One of the lesser-known designers of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries was John Redfern (1820 – 1895). Not a lot of information is out there but here’s what I managed to find out. Redfern was originally trained as a tailor and in 1850 opened a draper’s establishment in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. In 1871, he expanded his business to sell silk and mourning garments. Later, Redfern expanded in offering yachting outfits and other clothing for women, capitalizing on the Isle of Wight being a center for yachting activity. Redfern is credited for being one of the first designers to make tailored clothing respectable for women.
In contrast to Worth who insisted on having his clients travel to him, Redfern established a number of locations close to his wealthy clientele. With the aid of his son Ernest Redfern and an employee Charles Poynter (who later added the surname Redfern to his name), Redfern opened tailoring houses in London and Paris in 1881, followed by two shops in New York in 1884-85, one for tailoring, the other for furs. By 1882 Redfern was successful in becoming Tailors by Appointment for the Princess of Wales and by 1885 had become Tailors by Appointment for Queen Victoria and Queen Emma of the Netherlands, among others. The advertisements below attest to this and in others, Redfern was marketing his firm as being a “Ladies Tailor”.
Redfern’s forte was tailored garments as can be seen from the September 17, 1887 issue of Harper’s Bazar:
The three figures in the middle are dressed in the tailored suit style for women that often involved waistcoats, faux and functioning. Redfern helped to popularize this look along with the later “tailormade” style that was to develop in the 1890s. of which the following is just one example:
The theme of the tailored women’s suit is taken further with this ensemble that Redfern made circa 1887 – 1889. It features two different bodices and an additional front skirt panel. The heavy use of looping braid and buttons takes on a military look, making for a structured look.
And now for the second style. The above bodice could be replaced with a similar one trimmed in a long row of buttons running along each side of the opening. Inset is a one large row of looped braid running down the front.
The second look is interesting in that the bodice has a tail attached to it that spread out to cover the skirt as can be seen below:
The above ensemble is a good example of the tailormade look that was beginning to take hold in the late 1880s. One can see that the bustle is fairly minimal and it’s likely that there was only a bustle pad used underneath.
In the next installment, we will look at a few more examples of Redfern’s work during the late 19th Century. It is interesting that as the 1890s progressed, Redfern would begin to diversify more, creating softer designs that got away from his signature “tailormade” style.
To Be Continued….