A conspiracy of pale ravens
Prior to her return to Dungatar, Tilly Dunnage spent years making couture for elegant customers in European cities. Tilly was vendeuse, then apprentice to Madame Vionnet, and when she retired in 1940, Christòbal Balenciaga honed Tilly’s sewing, cutting and design skills. All three designers looked at what was there then used their own hands to create something unique, draping fabrics so that movement was free, the size and shape of the body beneath the garment indeterminate…which is why when Gertrude returned to Dungatar breathless and tightly bound in a ‘New Look’ 6Dior, Tilly raised an eyebrow.
In the studio at Docklands I saw many pert hats, hillocks of shoes, rows and rows of frocks for extras, ‘gowns’ designed by Una – pre-Tilly fashions. Tilly’s creations changed the dreadful ladies of Dungatar, and I’ll remind you at this point in the paragraph that I had a lot to do with those designs. But Tilly’s life is in the hands of professional couturiers, again.
I found the clever ateliers up in the workroom at studio 4 paused; there was no vintage fabrics spread on the giant cutting tables, the big scissors were cold to the touch. A brilliant and beautifully pleated bodice on a dressmaker’s stand was incomplete as were the exquisite blouses they showed me, but I knew Tilly’s gowns were somewhere. I felt like Sergeant Farrat when he spied the magenta silk organza at the bottom of her Paris tea chest. Standing there in the Atelier I imagined I heard the crunch of pinking shears through fabric on a table top, and I smelled flock in the warm air, felt the close acoustics created by bolts of cloth and goose bumps rose on my arms at the rustle of pattern paper peggedto wire hangers. Best of all, I recognised a Conspiracy of pale ravens…the toiles! So full of promise.
It’s too late to return to Dungatar but I feel the tug of a new Atelier for Tilly and some awfully dreadful characters for her to transform. But before I create my second innovative collection (a new trend?), I’ll see what Marion and her team have got hidden.