Louis Cope: The golden era of the Harrogate couture department store whose owner became Queen Mary's dressmaker

To celebrate the unveiling of a plaque to mark the glory days of the once-famous Harrogate fashion store Louis Copé, Stephanie Smith takes a look at the history and legacy of this remarkable purveyor of style.

A saunter through Harrogate town centre on any spring weekday afternoon will confirm that the town continues to maintain its reputation as an impressive town-meets-country catwalk for fashionable folk of all ages, sporting an abundance of designer labels and classy seasonal trends.

These modern-day fashionistas continue a style tradition that began in the Georgian era and continued through Victorian times, as the value of Harrogate’s natural springs was recognised, developed and promoted to transform what had been two small villages – connected by The Stray – into a flourishing spa town and tourist destination.

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Parliament Street has always been a place to be seen. At the bottom right as you look down from the town, on the corner just before the street becomes Ripon Road, there was once a major fashion department store called Louis Copé.

The Louis Cope catwalk shows, such as this one from the 1930s, were held in the store and became a highlight of the Harrogate and wider Yorkshire social calendar.

It opened at 56 Parliament Street in 1918, a year before Frederick Belmont opened his first Bettys tea room further up the street at Cambridge Crescent. The Louis Copé store soon became a style destination for society ladies both local and visiting. By 1922, the shop occupied the entire corner of Parliament Street and Kings Road, in a grand Victorian building, and a noted feature was its single pane of curved glass, wrapped around the main façade.

The store was a hit. By the mid-1920s, Copé was dressmaker to Queen Mary, whose daughter, Princess Mary, was Countess of Harewood. There were countless more clients of renown. Maybe even Agatha Christie visited incognito in 1926, before being found alive and well at the nearby Swan Hotel after a mysterious disappearance.

Louis Copé was the place to go for haute couture, offering own-label day, evening and travel wear, and a purveyor of fine furs, hats, boots and bags for its wealthy clientele, who would send their maids to have their minks and pearls repaired and find out what the latest fashions were.

The man himself, Louis Copé the founder, was born Ulik Beidenkopf in Poland. After a spell in London, he moved to Harrogate in search of pure air to help calm his asthma. He became naturalised in 1926, married Sarah and moved to Duchy Road (just around the corner from Montague Burton) where they raised three children.

A depiction of a smart Harrogate wedding dressed by Louis Cope.

Sarah would restring pearls, sitting at a long mahogany desk so she also could watch the shop floor. In-store Louis Copé fashion shows became a regular society event with around 1,000 guests watching up to 12 models wearing house designs.

The building still stands, although split into separate units, with the corner now occupied by Rhodes Wood bespoke tailors. Original features such as staircases and mirrors still exist today.

The original grand staircase, down which models would sweep, can still be seen in the former Wesley Barrell showroom. In the Copé days, the upstairs housed the designers and the workrooms where the clothes were made.

Louis and Sarah’s daughter Freda married William, the son of Sam Goldstein, of Ellis & Goldstein, which began mass fashion production for the high street and was the first company to produce ready-made dresses for the average height lady (5ft 2in, back then).

Alex Goldstein, great grandson of Louis Cope, on the corner of King's Road and Parliament Street in Harrogate, outside the building, still standing, that used to be the Louis Cope fashion store. Picture: Gerard Binks

Freda and William had a son, Richard Goldstein, father of Lucy, now a university lecturer, and Alex Goldstein, who continues the family’s entrepreneurial streak as a Harrogate-based independent property consultant representing celebrities, lottery winners and sports people.

Alex is keen to remember the store and the achievements of his great-grandfather, and has been working with Harrogate historian Malcolm Neesom to secure a town heritage brown plaque, which will be installed and unveiled soon on the original building. Alex says: “It will be a great privilege to be able to unveil this plaque in memory of my great grandfather, acknowledging the history behind his amazing fashion empire, and the contribution he made to the town of Harrogate. Hopefully, it will jolt some special memories for others, as there will undoubtedly be many Louis Cope hat boxes and saved fashion items in many homes across the town.”

The Louis Copé store closed in the 1970s, almost 20 years after Louis’s death, although, as Alex says, you can still picture the ladies and gentlemen of the day having private fittings, then afternoon tea in Bettys. Copé designs can still sometimes be viewed at the Royal Pump Room Museum and Mercer Gallery in Harrogate. The vintage emporium Space, off Parliament Street, had a Louis Copé dress and matching jacket on sale at the time of writing.

Harrogate remains a vibrant society with prestigious festivals, classy restaurants such as the Ivy and, of course, Bettys. Few who frequent its lively bars and lovely shops today will remember the grand Louis Copé fashion emporium, but its legacy remains and, as his great grandson Alex hopes, there may well be dresses, furs, accessories and hat boxes still tucked away in attics across Yorkshire. Do go and have a look.

A 1930s blue velvet and lace Louis Copé gown, and matching shoes, worn on honeymoon in the Mediterranean, from the Harrogate Museums archive. Picture: Gerard Binks

HARROGATE MILLINER JENNY ROBERTS SAYS ...

Harrogate milliner Jenny Roberts, who has a hat shop and studio at Cold Bath Place, went to view some Louis Copé hats this month for The Yorkshire Post at the Royal Pump Museum, and says: “It’s exciting to view these designs up close, with beautiful workmanship and practically invisible hand stitching, lovingly created for those lucky ladies of Yorkshire who wanted the latest couture fashions. Also, to think of the history of couture in Harrogate, where garments and millinery were designed and made to a client’s specific requirements. Today we make everything using couture techniques, hand blocking and hand stitching in a similar way to how these hats would have been created.

"Couture is rare in the current climate of fast fashion and we like to think that we are emulating some of the values that Louis Copé based his business on. We make everything using couture techniques, hand blocking and hand stitching in a similar way to how these hats would have been created in the last century, all made in our workroom above our shop off Cold Bath Road, not far from the site of the legendary Louis Copé fashion emporium."

Find out more about Jenny Roberts and her bespoke hats, plus ones to hire, and her millinery courses for all levels at https://jrmillinery.co.uk/Read more:Bettys------

Please send any Louis Copé or other Yorkshire fashion pictures and memories to: [email protected]

Alex Goldstein at the Royal Pump Museum in Harrogate with two of the Louis Cope designs, and the plaque that he will soon unveil in memory of his great grandfather and his store. Picture: Gerard Binks
A photo taken in the 1920s at a dinner dance at the Leeds Majestic for the YWCA Hunslet Club Building Fund, with ladies dressed by Louis Cope.
Harrogate milliner Jenny Roberts went to see the hats at the Pump Museum and says: “Beautifully formed flowers, which would have been created by hand using French flower making tools, adorn this very pretty hat. I can see the ladies of Harrogate taking afternoon tea at Bettys, matching this hat with a soft floral dress, gloves and handbag. The striking blue felt beret has been carefully stored. This is a cut and sew hat put together from pattern pieces and finished with a black wool edging below a moss green Petersham ribbon. I can imagine this worn with a mini dress by a Harrogate girl channelling her inner Twiggy. Berets seem to take different forms and are so versatile as they can be trimmed in so many different ways, casual or trimmed up for formal occasions. The beret will continue to evolve.”
Jenny says, from left: "A 1960s embroidered pillbox with cabochon rose trim. This would have been worn on the back of the head with a hatpin. Pillboxes have had a revival among our younger customers, perhaps harping back to the chic days of Jackie Kennedy wearing the Halston pillbox, but more recently worn by the Duchess of Cambridge and Megan Markle. Next: “Each of the orange spike flower petals is actually a biot feather from a goose, painstakingly put together to form the flower and finished with a black chenille spot as the stamen. On a base of Dior net, a material often used as a foundation, this hat would have been surprisingly light to wear. It’s topped with beautiful silk veiling which would have added a slight allure to the wearer and would definitely have been a headturner.” Pink hat: “An usual silk velvet hat which is partially blocked to form the shape, then pieced together to create the pork pie crown top. Probably worn at the slant over the front of the head, this hat would have been more day th
A 1960s teal silk Louis Cope dress and jacket, from a selection on sale at Space vintage store, The Ginnel, off Parliament Street, in Harrogate.