Back in February, I went over to Sutton Coldfield with Shaun Knapp and Christina Wigmore to meet Gill Evans at her home, and design studio. Gill is often referred to as ‘the Queen of the Mods’. She’s one of the original UK Mods, and a fashion designer who has always made her own clothes, and still does today.
Her creations are unique, and she’s documented all of them through a series of striking photographs (quite unusual for the period). You can see some of them here. Gill still has a large collection of her original clothes, all in mint condition, and she also collects vintage patterns and textiles and up-cycles vintage materials into her creations.
I was lucky enough to take some photos of Gill sitting on her husband Stuart Catling’s beautiful Lambretta. Stuart also makes elegant pocket squares, handkerchiefs and cravats in their studio, often using vintage fabrics.
Some of you would have listened to Gill’s fashion talk at New Walk Museum and Art Gallery on Sunday 14th April. I was fascinated to hear Gill’s life story, and see a selection of her clothes again in person.
Gill has shared her story below which was written when her first husband, Del Evans, was still alive. It gives a great feel of what it was like for them both to be top Mods in Birmingham.
As part of REVIVE Festival, Gill is giving a second talk on Mod fashion on Saturday 15th June. It’s a free event, but you’ll need to reserve your tickets. Find out more on the ReVive Festival website.
Writing this takes me back to an exciting time in my life, back to July 1960 when I had just finished three years at Moseley Art School in Birmingham. I studied Dress Design, Pattern Cutting and Dressmaking, also History of Costume as well as other Art subjects.
I didn’t want to wear what everyone else was wearing, I wanted to get my own look. I cut my hair into a bob and tinted it with Color-Glo Black Tulip, I designed and made a collection of dresses, coats and bags, mainly in black, navy and grey. I’d meet my friends from Art school at the Stage Door Coffee Bar, just off High Street in Birmingham city centre, and also The Old Stone Cross in Dale End, where Spencer Davis played and Steve Underwood sang, long before they were famous. It was here that I met my husband to be Del Evans, we were interested in the same things – music and clothes.
I early 1962 we were looking through a French magazine and there was an advert for Gitanes cigarettes the model had his hair cut in a French crop and he had a very stylish look, we really liked it and started recreating it.
Del started designing his own suits and having them made to measure at Hepworths in New Street, Birmingham. He had a navy four button, two piece with a chalk stripe and high lapel, with a double vent ticket pocket, a black and white tweed four button with flap pockets including ticket pocket and double vents, a black Irish tweed jacket with Ghillie collar and flap pockets, and another Ghillie collar suit in navy pinstripe.
We bought shirts and I removed the collars so that Del could wear stiff white collars fastened on with back and front studs. Our favourite shirts were charcoal grey or black and white gingham. Del also had a black and white gingham tab collar shirt, which he is wearing in one of our photos, with a pale grey lambswool sweater, Ghillie collar suit, topped with a black leather coat, which he designed and made himself. When wearing his suits he would always have a silk pocket handkerchief and knitted tie in navy or black. Del has always loved button down collar shirts and still wears them now.
It was fashionable at one point for Mod lads to have walking sticks, as shown in one of our photos, and when we went to the West End Ballroom in Birmingham on a Sunday night, they would dance with them.
There was a boutique in Brighton called 13 and a Half where I bought a genuine French onion sellers black and white striped top which I still have.
I designed and made many clothes for myself unusually on a Sunday morning to wear a the West End Ballroom on a Sunday night. Amongst my favourites were a navy wool skirt and jacket with scallops and a navy and cream flowered collar, a navy crepe dress with white flounces on the collar and cuffs, a black linen skirt and jacket with large flower design, a pair of French round sunglasses, a black nylon trench mac, a denim hipster skirt with belt and blue patterned top with flounced neck and cuffs. A brown leather leather jacket and skirt worn with a black polo neck jumper and black leather waistcoat with a scoop neck. There are just a few of the many clothes we had, they are shown in our photos.
Sometimes on a Saturday morning we would catch the train to London to go to John Stephens and the Mod Male. One weekend, we heard that Anello and David the theatrical shoemakers were selling cuban heel chelsea boots and we went to get a pair. When we got there, we were amazed to see a queue of Mods waiting to get into the shop to buy them. We waited in the queue for ages but the shop shut before it was our turn. When we got back to Birmingham, I got their phone number and arranged for two pairs to be sent by post. Del is wearing them in one of our photos.
The KD coffee house was a popular place to meet up, especially on a Saturday morning, before going to see the West End on a Saturday afternoon. The West End was a great place to go on a Sunday night, there was a DJ and at around nine o’clock, a group would perform. The Whiskey Ago Go and The Golden Eagle in Hill Street were really good places to go too.
We still wear Mod style regularly. Del likes to wear smart suits with button down shirts in deep colours and white gingham. I still design and make my own clothes and work as a designer dressmaker.
By Gill Taylor (now Gill Evans)