Dress designer

Dress designer Tessa is  just into her fifties and lives in a pretty terraced house in a Camberwell backwater with her daughter and partner.


“No one tells me what to wear!”

Tessa  built up her huge know-how from her mother who was a fashion student in the fifties at the Royal College.

She used to make my clothes,  I didn’t want her to dress me so I learnt how to make things for myself.  My mother is very confident about tacking any practical task. I remember her deciding to drop down the kitchen floor with a  Kanga hammer then barrowing  the clay down the garden to make a pool. I still call her if I have a technical problem .

Tessa did an anthropology degree at UCL and worked on various vintage stalls on the Portobello market then in her final university year a friend asked her to make her wedding dress and  she took her own stall on the market.

I was youthful, optimistic and energetic. I had to sell a lot to make it worthwhile and because it was the market, it had to be cheap. Then I shared a huge studio in Swiss Cottage with Jenny who was a Goldsmiths textile graduate. I was enthralled with her work, it  was far more consciously arty than mine, I was far more bish, bosh, bash it out. We had contrasting interests and we learnt  a lot from each other.

Rolling in Cash

We took a stall in Camden Market in the early eighties and designed a pair of share cropper jeans – they were huge and belted in at the waist, black with white stitching. We called them Dog on the Rocks, asked £30  pair and they really sold.

We had 200 pairs made up by a factory near  Brick Lane run by a Moroccan guy. But later we found he had cheated us; he told us it took 2.5m of material to make them up and actually it was 1.3m and he would make up the extras to our pattern and sell them himself.

In London fashion week the Japanese buyers came down to see us and placed big orders , so we got an Iraqi man to handle the production for us and paid him £1 a pair. The Americans bought and the Germans and we had people working for us on our Camden Market and Petticoat Lane stalls.

It lasted about five years and there are photos of us rolling in the cash takings from the stalls. I loved the moment of making money but Jenny didn’t like the sharp end of the rag trade,  I bought her out and I ran it into the ground. It was a one trick pony, other people copied the jeans and we didn’t have a way to defend it.  We didn’t really know what we were doing but success was a real laugh.

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