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Michelle Jones

PhD Work

Less Than Art Greater Than Trade: English Couture and the Establishment of London as a Fashion Centre in the 1930s and 1940s

My study examines the creation and professionalisation of a recognisable English couture industry in the mid-twentieth century and in particular the role designer collaboration played within this process. The focal point is the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers, a design group established as a wartime measure in order to preserve and protect a number of London’s made-to-measure dress houses and to promote the creative aspirations of the wider British fashion industry. The focus on this specific design group and collaborative practice, rather than the individual couturiers, offers an exceptional case study of designers working in association and the impact this can have on design practice.

A number of central themes emerge that focus on the networks and mediated representations that supported this field of design. In dealing with these themes this study recognises that the Incorporated Society’s formation and operation did not occur in a vacuum but within a specific industrial, political, economic and social infrastructure. It therefore explores the formal and informal networks and narratives that were used to sustain its specific form of luxury fashion production throughout a particularly turbulent period.

Today London is acknowledged, alongside Paris, New York and Milan, as one of the world’s major fashion cities and this thesis offers a better understanding of the role couturier-collaboration played in the early development of this recognition.  Through the analysis of an extensive range of previously unconsidered primary material it questions whether and how, through the process of collaboration, the London couturiers established unprecedented and much needed cohesion for British design talent and the exact nature of their role within the construction and understanding of London as an internationally recognised fashion centre.

The period under consideration allows not only an exploration of the creation of a London couture industry but also the cultural politics of design practice throughout a difficult period of economic depression, war and post-war reconstruction. In so doing, it explores the wider significance of the Incorporated Society’s elite made-to-measure dressmakers both for and beyond the discipline of Design History.

Supervisor: Dr Victoria Kelley


  • PhD


    School of Humanities


    History of Design, 2007–2015

  • I am a design historian whose main area of study is the fashion industry. I am a Senior Lecturer in Contextual Studies for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. My current research focuses on the authentication mechanism within the fashion industry, particularly in the interwar period. 
  • Degrees

  • MA Design History, Royal College of Art/ Victoria and Albert Museum, 1999 (Recipient of Oliver Ford Scholarship) BA (Hons.) Theatre Design, Trent University, Nottingham, 1991.
  • Experience

  • External Examiner for BA Theory modules, Northbrook College, Sussex, 2012 – 2017.; Associate Lecturer, BA Fashion Communication, Fashion Design, Textile Design and Jewellery Design, and MA Fashion Communication: Fashion Critical Studies Pathway, University of the Arts: Central Saint Martins, 2014 – Present.); Associate Lecturer, BA Fashion Design, Cambridge College of Visual and Performing Arts, 2013 – Present.; Theory Coordinator and Senior Lecturer, University for the Creative Arts, Rochester, 2003 – 2013. ; Costume Design Pathway Leader, BA Theatre Design, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham 2001 - 2002; Theatre Crafts Lecturer & Practitioner, Banff Centre for the Arts, Canada, Summer Session, 1997/1998/2000.; Assistant Head of Textile Department, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and Head of Textile Production for Birmingham Royal Ballet, 1992-1997.; Head of Theatre Textiles Department, Glyndbourne Opera House, Lewes, Summer Season 2002 & 2003.
  • Conferences

  • ‘A Question of Taste & Fashion Fantasy: the mediation of the London couture industry in the immediate post-war period’, Textual Fashion Conference, Brighton University, 8-10 July 2015.; ‘The Most Charming Attempt to Ally Art and Industry’ - The Fashion Group of Great Britain: Collaboration, Design Synchronisation and the Control of the Fashion Market (1935 – 1940)’ Paper pending delivery at Disseminating Dress: Britain and the Fashion Wo; ‘Brisk Action on the Mayfair Front: The maintenance of a London Couture Industry during World War II’, Conference Paper delivered at the Design History Society Annual Conference, (Design for War and Peace) University of Oxford, Oxford, September 2014.; ‘The London Couture Industry’ Conference Paper delivered at the Fashion and Textile Museum, Hartnell and Amies: Couturier’s by Royal Appointment Symposium, February 2013. ; ‘The Evolution of London as a Fashion Centre: the early career of Victor Stiebel’ conference paper presented at the Business History Conference (Fashions: Business Practices in Historical Perspective) Bocconi University, Milan, Italy, June 2009.; ‘The Importance of the Student Placement in Higher Education’ paper delivered at the Creative Way Annual Conference, ‘Creative Connections: Linking Education to the Creative Economy, Laban Centre, London, July 2008.; ‘The Performance of Commerce and Culture: British Fashion Promotion and the Royal Ballet Tours’, The Body: Connections with Fashion, RMIT University Press, Australia, 2009. Paper was submitted and presented at the International Federation of Fashion and ; ‘Britain’s Post-War Transatlantic Fashion Promotion’ paper presented at the Centre for the History of Retailing & Distribution (CHORD) and Association of Business Historians conference (Business Links: Trade, Distribution & Networks), University of Wolver; Symposium Organiser, On/Off Symposium - ‘London as a Fashion Capital – Anachronism or Reality’, Royal Academy of Arts, London, Sept 2005
  • Publications

  • ‘Design in the Monochrome Box: Television and the Modern Style’, in Christopher Frayling (Ed.) The Design and Manufacture of Popular Entertainment, Manchester University Press, 2009.; Book Review: ‘Reading Between Design’ P.D. Britton and S.J. Barker, 2003. Journal of Design History, Oxford University Press, February 2004; ‘Design and the Domestic Persuader: Television and the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Promotion of Post-War “Good Design’, Journal of Design History, Oxford University Press, December, 2003