( Fashion House, a collection of clips from British Pathe, 1950-1969. This film has no sound.)
The House Of Mirelle was a high end fashion house that existed in the UK city of Hull between 1938 and 1978.
It opened in the last months of calm before the outbreak of World War II and fast made its mark in a thriving city.
The 1940s and 1950s
Surviving clothes rationing it narrowly escaped destruction in The Hull Blitz.
By the 1950s it was groundbreaking in bringing high fashion to Hull and the values that went alongside it.
Mirelle’s buyers selected for women consuming fashion that was expensive and exclusive and had pockets to match the price.
The Showroom and The Workroom
The Showroom was suitable for the wealthy and well known of East Riding who were given personal attention, always.
The Workroom provided an expert sewing and tailoring service to fit, tailor and alter clothing according to each woman’s measurements and taste.
Models and Fashion Labels
Famous mannequins – models – like Seignon and Evelyn Spilsbury travelled north to take part in public fashion shows on the House of Mirelle catwalks.
Private fashion shows ‘by invitation only’ were modelled by Showroom girls and women working in Hull’s extensive modelling industry.
They walked the runway wearing clothing from Frank Usher, Robita Couture, Norman Hartnell, Doree Leventhal, Christian Dior and Elka Couture as well as many, many others.
The 1960s and 1970s
The swinging sixties saw a youthful and modern shop open under the Cecil Cinema.
By the 1970s both Mirelle and La Boutique had joined Carmichaels ‘The Harrods Of The North.’
Fashion and women’s history 1938-1978
Between the floral dresses of 1938 and mass produced synthetics of the ’70s women’s lives and fashion altered beyond recognition.
In 1938 Paris was the centre of the fashion world and London second.
Inequalities meant before wartime Make Do And Mend the poorest families were already used to hand-me-downs, darning and patching.
In contrast throughout Mirelle’s forty years the rich had clothes hand made to their own measurements or bought from high end labels.
The women who shopped at Mirelle were doing so for the febrile society of dinner dances and balls, weddings and civic luncheons that characterised their lives and lifestyles.
The History Of Sewing
Nationally designs and trends fluctuated and the skills for making fashion also.
In 1938 it was usual for women to know how to make clothes and the paper pattern industry was thriving.
Sewing skills were taught in the home, school, evening classes and schools of art and design in Hull.
Dressmakers were apprenticed in sewing workrooms like Mirelle’s where the skills required for the needle trades were practiced and learned.
By 1978 sewing had been removed from the national curriculum.
Workrooms such as Mirelle’s became the exception in fashion retail and were soon replaced by the fast moving industry today.
The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s: A Fashion Revolution
The 1960s saw labels sold at Mirelle competing with streamlined manufacturing practices from factories and chains that were making clothes cheaper and cheaper.
With it fashion was changing too.
Young women in the 1930s dressed like their mothers but the youth quake of the 1950s widened a chasm and into it walked Mods, Rockers and Mary Quant.
The ’70s saw ‘my Generation’ all grown up; career girls had more social freedom and income to buy fashion than any generation before.
The House of Mirelle and Hull’s History
The House of Mirelle was open during forty years of enormous change in the social and economic landscape intrinsic to its success.
It was a female owned and female run business and most of the women who worked there were local to East Riding and Hull.
The thriving City centre rebuilt and redesigned in the 1950s kept traditional private, family run businesses in the heart of the City.
Alongside Mirelle those shops lining the roads and streets were part of the culture that made Hull unique.
Saxone, Marks and Spencer and Richard Shops were a few national chains present in pre-1970s Hull and because of that its retail heart had a character and life of its own.
The decline of Hull’s retail heart
By 1978 the fishing industry had changed in a way that pre-war Hull could not have predicted.
In the year Mirelle closed the last trawler left St. Andrews Dock and the fishing industry the City relied upon was in fast decline.
Thornton Varley a landmark on Hull’s landscape for over 100 years had been absorbed by Debenhams, Hammonds was bought by House of Fraser and after 130 years Edwin Davis, ‘Davis of Bond Street’ was also closed.
Buildings housing Irene Leonard, Doris Andrews, Marie Adair and Elsie Battle began to stand empty.
Shops became less and less busy and ‘for let’ signs went up as the city’s economic structure bowed.
House of Mirelle Research and Historical Archive
When Mirelle closed in 1978 it had created a cultural legacy in Hull remembered fondly by the women and men who worked, shopped and visited there.
Research and writing about Mirelle incorporates their memories and voices in over 60 hours of interviews: their Oral History.
Many have donated artifacts and clothing which has created the primary historic archive of The House of Mirelle.
The story of Mirelle is social history but more than social history, fashion history plus and it’s Hull’s history but more than the history of Hull as well.
The story of the House of Mirelle describes the rise and fall of a fascinating forty year period for all.
Read more about Hull’s history here.
© Carrie Henderson 2017