Friday, 6 September 2019

Chasing The Monsoon


We're into the final month of #Slow Fashion Season and I've been shopping but, never fear, I've been sticking to the rules. My latest wardrobe additions may bear the labels of a well-known British high street fashion chain but they're 100% vintage, hand-embroidered and hand-finished. They sure don't make things like they used to!


Most of you will be familiar with Monsoon. Together with sister company, Accessorize, the group operates over 800 branches in sixty countries. Although there's never been a shop in Walsall, contemporary Monsoon clothing regularly pops up in the chazzas but while these clothes look pretty from a distance, close up their fabric choices and designs just don't do it for me....but this wasn't always the way.

Peter Simon lays the first stone of the Sewa Embroidery Centre (2013) SOURCE


Monsoon founder Peter Simon was the archetypal hippy, born in Sri Lanka in 1949 after a boarding school education he swapped his strict British upbringing to go and live on a nudist colony in Ibiza. In the late 1960s he and then girlfriend, Kate, travelled the overland trail from London to Rajasthan via Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan in an orange Volkswagen campervan where he fell in love with the vibrant colours and native block-printed textiles he found on his Asian adventures.


Portabello Road circa 1973 SOURCE

With all things ethnic being the in thing in Swinging London, Simon used his travels to bring kaftans, cheesecloth shirts, skirts and block printed kurtas to the masses via his stall on London's Portabello Road market.

Former Monsoon shoppers - Queen Sofia of Spain and Salimah Aga Khan

Simon opened the first Monsoon store in London's affluent Knightsbridge in 1974, a far cry from his humble market trader beginnings. His office was above the shop and the sales assistants were instructed to let him know if anyone interesting came in. One day it was the Queen of Spain, in a mighty Roller, he says, Another, the Begum Khan [wife of the Aga Khan]. I’d go down and say hello. I was always interested in what people were buying. 


The original Monsoon store SOURCE

On another occasion he met the actress Jane Seymour
She’d just shot the Bond film "Live and Let Die" with Roger Moore, but it hadn’t been released, so she was at a bit of a loose end. We chatted and I just said, ‘Come to Udaipur.’ I was going on a sourcing mission and wanted to photograph some of the clothes that I knew she would look great in — and she did.  Following the shoot Seymour and Simon became a couple, dating for a number of years.



Jane Seymour in a hand-printed Monsoon dress in Rajasthan in 1974 (Sam Faulkner) SOURCE
What a beautiful model!

Jane Seymour modelling for Monsoon in Rajasthan, in 1974 SOURCE
Monsoon's bestseller in 1974 was a hand embroidered, high-waisted Afghan-style dress designed by Janet Wood, a British designer who had previously worked as Thea Porter's personal assistant. She had joined Peter on his travels in the early 1970s in order to create more westernised versions of the clothes he was selling using locally produced fabrics. Despite the popularity of these dresses, very few survived and, on the rare occasion that they do pop up for sale, they command high prices (there's one currently listed on Etsy for £215).


 After years of searching I'd almost given up hope of ever finding an affordable Janet Wood designed dress of my own so imagine my joy when I found one listed online for a fraction of the going rate.


And if that wasn't exciting enough, less than 24 hours later I found the matching waistcoat in a vintage shop....


They're like buses, wait long enough and two will always arrive together!



Whilst I'm not a Monsoon shopper their ethical credentials seem better than many of their high street competitors. Their fashion recycling initiative Clothes for Life awards vouchers to customers who donate their unwanted Monsoon clothes back to the store. All the profits from these clothes, which are either resold or donated, go to Newlife, a charity dedicated to changing the lives of disabled and terminally ill children across the UK. (Source). Monsoon also endeavour to remain committed to their original bohemian roots, supporting ethical design and handicrafts. Through the Monsoon Accessorize Trust they claim to have helped improve the lives of disadvantaged women and children in Asia since 1994. (Source)

Jane Seymour modelling for Monsoon in the early 1970s SOURCE

Now....if I could just find this dress.....


Linking to SpyGirl's Fall into #Secondhand September 'cos pre-loved really is the only way to shop.

PS If you're wondering about my blog title, it comes from the classic travel book by Alexander Frater.

55 comments:

  1. Now that you've found one (very beautiful!) you will probably find loads of them, isn't that always the way?

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    1. One did pop up on IG last week - and sold for £249 within an hour (not to me, though!) xxx

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  2. Ohh vix , that monsoon vintage dress is beautiful , It really suits you too xxx

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  3. Wow!! Nice score!!! Gorgeous pics-- u look beautiful!!

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  4. That is some find - and then the matching jacket too - unbelievable! the pic of Portobello Road made me smile, in 1973 14 year old me was there at least twice a week! bunking off school and taking the bus from Twickenham up to London to spend the day in Portobello Road, I was on first name terms with stallholders and hung around all day as I loved the atmosphere, got my first pair of pierced earings, cheesecloth shirt, handkerchief skirt and made my beaded bracelets there - happy days! I occasionally buy from Monsoon so the background story is really interesting, thanks.

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    1. I loved reading your account of your adventures on the Portabello Road and what you bought sounds right up my street! xxx

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  5. The dress is gorgeous.
    I had no knowledge of the Monsoon back story, although I heard some of their stores have closed recently.

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    1. It's a great back story, isn't it? I'm impressed with the recycling scheme and that Monsoon still supports artisans and Indian women and children. xxx

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  6. There is no doubt that it was destined to be yours. Patience pays off.

    Suzanne
    http://www.suzannecarillo.com

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  7. Wowza! Not familiar with this brand (maybe didn't make it across the Atlantic).
    Love all your historical information, which I will read when not at the day job!

    Thanks for linking! You are an Empress of Secondhand!

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  8. Do you play the ponies? You seem to have an uncanny ability to defy odds!
    The waistcoat is lovely too.

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  9. Oh Vix, I sigh with delight every time I look at your blog. Those beautiful feminine dresses. Such a pity that there isn't a small clothing firm/person in the UK that could take up the baton and start creating similar beautiful quality clothing. I bet there are plenty of people that would be willing to pay a premium price for them.

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    1. Aren't they gorgeous? In the past clothes weren't cheap, women had to save up for them and treasure them. Nobody values the cheap, mass produced stuff available today, such a shame. xxx

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  10. The stories make the dresses even MORE delightful!

    I expect to hear your shout here across the ocean when you find that last, beautiful yellow/gold one!

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    1. You will hear me if I find a dress like the yellow one, you really will! xxx

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  11. So lovely- I am not missing shopping at all this year, but know in the new year, my wardrobe, left untouched for a year, will need some sprucing. I plan on making 2020 a fully slow fashion year.

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  12. Another amazing find that suits your personality to a 't'. Such gorgeous colours, contrasting materials, hand stitching. A treasure! I remember the days when their shops were few and far between and shopping there was an experience. Pure Indian silks, hand embroidery. It illustrates how shoddy most high street garments are now. Keep flying the flag for creative pieces and fine craftsmanship!

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    1. Hello Alysia! I bet those early Monsoon shops were a sight to behold, what with hand crafted clothes and film stars and royalty popping in! xxx

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  13. Such a wonderful vintage dress and you wore it so well! So great you managed to find it online and at an affordable price too. The matching vest does match perfectly with it. Like you said, if you wait long enough two buses will come...but isn't it often the case you find great things in second hand/vintage shops? I think it is more than luck, you definitely have a good eye.

    It was lovely learning about the history of Monsoon. It is great they still donate, support the recycling and all that, but I think I would like their vintage dresses better than the new ones...but who knows I might check their new stuff some day too!

    Doesn't Jane look amazing modelling in those dresses!!!

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    1. Jane Seymour does look amazing, doesn't she? What a clever move to emply a Bond girl to model for Monsoon! xxx

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  14. What stunning finds, Vix. The details on the red dress are fantastic!
    I've never heard of Jane Seymour, but she looks like a fabulous style inspiration. X

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    1. Thanks, Jess! You've never heard of Jane Seymour? Only the best 1970s Bond Girl! xxx

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  15. Not being funny but I think you should put all your knowledge and enthusiasm about your vintage clothes into a book. You're such a great source on the history of these textiles and your enjoyment is infectious, plus you ALWAYS look spectacular, whatever you're wearing! Thanks for sharing.

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  16. That dress is stunning, Vix, just wow! And as I remarked on Instagram, good things come to those who are prepared to wait. But how amazing that you found the waistcoat less than 24 hours later. The story of Monsoon was a fascinating read. And I wouldn't at all be suprised if one day you found the dress Jane Seymour is modelling! xxx

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    1. I might have to wait a few more years but hopefully one day that dress will be mine! Us secondhand shoppers are a patient lot! xxx

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  17. Firstly, let me say just how good you look in your Monsoon finds. I enjoyed learning the history behind the Monsoon brand. I came across Monsoon when they has a store in Melbourne about 20 years ago, long gone now. My little girl loved their dresses and we bought several. In fact as part of her Make A Wish surprise trip she was given $500 dollars to spend at Monsoon. I still have all her beautiful dresses , they were just too special to part with after she died. Sorry this sounds sad, it isn't just lovely memories. xxx Jill

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    1. What a lovely memory, I bet your daughter felt like a princess in her Monsoon dresses. xxx

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  18. I couldn't but smile at reading that 'They are like buses' as serendipious and unexpected finds are a great appeal on buying second hand. Finding the matching waistcoat of this fabulous dress is such an amazing occasion!.
    You look particularly gorgeous in these colorful clothes!
    I've really enjoyed this post and reading about Monsoon and its story, so interesting!. It's a brand that I admire because of its colorful and embroidered clothes, even if I've only bought them second hand at eBay (their prices have been always out of my Budget!)
    Love this post!
    besos

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    1. I didn't realise how pricey Monsoon was until I was researching them for this blog post! Much better to wait a few months for the fickle fashion followers to get tired of their purchases and list them on eBay! xxx

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  19. your "new" monsoon dress is very pretty and looks perfect on you - congrats to finding it! and the matching waistcoat - gorgeous!
    i always love reading about the fashion labels on your blog. this one makes me want to go eastwards and do my own take on folky, sustainable fashion.....if i were 30 years younger.
    xxxxx

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    1. Thanks, Beate! There's a real revival in India now for quality, folky pieces - I'm already excited about what I'll be able to find when I return next year. xxx

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  20. What a great find!! Love everything about that dress!

    https://colorandgrace.com

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  21. As someone who lapses onto the high street regularly (tho I have managed to make it this far into slow fashion season!) Monsoon is definitely still better for quality than most within its price bracket. I wandered through Debenhams the other day and the fabrics so many brands were using were just horrible.

    I also remember my mum working in a dry cleaners in the 80s and complaining about Monsoon stuff as it often didn't survive the cleaning process... Can't say I've had any problem with the stuff I've had from there (since the 90s) and I usually bung it in the wash.

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    1. That seems to be the trouble with so much of the stuff available on our high streets today, nice from a distance and horrible when you get up close. I remember drooling over those £200 Preen dresses Debenhams did last year only to be disgusted by the quality of one when it turned up in the British Heart Foundation a few weeks later. xxx

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  23. I am aware of Monsoon, but never seen anything by them here (we had an Accessorize shop for a few years before it closed). What a fabulous dress you found, Vix, and how amazing to find the matching vest! I am drooling over Jane Seymour's dresses in this post!

    Glad to hear that company is working on being more ethical with regards to its recycling policies! It feels like fast-fashion is finally paying attention!

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    1. Aren't those dresses amazing? I used to love looking in Accessorize at the airport on the way to India and hunting down their Indian pieces for a fraction of the price at street markets. xxx

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  24. I'd never heard of this brand before, so thank you for the history lesson. I've always thought Jane Seymour was a beauty and she is a perfect model for those dresses. How marvelous to find one of your own, at a fraction of the going price!!

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    1. Jane Seymour was/ still is absolutely gorgeous, isn't she? xxx

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  25. And how did that waistcoat land in Walsall?! Pity it lacks a tag for recording its provenance, who owned it and where she wore it, rather like Chinese scrolls with their stamps.

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  26. Oh gosh, those vintage Monsoon dresses are just divine! I can see why they're so highly sought after. You are very lucky to find one and to get the waistcoat too - what are the chances?! I do have a couple of very well-worn and loved modern Monsoon pieces in my wardrobe - well, when I say 'modern', this is probably at least 10 years ago I bought them. I did used to find the quality a bit better than the average high street but I do recall there was also some scandal with Monsoon and Accessorize refusing to pay their UK shop assistants minimum wage. Nothing's perfect, but we can try our best to do better. xx

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    1. Another of those dresses popped up on IG last weekend - for £249, it sold within the hour! They are gorgeous though, the quality and workmanship blow my mind.
      The Monsoon stuff that ends up in our chazzas nearly always seems to be made from jersey, my pet hate, although when I was researching for the blog post the stuff on their website looked lovely. xxx

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  27. It really is exquisite! I love it! Jane Seymour is so beautiful. We used to watch Live and Let die a lot as kids as it was my Dad and Sister's faavourite Bond movie! I didn't know about the history so I am very grateful you shared this!!

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Lots of love, Vix