large bustle bow to accentuate the back fullness further. John Cavanagh's slender sheath of textured lace with a swathed side train at the hip offers an alternative evening silhouette as well as providing a striking contrast to the Hartnell.
Jacket and skirt, 1953
Evening dress, 1959
John Cavanagh opened his own couture house in London in 1952, after working for both Edward Molyneux and Pierre Balmain. From his designs, it is obvious that he has incorporated the techniques he learned at these two houses into his creations. Perhaps, he is most known for his "Coronation" collection, designed in 1953 and worn by Lady Cornwallis to the Coronation celebrations.
The gown featured here has an overall striking appearance and is made of exceptional fabric. The dramatic silhouette is obviously inspired by historicism, as Cavanagh has incorporated the Watteau back to the dress.
This jumpsuit was designed by John Cavanagh to promote the film, 'Seven Days in May,' starring Kirk Douglas and Ava Gardner. The producer of the film, Ray Stark, approached Eleanor Lambert to assemble seven designers, each from a different country, to design a total look that would represent the fashions of the future. Labeled, 'Seven Days in May,' 7 Years of Prophesy Fashions, 1963-1970, the garments were placed in a 'Time Capsule' or trunk and were not to be opened until May 1, 1970. This outfit, named 'Basic,' is interesting for it is a combination of the antique form of drapery with a 19th-centry pant, forming a futuristic garment that is appropriate for work, travel, and an active lifestyle.
In addition to the garments, sketches were executed by Joe Eula and kept in the 'Time Capsule' as documentation.
Susan Abraham in John Cavanagh evening gown, Spring 1957. Photo John French
Marisa Berenson wearing a black satin trenchcoat by John Cavanagh, with a white fox beret Otto Lucas, 1968. Photo by David Bailey.
Susan Abraham in John Cabanagh suit, 1953
John Cavanagh pattern
Susan Abraham in evening ensemble by John Cavanagh, photo by John French, 1954
John Cavanagh, 1954
John cavanagh, '50s
Getting ready for John Cavanagh fashion show by Kurt Hutton, February 1953
John Cavanagh with two models 1953
John Cavanagh in front of his residence
Evening Dress Sketch by John Cavanagh, circa 1953
Cavanagh maintained a purity of line and form in all his designs. He designed clothes appropriate to the lifestyles of his predominantly British and American clientele, such as cocktail and evening dresses, and tailored suits. He aimed for his clothes to look equally good wherever they were worn, be it in London, Paris or New York. He also made wedding dresses, including the Royal wedding dress for Katharine Worsley when she married Prince Edward, Duke of Kent on 8 June 1961 at York Minster. In addition to designing Katharine Worsley's bridal gown, John Cavanagh also designed the magnolia lace dress and veil worn by Princess Alexandra at her Westminster Abbey wedding to the Hon Angus Ogilvy in 1963. Moreover, he was justly famous for designing exquisite outfits for Alexandra's mother, Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, whom he had long admired.
Cavanagh retired and closed his establishment in 1974. He died in 2003.
History of Fashion New Look to Now by June Marsh
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: VIVAYS (October 28, 2012)
Amazon: History of Fashion New Look to Now
"From the glamour and quiet brilliance of Christian Dior's New Look to the inventiveness of Rei Kawakubo to the uncompromising creativity of Alexander McQueen to the meticulous detail of the Mulleavy sisters (Rodarte), History of Fashion: New Look to Now is a celebration of the life and times of the fashion geniuses whose rare and enduring creations have defined the past sixty years.
This book traces the history of fashion design with its intriguing personalities and its international cast of players and puts them into the context of what was happening in the world outside fashion. Covering haute couture to the emergence of deluxe, boutique and ready-to-wear, History of Fashion: New Look to Now illustrates the trends in fashion over the decades and the well worn truth that what goes around comes around. It covers not only the designers, but also the other forces in fashion such as the magazine editors, boutique owners, photographers and models.
Lavishly illustrated with photographs, illustrations of the time and contemporary magazine campaigns as well as sketches, this book will provide both industry professionals and enthusiasts alike with a clear and precise picture of the ever changing world of fashion and a true insight into the craft of the dedicated designers whose imense talent continues to enrich, entertain and enhance the world in which we live."
More Fashion Designers at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Art
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