Before I read House of Lachasse I only knew of Lachasse in passing, as an old English couture house that once had such fashion luminaries as Hardy Amies and Digby Morton as designers. Being something of a fan of vintage fashion, I was intrigued to learn more. However, I soon found out the subtitle 'The story of a very English gentleman' is more illustrative of the contents of the book than the main title. Those who want a comprehensive history of Lachasse or a glossy coffee table tome may be disappointed as it's essentially the memoirs of Peter Lewis-Crown, a man who started at the couture house as an apprentice in 1948 before going on to become director and later the sole owner of the company up until its closure in 2007.
Disappointingly, there's only a small discussion of the foundation of the house in the 1920s and even Amies and Morton are briefly skimmed over (you can see some of their clothes for Lachasse from the 40s and 50s here). The focus isn't really on Lachasse at all until Lewis-Crown arrives there in chapter five. By this time we've learnt all about his childhood in Hunstanton and less than remarkable art school years.
Fascinating episodes and people are mentioned over the course of the book though, frustratingly, he never seems to focus on what you want him to. For example, he mentions how he lectured amazing talents such as Bill Gibb and John Galliano at Central Saint Martins but his summation of this period is only a disappointing (but typical): 'I always found, however, it was the students who always dressed neatly and with the utmost care who I later read about in the fashion columns of the glossy magazines'.
Where Lewis-Crown is best is focusing on the inner mechanisms of a post-war couture house and especially the role of mannequins, as models were then called. Here he does manages to give a genuine insight into a glamorous and now lost world. However, for any in-depth discussions on those subjects, I'd recommend you get a copy of The Golden Age of Couture instead.
Over the course of the book I began feel like I was at a dinner party, sat next to someone like Bridget Jones' mum's boyfriend Julian: initially quite diverting, terribly proper and smartly dressed but overly fussy and prone to reels of unimpressive and outdated name dropping. Betty Boothroyd was one of the few of the hundreds of names mentioned that I actually recognised and, if she is your star celebrity client, you clearly need to think again.
There are quite a few typos in the book too, my favourite being the misspelling Def Leppard as Def Leopard (he bumped into someone from the band at a party). It sums up quite nicely the memories of a man who simply doesn't engage with popular culture. The final chapter on 'The Future of Fashion' despairs of a society which might prefer to don casual clothes and to stay in and watch the telly, rather than frequenting Society parties. Goodness knows what he'd think of the Sluts. Regretfully, this Slut didn't think too much of his book either.
Think I've judged an old man too unfairly? You can get the book for £9.74 on Amazon and judge for yourself.