London Fashion Umbrella: Props or artifacts?

This showcase of items from British textile mill and later fashion textile producer Horrocks, is a mini-museum unto itself. I wondered if the curator of the recent Horrockses exhibition at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum knows of its existence.

When I am not engaged with fashion curatorial projects, I often work as a prop stylist and set designer. Among the many frivolous perks of this type of work (openings, parties, celebrity sightings, etc.) the prop sourcer and stylist gets to frequent less known but equally as fascinating places as private luxury and fashion industry soirees.

Detail of Horrockses trade card in the display.

To those working in film, event or theatrical fields in the UK, the prop houses of Acton are likely well known to. My frequent visits with missions to find items such as taxidermy, art deco furniture or vintage children’s toys are also peppered with distracting forays to admire a plethora of other unrelated objects. In the future this knowledge might come in handy – so time is not being wasted of course.

Today while searching for circus and fairground items, Egyptian statuary and creepy mannequins (always a favourite), I stumbled upon a series of objects of fashion history interest. They all fascinated me for their own individual reasons, but overall  left me ruminating on how the the prop hire house is a strange place for objects. They are for hire, but not for sale. Like museum objects they are seperated from their unit monetary value.

Yet, many of the items in the prop houses I visit are genuine antiques which were likely purchased at market prices. They can appear in the most popular films again and again (there is quite  bit of furniture I recognize from period films made in the UK) or they can lie un-rented for years, seen only by handfuls of “industry” people or more likely, their assistants.

I felt a bit sad for the objects in this photo essay.  My curator/historian side said, “These should be in a museum!.”

I was dazzled by this Chinese dragon robe in a shaped frame. Knowing that these sell for high prices at auctions, and are highly sought after, I thought of politely letting one of the staff members know that they have a treasure on their hands.

I wondered how much one would have to pay for hiring and the “losing” an item. A quick and not so crafty plan to hire, pay the loss cost and then donate to a museum ensued. Then, my more pragmatic and less criminal mind, considered that these pieces were relatively safe here in a prop house, arranged to some degree like a museum display, seen by few and hopefully appreciative accidental visitors. I feel fortunate and enriched to be one of those who get to pay regular working visits to some marvelous fashion historical treasures.

A delightful “dressed print” from La Mode Illustree, collaged with textiles to “colour” the fashions depicted.

Indeed, these items may inspire some future research, or ignite projects down the road – maybe a project that would require me to hire and exhibit them? Now that sounds like a sterling plan. In the meantime, you don;t have to wait for me to devise and fund such an exhibition – you can go and visit these items if you fancy a trip over to North Acton, London.

A pair of attractive tea tins depicting fashions of the 1930s. Probably produced in the 1970s, when vintage fashions if the inter-war period became popularised by Biba and other British boutiques and designers.

You don’t need an appointment to have a wander around at A+M Hire or Chase 55 – just perhaps a likely story (you are styling a photo shoot) and a camera because you can take all the photos you like.


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