This advert for Edwin Davis in the Hull Packet newspaper of summer 1859 is barely recognisable in comparison with fashion advertising we know today.
In today’s world, glossy magazines and TV adverts are part of a global industry with an estimated worth of over 3 trillon dollars.
In this high stakes, highly competitive market it is the creatives – the advertisers, photographers and illustrators – who produce the advertising for us to consume on a daily basis.
The creative industries in Great Britain that fuel our consumption of fashion are worth a staggering £10 million an hour to our economy.
Their skills make the difference between brand recognition and brand obscurity, sales figures or sales flops and customer loyalty or disengagement.
Big and glossy is part of our world thinking now; but what did Hull do to advertise fashion in the days when social media meant ‘word of mouth’ and brand loyalty meant ‘I’m a Thornton Varley girl, I always get what I need there.’
Does the story of retail advertising in Hull echo the bigger story of fashion illustration in the years between 1859 and 1960?
From reading the newspapers of the day I argue that it does.
The trends seen in the retail adverts of each decade show the influence of couture fashion illustration.
It was generated in ateliers and fashion houses and percolated through to the creative minds doing the artwork for the adverts of each era.
Victorian fashion illustration
In Victorian Hull, the typewritten Edwin Davis advert was the norm for the way fashion retail advertised in the local press and this style lasted for many years unchanged.
By the mid 19th century highly sophisticated colour fashion plates were being seen in publications such as La Mode Illustree and Modes de Paris but they weren’t the norm in mainstream British or international media.
The Victorian woman who read or had access to leisure publishing saw black and white fashion plates in Harpers Bazar and Peterson’s.
They were exclusive to ladies who had to keep up to date with future trends because of social expectations and had the disposable income in the family to commission or buy them.
The Edwin Davis advert shows how the average woman-on-the-street made do with functional description in what could be thought of as a quintessentially Victorian, austere manner.
Not even in times of true austerity during World War 2 were fashion adverts so sparse and utilitarian.
Then, fashion illustrations in retail advertising were stylish and attractive, mirroring the prevailing view that for women to be well dressed and well presented was their patriotic duty.
Despite enormous hardship, clothes rationing and the Austerity clothing programme which existed in 1946 this advert from Nevill of Anlaby Road presents an image of a competent, well dressed, tailored woman.
This is an example of a relatively new vanguard of illustrated advertising. The trend for illustration didn’t alter until well after the turn of the 19th to the 20th century.
It was the late 19th Century Franco-English couturier Charles Frederick Worth who nudged advertisers to make a difference when he started to sketch ideas for gowns and outfits that he was making for his customers.
These became works of art as well as works of design. The hand tinted Parisian fashion plates were intentionally stylised and non descriptive of the functional aspects of clothing.
They created a visual language and demanded artistic skill in their own right.
Because of this, by the 1920s and 1930s fashion illustration became an essential part of the skill of the dressmaker and designer as well as the advertiser and publisher.
Students of dressmaking and couture undertook fashion drawing classes and displayed their work for assessment. It was expected that they were competent in their illustrative abilities.
Illustration, as couture houses knew, sold designs to customers as well as showed them what those designs would look like.
Dressmaking students graduated with a high level of life drawing skills that could be transferred into their work in fashion.
Here, their designs were the blueprints that the (sewing) workroom hands used to create bespoke clothing for clients.
It is still expected that fashion students are competent illustrators and skills in computer design and drawing by hand are used in fashion design today.
This advert from Costello’s in 1909 was published in the final years where pictures were created from words, rather than artwork. The typeface and font are of a more Art Deco style but it shouts that it needs more and more was soon on its way in the 1930s.
1930s fashion advertising in Hull
The golden age of Hollywood influenced so much about British fashion. It represented the first time that Paris was not the only primary fashion inspiration globally and the importance of the moving image on influencing trends.
Illustration and advertising had joined permanently. The public had increased their visual language and hungered for the look they watched in Hull’s cinemas nightly.
It was no longer acceptable to market fashion to the women and men of Hull with words only.
This Hammonds advert includes attractive line drawings. They depict women standing in the model pose – one hand on their hip and leg crossed- that we see in the red carpet Oscar coverage today.
1950s fashions – all change after the New Look
The influence of Christian Dior’s New Look in 1947 cannot be underestimated and neither can the impact of Dior’s sketches while he designed – his style is instantly recognisable even today.
Dior’s illustrations raised the bar for advertisers and the retail units in Hull followed suit.
By the 1950s in Hull the prevailing trend for ‘Atom Age’ design distinctive in mid-century Britain and America was playing out in the advert from Levitt’s on Carr Lane. Hollywood was as well established in the 1950s as in the 1930s too.
The 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes had been released in the year before this advert was published.
Starring Marilyn Monroe the costumes were designed by Billy Travilla.
He borrowed from Dior in the high collars, tight waists and hobble skirts worn in a musical number set by a Parisian cafe in the film.
Levitt’s advert uses the name Marilyn and a near -approximation of that suit to sell its ‘suit with 2 skirts’ to the fashion conscious Hull woman.
Look at the hip to waist ratio. In the 1950s the hour glass was key.
The illustrator working on this advert knew that to sell to the Monroe generation, he had to emphasise the curves that made her famous around the world.
1960s Hull – C and A enters the marketplace
The Belgian company C and A exploded onto the high street in Hull in 1960. Its advertising campaign matched the fast moving, fast fashion paradise that changed fashion permanently during the 1960s.
Its advertising was in your face, saying everything about the impact it wanted in the retail landscape in Hull.
In its full page spreads, the illustrations are dynamic and expressive and painted in a manner that suggests high art as well as high fashion.
It was a breath of fresh air in the advertising landscape.
The new name on the Hull high street asserted itself amongst the tried and tested retailers and like the punches it was pulling in the illustrations, it won.
1966 – and the end of illustration
By the 1966, photography was replacing illustrations in the advertising for retail units in Hull. It was an indicator of progression as well as advertising budget and the larger chains adopted it, changing fashion advertising in the local and national press permanently.
Richard Shops, a chain selling mid range women’s clothing, was the first to routinely advertise using photographs rather than line drawings in the Hull Daily Mail and advertising the model houses like Berketex followed suit.
This Berketex advert from Thornton Varley in 1966 was one of the last seen before photography replaced illustration in the press of the day.
With it the advertising teams altered too.
In Hammonds in the 1960s, Pony Smith was part of the art and design team dedicated to publicising the store.
Her distinctive artwork is seen throughout Hammonds advertising in the 1950s but it stopped when she was no longer employed to carry out that role.
From the 1960s onwards advertising followed the magazines and journals of the era. It used photographs rather than line drawings.
In the move to photography there was an enormous loss of talent and creative history that characterised the way Hull’s women and men saw fashion depicted for almost 100 years.
© House of Mirelle 2016