The Glasgow fashion house which put city on the style map – more than 120 years ago….

IT is the lockdown loungewear of its day – the kind of thing one might throw on for wafting around one’s South Side mansion before dressing more formally for dinner back in Victorian Glasgow.

This red velvet and net tea gown was made by what was once the city’s most prestigious fashion house, David Kemp & Sons on Buchanan Street.

Long before Chanel and Gucci were dazzling the well-heeled fashionistas of the Continent, David Kemp was wowing customers with exquisite silks, fashionable furs and stunning shawls.

Like this striking red and black creation, which dates back to around 1891 and is now held in Glasgow Museums’ textile collection.

The red tea gown, c 1890, made by David Kemp & Son. Pic: Glasgow Museums

The red tea gown, c 1890, made by David Kemp & Son. Pic: Glasgow Museums

“This tea gown is the kind of thing well-off women would have worn around the house, something a little less formal for afternoon, say before changing for dinner,” smiles Rebecca Quinton, Glasgow Museums’ curator of European Costume and Textiles.

“It’s meant for relaxing, but it is a little different from the kind of thing most of us have been wearing during lockdown.

READ MORE: Glasgow chemist who invented the raincoat

While Glasgow Museums remain closed because of coronavirus restrictions, Rebecca has been researching some of the fascinating items stored in the city’s textile collections, uncovering the intriguing

stories of their makers and wearers.

In a new, occasional series for Times Past, we will be sharing some of those Tales From the Wardrobe.

Rebecca Quinton

Rebecca Quinton

David Kemp began by manufacturing shawls in 1832. He went on to employ 250 staff at his premises at 37 Buchanan Street, now part of the Fraser’s department store building.

The premises were huge – five levels of showrooms, fitting rooms, and a factory making “mantles, costumes, millinery, lingerie, silks, dress goods, shawls, and furs” according to the 1888 publication Glasgow To-day: Metropolis of the North.

This directory describes the building as a “trade palace of which there are not a few in Glasgow, though certainly none to surpass this.”

The red tea gown, c 1890, made by David Kemp & Son. Pic: Glasgow Museums

The red tea gown, c 1890, made by David Kemp & Son. Pic: Glasgow Museums

The staff were ‘busy and effective, under whose deft fingers the pliant material or fabric assumes those countless shapes and forms so irresistibly attractive to the firm’s host of lady patrons in the warerooms close by.,” and it added: “All the work done here is of the very highest and best class, for the status of this eminent house is among the foremost of its kind in Great Britain.”

The firm even employed ‘a special lady artist’ retained to sketch for the benefit of customers “every novelty that makes its advent in the world’s great centres of fashion…Messrs. Kemp hold, altogether, one of the largest, most valuable, and most select stocks of superior goods to be found in Great Britain.”

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The company’s adverts, which ran in our sister newspaper The Herald, talk of the partners returning from Paris and London to offer ‘the latest novelties in silks, dress materials, embroideries and costumes’ to its Glasgow customers, and less appetisingly, ‘sealskin mantles, fur-lined cloaks, sable tail sets etc…’

David Kemp was held in such high regard in the city that he was chosen as one of the jurors of the Great Exhibition of 1851, for which he received a medal.

The red tea gown, c 1890, made by David Kemp & Son. Pic: Glasgow Museums

The red tea gown, c 1890, made by David Kemp & Son. Pic: Glasgow Museums

He died in 1891 in Dunoon.

Look out for more Tales from the Wardrobe in Times Past soon.

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