Book Review: John Bates: Fashion Designer

After reviewing The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon, I received this book from the publisher, with a request to review it. I think I may have been given an advanced copy, but the book now is available for sale on Amazon. In the interest of full disclosure, I am not being paid for writing this review, nor am I receiving any kind of compensation. But I did not have to pay for the book; the publisher sent it to me gratis. So that said, here’s my review.

Title: John Bates: Fashion Designer (Hardbound)

Author(s): Richard Lester, with Foreword by Marit Allen

Publisher: ACC Editions

ISBN: 978-1-85149-570-2

Suggested Price: $55.00


Forward by Marit Allen
A foothold in the business
New materials, new shapes
A defining moment – 1965 and The Avengers
The great hem debate- a new geometry in fashion
Retail Revolution
Producing and marketing a collection
Prints and puritans
1974: John Bates – ‘Almost couture ready-to-wear’
Rule Britannia – the international market
Choosing a full stop
The designer in person

First Impressions: Pretty fun for a student of fashion. John Bates was at the forefront of British Fashion in the 60s and 70s. This book chronicles his career, which spanned from the late 1950s, when he got his start with Herbert Sidon in London to the early 1980s, when he decided to shutter his design house and devote his attention to other things. It’s a pictorial romp across 3 1/2 decades of fashion.

A Little More Depth: I I enjoyed this book. It’s a fun coffee table book. It’s great for students of fashion who want to study one of the influential designers of London’s (and beyond) fashion scene in the 1960s.

Bates got his start with Sidon, but he quickly transitioned from a sketcher at that house to a designer at the house Jean Varon. There he made a name for himself in the British press, with designs that were accessible to working women as well as well-heeled ladies. He really took off in the 60s, and it is fun to see the looks he came up with. One of his innovations was using unusual textiles (PVC, anyone?) in new ways. He was a maverick in textile/design combinations. This was to continue throughout his career, as he would use new textiles as they became available. He also was a champion of what then were pretty scandalous, skin baring designs – lots of mesh inserts. I seem to recall my mother tut-tutting about these kinds of designs when I was a kid. He was the forerunner of Tom Ford at Gucci. In fact, several of his designs could walk off the page and down the runways today.

Bates really hit it out of the park, though, when he designed outfits for Diana Rigg to wear in her role as Emma Peel in The Avengers. The leather catsuits, the graphic furs, the minidresses with tights (“so that Emma Peel could fight in her dress if necessary”). These put him right up there with the top designers of the day.

The book follows his trajectory through the sixties, during which time he was firmly on trend with such things as the mini dress (Twiggy and Penelope Tree feature prominently in the fashion photgraphs), scandalous pantsuits, midis, maxis, capes and cutouts. His designs reflected the zeitgeist of the time, and he seemed to be always right on top of the latest.

One of the things I found very interesting is that Bates designed collections that appealed to numerous consumers. He had lines that appealed to working “girls” (Jean Varon) and that were priced accordingly. He also worked with luxury manufacturers, eventually presenting his own line to a wealthier clientele that wanted the same sharp silhouettes, but in luxe fabrics. During the 70s, Bates also embraced new textiles and lots of big, bright prints. His looks presage many of the silhouettes that Saint Laurent would capitalize on in later couture collections. And there is a picture on page 108 that from the back is a direct antecedent of Vogue 1029 by Michael Kors.

Bates had a phenomenally successful career, and while much of the book is devoted to his designs of the 60s, it’s a fun survey of styles across the latter half of the 20th century. Toward the end of his career he did some work on film and theater costumes, and the last chapter of the book is a series of essays (you might actually call them love letters) about Bates and his clothes by clients, employees and fashion editors. It’s a fun touch in a fun book.

For me, the only down side to this book was the writing. It was a bit of a slog at times, but I think this is meant to be more of a coffee table book, not a fashion text. The writing style can be a bit stiff.

Do I Recommend this Book? Yes. It’s a great survey of a designer’s career. If you are a student of 60s and 70s fashion, this is a great pictorial reference. You won’t learn anything earth shattering from this book. But it is a fun read.

This book has a suggested price of $55, but it’s available for less than that at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If you are a fan of the 60s, Bates, or The Avengers fashions, it might be worth treating yourself!

Happy sewing!

About Gorgeous Things

I own an online fabric store, Everything else you need to know about me is what I tell you on my blog, darlings!
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