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Master of Elegance, A brief exploration of the work of Frederick Starke

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Master of Elegance, A brief exploration of the work of Frederick Starke

"Frederick Starke is a relatively little known designer despite my (very) brief investigation into his work showing the impact he made within contemporary popular culture."

Frederick Starke (1904- 1988) was always destined to pave a career for himself in the fashion world. Born the grandson of a fashion designer and into a family of clothing manufacturers, Starke started his own fashion line in the late 1920’s.

An Evening gown of silk satin accentuated with tulle ruffle, Frederick Starke, Image from Uk Vogue, February 1953

He became known for his elegant and ready to wear formal attire, championing sophisticated and easy to wear design. He opened his retail show room on the exclusive Burton Street in London after returning from serving with the Royal Air force in World War II and his designs were also carried at the famous department store Liberty’s.


Skirt Suit, Merino Wool and Satin, Frederick Starke, 1952, England, V&A Museum online catalogue, (Museum No. T.643:1, 2-1996)

"(The cummerbund) offers an edgy masculine inflection to an otherwise traditional form of female dress"

This skirt suit made in 1952 is held in the collections of the V&A museum and demonstrates Starke’s aptitude for creating a streamlined and tailored silhouette that is so striking in the ‘Joan dress’. In this example, he creates a subtle yet elegant silhouette that accentuates the waist and bust of the wearer by using an almost insusceptible construction technique. It is in fact Starks use of the red cummerbund that serves to pull the fabric of the jacket into the waist and creates the feminine shape.

By incorporating a cummerbund into a ladieswear ensemble, Starke appropriates an element of formal dress traditionally used in men’s wear. This offers an edgy masculine inflection to an otherwise traditional form of female dress and alludes to the rebellious and fashion forward designs that he would create for Honor Blackman ten years later.

"His use of leather to make a selection of suits, trousers, coats and dresses for Cathy started, in Starke’s words ‘the most tremendous boom the industry has ever known."

In 1963, Starke famously designed the costumes for Honor Blackman when she played Cathy Gale in the British TV series ‘The Avengers’ (1963). This greatly increased Starke’s public profile and his designs for Gale inspired trends now characteristic of fashion from this era.

The outfits worn by Blackman as Cathy Gale became increasingly fashion forward and started to hold influence in the street when Starke began designing for her return in the second series of the program. His use of leather to make a selection of suits, trousers, coats and dresses for Cathy started, in Starke’s words ‘the most tremendous boom the industry has ever known.’

 

My favorite of the outfits he designed was a full-length black evening gown made from a jersey backed leather look material developed by Starke especially for Honour (pictured on the right of the article below). It demonstrates a wonderful combination of glamour and rebelliousness and although more risqué than the majority of his fashion designs, it retains the effortless sophistication of his signature style.

 

Frederick Starke is a relatively little known designer despite my (very) brief investigation into his work showing the impact he made within his contemporary popular culture. On my internet travels I came across the following links that anyone wishing to know more about Frederick Starke and his work would be well advised to peruse:

References/ Credits/ Further Reading

A TV Times article from 1963 about the costumes for the forthcoming season of the Avengers Season 2:

https://www.transdiffusion.org/2016/02/17/the-immaculate-avengers 

An article written by Liz Tregnza who wrote her PHD on Frederick Starke. Her website is well worth spending time exploring for anyone with an interest in fashion history:

https://advantageinvintage.co.uk/2015/11/12/presenting-frederick-starke/

Dress from the V&A online collection

https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O84296/skirt-suit-starke-frederick/

 

Written by Hannah Mays Chandler for Dressedinhistory.com. Please do not cite this work without the explicit permission of Dressed in History. 

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