Customers of Clifton Hill will remember that it often took weeks if not months to establish a mutual appreciation with Gillian for that 'objet d'desire', and you knew that moment had arrived when she directed you- shelf by shelf or rail by rail- left a bit, nearly there, down one... and behold! Once you had proved your tenacity, it was like a bed of oysters had opened up before you, and no matter if you were local or from far over seas, your next visit would be rewarded.
When I met Gillian, I was working part time and looking for something that would support my more creative pursuits of making Origami jewellery and accessories http://jenfolds.co.uk . A friend of mine, Phoebe, told me about a lady looking for help in her vintage costume shop which, it turned out, I had taken some of my Mother's clothes to the previous summer. I spent many Saturdays with Gill over the next couple of years, arranging and rotating stock, unpacking entire drawers to hear stories about the contents, airing blankets and reams of fabric and measuring up curtain material- and of course looking for that allusive dress up item for the weekends party or latest creation. In 2010, when my friend Ibolya Feher was also helping out in the shop (by this point Gillian was only opening on Saturdays) we decided it would be great idea to make a facebook page or blog of the amazing things we kept coming across, but firstly to document the shop at that moment- and as Ibolya is a brilliant photographer http://ibifeher.blogspot.com/ - that was her task. You can see some of the lovely picture on the facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/cliftonhillcostumeandtextiles
By winter 10/11, Gillian's health had worsened and though we were still opening at the weekends, she was not coming to the shop (it gets very, very cold in there!), so I would take up various boxes that I had been sorting and she would tell me about them then direct me to some other nook in the shop or basement for the next installment.. That winter was rather informative! In March I went travelling for a couple of months, and a few weeks before I was due to return we received the sad news that Gillian had passed away.
To have been asked how we could continue Gillian's legacy- her passion- was the start of a snowball of ideas and excitement for myself and the many people I have met during the cleaning/ sorting out at the shop, and for those who I have contacted as previous customers and now talented designers.
By late summer I was able to get into the shop to start investigating the condition of the stock and the basement walls. First to tackle the worst of the moth eaten fabrics- rescuing what portions I could as samples of the print or for quilting etc. The stock fills 6 rooms over 2 floors and every time you clear a rail, a brimming suitcase or wall of packed shelving reveals itself- and I have learnt not to take things at first appearances- what may look to be an ominous mouldy and damp trunk may actually be full of easily cleaned war time safari shorts, early machine-knit gloves, and some fine lingerie! Box after box of dusty shoes- home to spiders and moths have been taken home and hoovered and polished and stuffed with paper for a bit of reshaping. In September I convinced a small army of friends to assist me over a week of holiday I had taken from work- they kindly took it turns to spend a few hours to arrange hangers, sticky roller (my new best friend) and brush down a basement full of dresses and coats in preparation for a trip to the newly acquired chest freezer.
Currently, I am between the shop, a 200sqft storage unit and the dining room in my house (to the joy of my flat mates) and completely in awe Gillian's collection.. not to mention the amount of rails and drawers still to organise.
Some of my favourite collections so far that I will post about soon;
Domestic wear; two boxes of 1950's aprons and housecoats; two sacks assorted styles of Edwardian and Victorian service maids and ladies maids aprons.
Nightwear & Dressing Gowns; Large box of 1960's babydoll nighties and similar probably 1970's, full cotton nightdresses, quilted bed jackets, silk and cotton kimonos, mens lightweight dressing gowns, smoking jackets...
Lingerie; suspender belts, mid century tights and stockings, Victorian split bloomers, knickers.
Dressing Up; an unbelievable array of items covering every decade of the last century that was available to hire.