Words by Melanie Calland

Well, we are bang in the middle of the summer vintage festival season, and as I’ve been to a few in the past, I discovered how much it can absolutely tank down in the UK at this time of the year. Being stuck outdoors with no protection from the elements is no fun, so I decided this was the year to get myself sorted! I actually once spent an August Bank Holiday Monday in jeans and a coat I’d used as a pillow (yes I forgot to pack it!) for three nights! As I didn’t want to ruin original vintage outfits in the horizontal rain…Of course, there was still vintage shopping to do and bands to watch! So protection is a must!

As a fashion student way back when, I designed some PVC raincoats that would go over summer dresses to keep them dry but still look summery and colourful; I even had the idea to put crinoline boning around the hem, making them a dome shape. I had never got around to actually constructing any, but they were always in the back of my mind. How lovely it was then, when I stumbled upon this amazing coat by Elements Rainwear.

It seems hard to believe that Fashion Rainwear’s heritage started in the industrial heartlands of Manchester back in the 1950s. PVC was a new and innovative material, which being waterproof, was ideal for raincoats. A small Jewish company called Marks Bros Ardwick started producing welded PVC raincoats and in its heyday, they were producing 5,000 raincoats a month for the likes of Marks and Spencer and Woolworth’s. Ever since, PVC raincoats have gone in and out of favour with the general public, depending on the fashion of the day.

As with all clothing, including rainwear, manufacturing slowly migrated to the Far East and Marks Bros slowly wound down – leaving just three workers in the factory in the late 1980s. Gary Lowther, the owner of Fashion Rainwear could see potential for all of the old machinery and bought all of the assets of the company back in 2001. All of the machinery was transported down to Towcester, Northamptonshire and over the next 14 years, more machinery has been added and new employees taught how to operate them.

Now if there’s someone out there who adores vintage and good repro, it’s me! Right up my street, and perfect for festivals!

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) was invented by a German chemist (Eugen Baumann) in 1872. It was eventually patented in 1913, when another German, Friedrich Klatte, invented a new method of the polymerization of vinyl chloride using sunlight.

By the end of the 1920s, plasticized polyvinyl chloride had been created by Waldo Semon , and it was used for shoe heels and golf balls. Soon it became popular for rain wear. In fact, in the 1937 Sears and Roebuck catalogue, you could get PVC raincoats for the whole family! Some printed with designs, some clear, and some semi clear with tints of colour. Other items such as “visi-brellas” (clear PVC umbrellas) were also marketed.

We visited the grounds of Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, Teesdale, Co. Durham to try out my new coat. This purpose built museum and art gallery houses the collections of John Bowes and his French wife, Josephine Chevalier. It was a collaboration of French architect Jules Pellechet and John Edward Watson of Newcastle. This beautiful building was done in the style of a French Chateau, costing a reputable £100,000 at the time (1869). Sadly Josephine and John died before it opened in 1892. It is home to over 800 of their priceless paintings (Josephine also was a painter) ceramics, furniture and costume. It is also home to works by such famous artists as Goya, Toulouse Latrec, Turner,Raphael and William Morris to name but a few. At the time it was built, some people thought it too extravagant for the town, but it’s become a treasure over the years that locals are proud of. It’s just celebrated its 125th anniversary and along with its massive collection of art and ceramics, it is also a showpiece for exhibitions, such as the Yves Saint-Laurent “Fashion is eternal” exhibition and a fabulous shoe exhibition “Pleasure and Pain.” What’s more, the famous 18th Century automaton ‘The Silver Swan’ can be seen at 2pm each day.

My poodles already had these funky dotty rain coats from Hyperdrug also in Teesdale Co. Durham, so I decided to co-ordinate with them! I’m wearing this amazing poodle print dress, which looks abstract at a glance but features large stylish poodles; It’s original fabric from the 50s and I managed to get a dress out of the remnant I had! There wasn’t much, so I opted for a cap sleeve dress with mandarin collar and keyhole neckline, bound with plain red piping. They’re teamed with a dotty umbrella/parasol, which came from some kind of discount store, original red gloves and bracelet, and smashing red shoes from Rocket Originals.

For more photos and musings catch up with us at retropoodles.wordpress.com

Lisa Harrison
Written by Lisa Harrison
Lisa is the Deputy Editor of Vintage Life Magazine and Publisher at Dragoon Publishing. She is avid bookworm, collector of vintage homeware, loves travel, lazy weekends away and eats way too much cake!