Probably the most memorable assortment of clothes designed by John Bates, who has died aged 87, had simply 35 clothes plus a number of impressed equipment, all of which may very well be put collectively into unrepetitive mixtures. It was designed very impromptu in 1965 for an imaginary wearer – Emma Peel, heroine of the tv collection The Avengers, performed by Diana Rigg – and deserves all its many entries in model histories for its excessive idea, and for marking a serious change in vogue.
Bates’s nice fee almost didn’t occur. The wardrobe of the earlier Avengers lead actor, Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale, had been created for the sooner collection by Frederick Starke, an institution designer of womenswear. Blackman’s garments combined an old-movie glamour with Paris Left Financial institution beat vogue, together with lengthy boots; for fights, she was clad in heavy black leather-based.
Feminine viewers responded to the beat outfits, and some copies had been tentatively marketed. Male tv executives had been extra excited by the leathers, and when in 1965 the present’s mum or dad firm, ABC TV, proposed to shoot a brand new collection not in gray video however in black-and-white movie, for distribution within the US, its consumers insisted that Blackman’s alternative ought to retain them. The casting selection was Rigg, a decade youthful, and likewise taller, rangier and larkier, than Blackman.
All these concerned realised that the costume design, even the leathers, had misplaced their edge within the 18 months between collection, and felt dangerously genteel. Anne Trehearne, then vogue editor of the shiny journal Queen, was urgently known as in for a restyle. She really useful Jean Muir, whose label, Jane & Jane, was well-liked amongst well-off younger individuals for its cleverly minimize clothes. Muir accepted, however couldn’t meet the present’s deadline. Bates had a label, Jean Varon, for a similar type of buyer base, and in 4 days he got here up with a robust theme for Emma Peel – principally black-and-white graphics to capitalise on the monochrome filming and the present stylish of op artwork.
He used cheap synthetics resembling PVC and stretch materials, in addition to furs and lace, to fill the capsule wardrobe head to toe, from a beret appliqued with a bullseye goal to striped tights, added trouser fits – then pretty new for ladies – and above-the-knee skirts, minimize away the shell of the combating go well with and popped a comfortable shirt beneath. (Though Bates persuaded Rigg to drop a few pounds the higher to show his designs, he emphasised her non-model form.) Trehearne defended him in opposition to US backers panicked by minis and naked midriffs; and he minimize and completed Rigg’s skirts exactly to their supposed size, so there was no hem that may very well be let down.
Trehearne staged the present’s press launch and promotional footage as a vogue present, so the publicity promoted Bates’s resolution to license British producers to make a spread of the garments and equipment for a younger, middle-price, viewers. (Kangol’s goal beret price 19s 11d.) The unique garments – they had been wearable garments, by no means “costumes” – had been on display screen for under the 26-episode collection, however Bates’s look stays the encapsulation of vogue’s mid-Sixties flip to youth, media and the UK.
Bates started his life’s curiosity by stitching little clothes out of his mom’s dusters, and drawing frocks for her that she would by no means personal, although he did give her, at her request, an op artwork fur coat for Christmas in 1965.
He and his two hearty brothers had been sons of a miner in Dinnington, Ponteland, close to Newcastle; in contrast to his siblings, he was a eager reader, and supposed to be a journalist. He left faculty at 15, discovered shorthand within the hope of a job on a Newcastle newspaper, failed, and left for London, the place he then did his nationwide service within the Conflict Workplace.
He confirmed the previous sketches to pals, who secured him a casual apprenticeship with the style designer Herbert Sidon. Sidon’s Sloane Avenue salon was identified for debutante ballgowns and stage outfits. Bates discovered from Sidon that garments for theatrical or movie leads want a single, simply grasped, idea that’s greatest expressed as a silhouette.
After minor adventures elsewhere within the rag commerce, Bates was funded by traders who had given up on Sidon ever supplying boutique merchandise; his label Jean Varon had a tough begin, supplying wholesale clothes to the division retailer Fenwick, earlier than the upmarket vogue chain Wallis commissioned an entire assortment. Bates’s ever-shortening, easy, certainly child-like, tubular clothes had been endorsed by the style editor Marit Allen, first at Queen journal after which in her Younger Concept part of Vogue: they had been so far as potential from the boned-bodice cocktail frocks of the current previous.
Bates didn’t just like the restrictions of movie work – so many variations of the identical garment for the stunts – and after the Avengers enterprise returned to his Jean Varon costume label, with a later supplementary label for tailoring. He was profitable by way of the 60s and 70s at dramatic, single-idea outfits for particular events (marriage ceremony clothes for Cilla Black, and for Allen, white gabardine trimmed in silver vinyl) and for movie and stage performances (Dusty Springfield, Cleo Laine, Julie Christie, Elaine Stritch, Maggie Smith), plus Princess Margaret on vacation. His all-concealing, all-forgiving, ground-sweeping 70s robes may create character – whilst worn with the mistaken angle and equipment by Penelope Keith’s nouveau Margo Leadbetter within the tv comedy The Good Life.
Bates moved into couture in 1974, appreciating the liberty it gave him to work with expert crafters in positive supplies, however the enterprise went bankrupt within the early 80s. His final enterprise, the Designer Membership, was for big sizes, earlier than he retired in 1990 to Llansaint, Carmarthenshire, to color, sometimes making a costume for a favoured shopper. The Museum of Costume (now the Vogue Museum) in Tub held a retrospective of his work in 2006.
He’s survived by his accomplice, John Siggins.