The way we wore

Yellow shirt dress, �95.
Yellow shirt dress, �95.
  • As York goes vintage, Stephanie Smith talks to Clare Quartermaine, founder of retro-glamour label the House of Foxy.
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Its demise has been predicted for years, but vintage designs continue to capture the imagination and inspire the way we live and look now. This weekend sees the Festival of Vintage taking place at York Racecourse. It’s a huge two-day event featuring original vintage fashion and homewares, dancing, music and cars, with many of the exhibitors and visitors dressed in clothes from bygone decades of the 20th century (the event specialises in the 1930s to the 1960s).

Yorkshire label the House of Foxy will be taking part, staging two catwalk shows a day in the Nostalgia Hall, using local models to show off its retro-inspired clothes, presented by Foxy’s founder, owner and designer, Clare Quartermaine.

Red Mansfield dress, �115, goes up to size 24.

Red Mansfield dress, �115, goes up to size 24.

These are not original vintage clothes but new designs that capture the glamour, style, shapes, fit and drape of clothes from the 1920s through to the 1960s. By updating clever cuts that have stood the test of time, Clare’s designs celebrate and enhance the modern female form.

Clare, from Huddersfield, started the Elland-based venture five years ago, after running her own marketing and design business. She began by selling established vintage-style brands and then, in March 2012, launched her own-brand 20th Century Foxy collection of clothing, designing the clothes herself. Recently she changed the name to the House of Foxy. “While the brand still has a vintage feel, it’s like we’ve grown up a bit, trying to appeal to all, not just people who are interested in vintage,” she says. “I felt like the look needed to be less burlesque and retro and rockabilly, and more soft – anybody can wear these clothes.”

Keen that the business should evolve to meet new trends and customers, Clare noticed that the reproduction vintage market was becoming swamped with Chinese-made imports. “We needed to take ourselves out of that vintage look that has perhaps become a little bit overdone and create something of our own,” she says.

Now the House of Foxy focuses on quality, British-made clothes, with all the design and business operations taking place at the head office studio and unit at Elland, and the manufacturing carried out at a dedicated factory in Scotland, plus more manufacturing in Milton Keynes. Recently Clare introduced a menswear collection (see today’s Style Points section) with its own website, www.20thcenturyman.co.uk, featuring dapper waistcoats, Oxford bags, Thirties braced trousers, and shirts with spear collars, using cloth from Marton Mills in Otley. New styles are in development.

1950s inspired green chiffon dress, �145.

1950s inspired green chiffon dress, �145.

Passionate about design research, Clare has bought the royalties to some fabric prints from the Victorian era to the 1960s after Potterton Books at Thirsk allowed her to pore through its pattern books. “Those sort of chance encounters help me to get the inspiration as to what I want to do with the next season,” Clare says.

Inspiration also comes from customers who frequently ask for certain looks and styles. “Because we have low volume, we can respond very quickly – we turn out a couple of new styles every month. I don’t know whether it’s zeitgeist or what I’m looking for. I just go along with what feels right. We’re not restricted to seasons.”

New shapes have been inspired by the 1920s. “I wanted something wearable but flattering. I went to a Twenties party recently for my aunt and a lot of the ladies there were conscious that their figure was changing – they were in their late 50s, early 60s. They actually found the ’20s lines very flattering and I thought, you know, there’s something in this.

“I make all the samples in my own size and I’ve been wearing a couple. I have a had a lot of comments because it’s so different to what’s on the High Street.”

Forties inspired yellow polkadot collared dress, �115.

Forties inspired yellow polkadot collared dress, �115.

There are also new ’40s styles, with collar pleating and extra detail. The plus-size So Foxy range continues to prove popular and Clare is working on a new design for autumn called the Sophisticat, a play on the ’60s look, she says, with lots of ruching and three-quarter sleeves. It goes up to a size 24, while the core range goes up to a size 18.

Despite the perceived current wisdom that the future is digital, internet business House of Foxy is actually now looking for its first real-life, walk-in store.

“We are hoping to open a shop in York,” Clare says. “I think the internet will reach a peak. Ultimately, there comes a point where there’s only so much you will buy on the internet, and people will want to go and try on. I’m finding now that people are asking all the time ‘where are your stockists?’. We’re missing a trick if we don’t think about that in the near future.” The House of Foxy is certainly doing something right. “It’s been growing all the time – you have blips like any retail business, but we’re up 30 per cent on last year,” says Clare, adding that they have been able to take on two extra staff, while the unit at Elland has doubled in size over the past year.

It’s become a family business, with Clare’s husband, Jonathan, in charge of operations. They live not far away, in Huddersfield, with their three children, Erin, 10, eight-year-old Freya and Aidan, six.

Blouse, �45, and dirndl skirt, �65.

Blouse, �45, and dirndl skirt, �65.

Clare says: “Erin has actually caught the bug and, has started designing her own little dresses, so it looks like we might be setting up a capsule range which she is looking to call Missy Vintage. There’s a real gap in the market, I think, for ages 11-15, where you want to wear something a bit pretty and different.”

A young business, inspired by the past, and with a new generation already on board. The House of Foxy looks set to run and run.

Twitter: @yorkshirefashQ

DETAILS

All designs available at www.thehouseoffoxy.com.

For times and details about today’s Festival of Vintage, go to www.festivalofvintage.co.uk.

Photographer: Chris Lord

Model: Tanya Beetham

Hair and make-up: Bethany Jane Davies