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Horrockses Fashions

Before Topshop, there was Horrockses Fashions, a British ready-to-wear company that brought affordable fashion to the masses following the Second World War.  Launched in 1946, the company was actually a catalyst for the fabric mill Horrockses, Crewdson & Co. Limited to establish a wider business in the market of manufactured finished goods, in turn promoting the company’s fabrics at the same time.  While the fabric mill itself was founded in 1791, selling fine quality cottons to wholesalers around the globe, it wasn’t until the launch of their fashion division a century and a half later that the company became synonymous with fashion-forward textile design.  Horrockses was well-positioned for this effort, modestly billing themselves “The Greatest Name in Cotton” and establishing a place in the hearts of homemakers everywhere with their production of dress fabrics, marketed to the home dressmaker through advertising in prominent women’s magazines.  Unique due to its vertically integrated business model (something to boast about even today, as companies like American Apparel proclaim in their public advertising), Horrockses Fashions was also a high street pioneer, closely following the Parisian and London couture shows and maintaining fabric exclusives on their prints to maintain a sense of high fashion credibility whilst keeping prices low.  The company also followed high-fashion business principles by limiting the number of retail outlets permitted to sell their line, making Horrockses’ dresses all the more covetable to the women who sought them out. Though the company’s heyday was arguably from 1946 to 1958, when the parent company sold the fashion division to Steinberg & Sons, it lasted another 25 years until it was shuttered in 1983, largely due to the increasing popularity of synthetic fibers and shift of clothing production to the Asia pacific region, which contributed to a rapid decline in quality.

To read more about the rich history of this pioneering 20th century business, and to see a selection of excellent archival material including photographs, original sketches, print colorways, advertisements and more, check out fashion and textile historian Christine Boydell’s new book, Horrockses Fashions: Off-the-Peg Style in the ’40s and ’50s, courtesy of V&A Publishing.

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