Davison, Porter and you: the Fashion that shaped a century.
Archaic, grand and classic are just a few synonyms that you may use when you describe Royal Holloway’s campus. Set apart from other Universities, it has a unique majestic look that has placed Egham on the map. Our students past and present have a sartorial that is reinventing London’s West End style. For Royal Holloway have rather stylish Alumni whose influence has continued into the present day. Other Universities often comment upon, the style of Holloway’s students. Shopping at Waitrose instead of Aldi, wearing Versace and carrying Mulberry instead of Primark and River Island. Royal Holloway most definitely has a Royal couture.
Undeniably the University has been known for its strong female legacy. In particular Suffragette campaigner Emily Davison and what is often overlooked with the suffragettes is their use of fashion in promotion of their campaign. As a young form of activism during the early Twentieth Century colour was used to showcase a woman’s alliance to the movement. The assumed suffragette slogan ‘Give Woman the Vote’ was cleverly coloured into the sashes that they wore around their bodies. ‘Give’ was coloured green, ‘Woman’ coloured white and ‘Vote’ was violet. Davison herself was very elegant and wore grand classical clothing presumably because the women wished to adorn themselves in beautiful, flowing, feminine attire. The suffragettes liked to be depicted as ladylike, in soft blouses and with their hair pinned up softly, to counter the stereotypes put forward by opponents that they were mannish or shrieking.
Every suffragette organisation developed, it appears, an intimate relationship with a particular West End department store. The moderate suffragettes wished to exhibit the comfortable movement towards women’s rights and so chose to shop at stores such as Derry and Thom, or Swan and Edgar, or Burberry. They wanted stores that could provide sensible coats, shirts, silk blouses and serviceable overcoats at moderate prices. Whereas Holloway’s Davison, being a more militant suffragette, would have chosen to shop at the classier Selfridges, which offered a more elegant array of clothing.
Continuing Holloway’s West End chic was the international style of designer Thea Porter. Porter grew up in Damascus and later in Beirut before spending a short time in the 1930s studying French at, as it was known then, Royal Holloway College. It was in the 1960s when Porter took her international style to London’s Soho where she opened a shop on Greek Street.
“Beirut in the fifties and sixties, was a combination of Paris and Beverly Hills: the sex and glamour of the French capital allied to the hedonistic climate of California.”-Thea Porter
Porter sold her own interpretation of Eastern clothing to an artistic clientele that included Elizabeth Taylor and Barbra Streisand. She was one with the celebrities of 1960s Soho from the Royals to Top of the Pops, and at a recent exhibition in 2015 at London’s ‘Fashion and Textile Museum’ there was a reminiscent quote from Porter about her star-studded custom: “I remember he (Jimi Hendrix) brought us an armful of carnations, so many that we couldn’t find vases for them. He went out for a moment and returned with an empty Coca Cola can which he had picked up on the pavement, a half a dozen milk bottles which he filled with water and in which he tastefully arranged his flowers.”
People would save for up to four/five years to buy one of her dresses. Then costing £200, it was hoped that they would be sold for £30. But, as Thea explained she used the finest cottons and silks, collaborating with different cultures and unique designers each dress was a masterpiece that took time and precision. Every part of the dress was given equal attention and consideration; which is why her influence is still pivotal in current tailoring.
So how is Royal Holloway standing today on the fashionista’s map? Quite strongly I would say. There are a multitude of styles, because like Porter and Davison our students express themselves and their lifestyles through their clothing. Unlike other UK Universities that have a specific look, such as Newcastle’s girls going out with bare legs, platform heels and no coat. Or Central Saint Martin’s indie/alternative uniform, that seeks to be so different they look prescribed: Doc martins and something quirky from Brick Lane’s Sunday morning market. Royal Holloway encases the style mantra of London’s West End: to be part of the project where you can draw on experience and culture to truly communicate your personality in the clothes that you wear. This is what Davison and Porter did and we are still doing it today on campus.
The fashion icon Alexa Chung (age 32) often speaks about London’s unique and cathartic style: “London Fashion Week is so different from any of the others. Compared to the strictness in New York, London seems freer from commercial constraints. Truer to the process, to street style, to a sense of humour.” And likewise the process at Royal Holloway is free from constraint. Having a wide range of nationalities on campus is liberating. The Chinese students have a Moschino vibe whilst the French still keep that classic look, associated with Coco Chanel. And being less than an hour away from London the process to street style is constantly being translated and retranslated again and again, for example the Italians introducing stores such as Brandy Melville whilst the savvy English way is still tuned into charity shop bargains. By swapping experiences and elaborating upon the norm students at Royal Holloway, not only in their academic studies, but in their personal style evolve into unique individuals who will put a stamp on this world like Porter did with Bohemian chic. We already have bloggers who are developing their university experiences and beauty knowhow to build a strong following of fashion and beauty aspirants, such as ‘Beauty and Riffs’ and ‘Abigail Alice’.
If we continue the way that we are then Royal Holloway’s style is sure to keep impacting and reinventing the look of London’s West End. Our students will be recognised again and again for their dominant personalities and fashion savoir-faire choices.