Vintage look is all the fashion for Norwich designer
Drayton wedding dress designer Jane Kenning gets ready to bring corsets and bloomers back to the fashion scene, says Emma Harrowing.
An interest in the social history behind fashion and a few fashion coups under her belt didn't prepare Drayton fashion designer Jane Kenning for the shock at seeing one of her precious designs on sale for �9.99 on an online auction site.
'I had sent one of my bespoke corsets to Alesha Dixon when she was on Strictly Come Dancing in the hope that she would wear it for one of the shows,' explains Jane. 'Imagine my shock at seeing that very same design for sale on the internet – and for less than �10!
'Of course I rang the person who was selling it to find out where he had got it from. It turns out that he had got it from an auction house in London with a pile of other clothes and wanted to sell it online for a profit. After introducing myself as the designer he was kind enough to send the corset back to me and I still have it. I often wish that the corset could talk as it would be great to know what happened to it after I posted it!'
Jane may not yet be a big name in international fashion, but in Norwich she is quickly becoming renowned for her vintage-style bespoke wedding dresses and corsetry.
When Jane showcased her 1960s Audrey Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffany dress at Norwich Fashion Week last September, the intricate design and perfect attention to detail made fashion week goers' tongues wag.
Jane says: 'I have always wanted to copy a dress design from iconic Hollywood and the dress Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany's seemed the perfect dress to make. I bought the DVD and freeze-framed each shot so that I would get the neckline just right.'
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While she was making the dress Jane heard on the news that it was the 50th anniversary of the Breakfast at Tiffany's film. Her positive nature and can-do attitude led her to contact Waterstone's in the Royal Arcade in Norwich to see if it would display her dress alongside the commemorative book on the film. Her persistence paid off and her work was on display in the Royal Arcade as part of an Audrey Hepburn display.
Jane seems to have a knack of knowing exactly when to make a particular design. Before Alexander McQueen creative director Sarah Burton designed Kate Middleton's wedding dress, Jane designed her Grace Kelly dress – a 1950s inspired dress with lace detail across the shoulders and arms.
'When I saw what Sarah Burton had designed for the Royal Wedding I couldn't believe that it was so similar to my Grace Kelly wedding dress – just remember that I got there first!'
The neat tailoring and attention to detail in Jane's designs stems from many years working and studying costume-making and design.
After taking an A-level in fashion and textiles at King's Lynn college, Jane went to Liverpool to study costume-making before working in the costume department at the Theatre Royal in York.
And when she went to London to work in a drama college's costume department her design skills really began to develop.
'I went on tour with the production of Copacabana and travelled throughout England and Scotland, but soon realised that travelling wasn't for me,' says Jane. 'So I got a job at Madame Tussaud's and worked for four years making costumes for new figures and retaining the old ones.
'Then I worked for Angels costume house in London which had won Oscars for its costume design. Award-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming worked there at the time and had just won an Oscar for her 1884-85 costumes in the film Topsy Turvy. She used to carry her Oscar around in her handbag!'
Jane worked in a team at Angels on films such as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and a James Bond film.
'The work was very meticulous and involved sourcing everything from materials to buttons. Attention to detail was vital and every little thing had to be just right as you didn't know what the camera would pick up on.'
It is this attention to detail that Jane has taken with her when, on leaving London to come back to Norfolk in 2001, she decided to set up her own business.
'I tend to use good quality silks in my designs,' she says. 'You don't need embroidery and beads – if it is a good quality silk the dress will hang perfectly and will always photograph well.
'Some people come to me with their own designs for me to make and this is fine. Sometimes I have to sit down with them and go through their designs as some elements just will not work, but working with a bride to design her perfect dress is something I enjoy.'
Last year Jane designed 31 dresses for brides and outfits for mothers of the bride from her base in Drayton Old Lodge. Her aim is to design 40 a year.
'Trends in vintage-inspired wedding dresses change. The '50s dress with a circle skirt and full petticoat is popular, but the 1930s style is beginning to come through with people wanting more bias cut dresses. This is completely different to my usual corsetry-style dresses.'
Jane is going back to her designer roots with a corset collection for Norwich Fashion Week next month. A Victoriana corset influenced by the television show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and an 1700 Edwardian-style corset in Tiffany blue will be teamed with vintage bloomers or skirts on the catwalk at The Designers Show on Tuesday, March 13, which will see Jane showcase her designs alongside other Norfolk designers and up-and-coming designers from City College Norwich at Project nightclub in Riverside.
Jane's designs will also be part of the vintage show at the Dressed Like a Queen Vintage Day at The Library Restaurant on Sunday, March 11.
'I have also made a corset from original Levi 501s, which I have tried to showcase in the window of the Levis shop in Norwich but without much success – but watch this space!'
The Designers Show at Project Nightclub on Tuesday, March 13 starts at 7pm. Tickets, �10 for adults and �5 for under 18s, are available from Poppy Valentine in Royal Arcade, telephone 01603 928802.
The Dress Like a Queen Vintage Day on Sunday, March 11 at The Library Restaurant is from 11am to 4pm. Tickets, �10 including a drink and goody bag, from the restaurant in Guildhall Hill 01603 616606.
Don't miss your Evening News all this week for previews of some of the shows and events at Norwich Fashion Week 2012. For the full programme click on the link at the top right of this page.