Style with a wiggle

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Yorkshire fashion firm 20th Century Foxy is bringing glamour back to the 21st-century woman. Stephanie Smith reports.

They had style back in the Fifties, real style. And then, in the Forties, oh, the glamour. And in the Thirties, such elegance.

Deco Wiggle dress

Deco Wiggle dress

Small wonder then that the allure of retro and vintage fashions remains strong, indeed perhaps stronger over the past few years than ever before – something Clare Quartermaine is delighted about.

“At the start of the recession, there was a real national sort of looking to the past, I think,” she says. “Maybe rose-tinted glasses, but looking back at a simpler life, and I don’t think that has calmed down. And I don’t think it’s because of the recession. I think it’s because of technology and how everything is so fast.”

It’s pretty much all go right now, however, at Clare’s vintage-style, online clothing company, 20th Century Foxy, based in Elland, with orders rushing in, especially for the Wiggle range – a collection of Fifties-inspired, Monroe-esque dresses that celebrate curves and look rather sexy, albeit in an elegant, old-school fashion, far removed from the barely-there looks of some 21st-century pop icons.

These are dresses that make women feel fabulous, but not over-exposed.

“Part of the reason I got into this was because, after I had my children, I yearned for a style that I could feel feminine in,” Clare, 37, says. “It’s not just about being sexy; it’s about feeling feminine and beautiful. I had three children and I didn’t feel that way.

“I do think modern fashion now, unless you’re talking the high end, is more tailored to what’s cheap to manufacture, rather than styles that are suited to the modern woman’s shape. I do focus on body shapes and try to give every woman an option.”

A graphic designer by profession, Clare started 20th Century Foxy three 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, designing the clothes herself.

It was a struggle at first, admits Clare, but she persevered and, within the last year, sales have taken off. Husband, Jonathan, also works for the company, in charge of dispatch. A year ago they moved to a new larger unit in Elland. “It was very difficult for a time but I’m glad we stuck with it,” she says.

All the clothes are made in Britain, in factories in Scotland and Manchester, using fabrics from Yorkshire and Lancashire wholesalers, who source them mainly from China. Finding a flexible British manufacturer, able to make small runs, has helped grow the business, too. Clare designs all the styles herself, by hand, and then uses freelance pattern cutters.

But, she says, it’s the 20th Century Foxy ethos of offering dresses that will make every women feel like a goddess that has really been behind the success. “We have taken some of the the most elegant, really feminine, flattering styles and redesigned them around the modern woman’s shape, because we have changed – we are taller, our bodies are slightly longer, which I find really strange, but we know that when we look at the mannequins for dress-making from the 50s.”

The range has grown and there are also pencil skirts (the proper Fifties’ 29in lengths), swing pants, boleros and blouses including the black, short-sleeved Rizzo - “I’ve always loved Grease,” Clare laughs.

There is also a plus-size range called So Foxy, with styles going up to size 24, and Clare is currently working on a capsule range for men, to launch next spring, called 20th Century Chap and featuring Oxford bags, Thirties braced trousers, wrap-over waistcoats and shirts with spear collars.

From the beginning, the collections have been modelled by burlesque dancers Missy Malone and Slinky Sparkles, to capture the glamour of days gone by.

Clare’s designs are proving so popular because they celebrate and enhance the modern female form, with clever cuts that have stood the test of time, updated, and made in fabrics that forgive and hold in the figure. Genius.

And to capture the true style, glamour and elegance of yesteryear, Clare has a final tip: “We recommend big pants all the way,” she says.

Twitter: @yorkshirefashQ

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