Today I officially began a placement working with the decorative arts collection team at Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.
The first project we have been tasked with is a research and documentation project, requested from an external contact in Leeds.
To contextialise the project, I researched Jewish involvement in the clothing industry in the United Kingdom.
The industrial revolution, the movement of population into the cities and the development of mass society offered a far bigger and more accessible market for new clothes provided the price was affordable.
(Robson, 2016, in the article: Tailor-made for a fashion revolution)
Due to the laws of Shatnez, among other reasons, Jews have been involved in the clothing business for many years, they were limited in the type of business and trades they could engage in or set up.
With the great influx from Eastern Europe into London’s East End at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, there was an explosion of Jewish clothes-making. It was how the majority made a (mostly poor) living
When setting up their businesses Jewish tailors were forced to create less Jewish sounding names and pseudonyms for their companies. The most famous example is M&S (Marks & Spencer).
M&S were set up in 1884 by Michael Marks and Thomas Spencer in Leeds. Michal (alternate spelling) Marks was a Polish-Jewish man, who emigrated to England in 1882. When in search for a new business partner, Marks eventually came across cashier Thomas Spencer.
In the decorative arts stores, situated in Liverpool, a city famous for cotton manufacturing, we are handed a list of known Jewish tailors and their respective company names. Some of the names on the list include ‘Alexon’ for Alexander Steinberg, ‘Linda Leigh’ for Louis Mintz and ‘Eastex’ for Ellis & Goldstein.
Our task is to create a list and populate a database with all the Jewish made items in the galleries collection. We are also required to research any company names we come across which could be Jewish in origin.
We start by creating 2 spreadsheets, one for womens clothing, one for mens. Within both of these, we include separate spreadsheets for ‘not Jewish’ ‘Jewish’ and ‘unknown’ makers. Within each of these are columns to record the accession number (which indicates the year the item was collected and how many items were collected in that year and in what order), fabric, description, garment type, date made, and, most importantly, name of manufacturer. Once completed, the lists will be sent to Leeds, but also used by the WAG team for reference for any future enquiries.
I begin with mens wear from the 1950’s (after washing hands and removing jewellery). They are kept in large wooden wardrobes, with lists attached to the front detailing which garments are in there. There is a protective curtain of calico around the front, and tissue paper coating the bottom of the wardrobe. Each item has a paper label created by the collections staff attached with string, often to a button.
For mens wear, manufacturer labels can often be found inside the pockets in the lining as below:
For my descriptions of the items, I learnt a few costume or fashion terminologies, including two different types of pockets, (vent and patch), types of material including worsted (a mixture of different types of wool, longer fibres separated out), and alternative words for parts of garments (revere instead of lapel). Habits are usually a reference room riding clothes. Boteh references paisley.
I quickly learnt that most of these clothes belonged to wealthy people, working class clothes had no ‘collectibility’, as they were not produced by standards of ‘fashion’.
One item had a Hendersons label – a well known, successful Liverpool retailer, also known as Henderson and sons. (After doing some research into hendersons, I discover there was a fire in the store in 1962, in which 11 people died.) Pauline informed us that this was quite an expensive store, working class people could not have afforded to shop here, and would have considered it quite ‘well-to-do’.
A handful of the makers were evidently not Jewish, including a white silk tuxedo jacket made by a ‘Bee Chow Tailors’ from Singapore (see below).
Some had no labels at all, including: a reyon and satin dressing gown made in the 1930’s with a purple and black geometric pattern.
Others require more research, including a purple nylon suit, made by a ‘John David’ on Fifth Avenue. Also a worsted Lounge suit, made by a Werner & Co, 1961. Initial online research into these makers bore no fruits, and will require more thorough and detailed investigation.
I discovered a number of things in pockets, including what looked like a dried flower head, a pair of scrunched up tickets in a 1950’s gaberdine khaki green raincoat for a showing of ‘The Spinners’ in the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall from 2nd April 1978. Also a paper packet containing spare buttons and a message from the tailor.
Files, stored in chronological order and marked with accession numbers, contained details of items acquisitions and any other contextual information. In some files were photos of the original owners wearing the items, in others newspaper articles kept by Pauline about particular clothing brands or manufacturing news. These are meticulously kept by the team and have been updated over decades. They provide context to the items.
Another source available to us for research is a directory from 1963, listing Liverpool businesses, names and addresses. (Sadly someone had ripped out the tailors page.)
The next placement day will be on January 17th, where I will delve further into this research, and see if we can discover some more Jewish makers.