Digby Morton - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia



Irish designer

Born: Digby (Henry) Morton in Dublin, 27 November 1906. Education: Studied architecture at the Metropolitan School of Art and Architecture, Dublin, 1923; London Polytechnic. Family: Married Phyllis May Painting, 1936. Career: Worked as sketch artist, Jay's fashion store, Oxford Street, London, 1928; founded tailoring firm of Lachasse in Farm St, Mayfair, London, 1928; own house established, 1934, closed, 1957; founded Reldan-Digby Morton, 1958; founding member of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers, 1942; designer of Utility clothing for British government, 1942; film costume designer in Hollywood during World War II; established Digby Morton (Exports) Ltd. for marketing British womenswear to the U.S., 1947; Digby Morton for Jacqmar collection, 1950; designer, and vice president, 1955-58, Hathaway Shirt Company, New York; designer/director, Reldan-Digby Morton, 1958-73; designed Women's Voluntary Services uniform, 1939. Awards: Aberfoyle International Fashion award, New York, 1956. Died: 1983, in London.

Publications

On MORTON:

Books

Amies, Hardy, Just So Far, London, 1954.

Carter, Ernestine, Tongue in Chic, London, 1974.

Lambert, Eleanor, World of Fashion: People, Places, Resources, New York & London, 1976.

Ginsburg, Madeleine, and Prudence Glynn, In Fashion, London, 1977.

Amies, Hardy, Still Here, London, 1984.

Mulvagh, Jane, Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion, London, 1988.

***

The fashion for sportswear during the 1920s was the ideal environment for Digby Morton to establish the London house of Lachasse, which specialized in the tailored sporting suit for women. Morton was brought in as chief sportswear designer of a dress establishment owned by businessman Fred Singleton. Morton later claimed his decision to call the new house Lachasse was because at that time British women would not consider anything but French labels in their wardrobes.

Morton transformed the classic tweed suit into a fashionable garment through the carefully planned placing of seams that gave a more decorative line to the native Irish tweeds he used. Sir Hardy Amies acknowledges that Morton's intricate cutting technique and designs made the ordinary country tweed suit into a fashionable garment, worn confidently in town as well as the country. Morton's first collection, in 1929, featured Ardara tweeds, large herringbone wools, and diagonal stripes and checks in the then-unusual color combinations such as pale lime green and duck egg blue with dark brown. Morton used French printed silks by Rodier for blouses and linings which were clean cut and spare for detail, and far removed from what he called "postmistress blouses."

Morton's belief that British women could not successfully wear conspicuous clothes was evident in designs where he endeavored to "translate the trends of feminine fashion into the masculine medium of tailoring." His theory was that it was more difficult to eliminate details than to decorate garments, which resulted in simple lines that relied for effect upon his use of fabrics. Morton's preference for uncluttered designs was also reflected in his dislike of designing eveningwear, which he referred to as debutante clothes. When he began to introduce eveningwear into his collections in the late 1940s his designs were based on the tailored evening dress.

After five years at Lachasse, Morton established his own couture house in 1934. In 1939 he was invited to design the Women's Voluntary Service uniform and during World War II was an active member of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers, established in 1942 to promote exports of British fashion. Morton also designed a collection of garments for the British government's Utility clothing scheme (no-trim standards for wartime clothing and household goods), which went into production anonymously in 1942.

Morton became more closely involved in the field of ready-to-wear clothing in the postwar period and enjoyed particular success in the American market during the 1950s. In 1953 he was asked to design the Lady Hathaway shirt collection for the Hathaway company—a manufacturer of top quality men's shirts. By copying the cut of men's shirts, with slight adjustments for the female form, Morton created the collection in brilliant colors and patterns with contrasting bowties. The success of this venture earned him the title of Daring Digby by Time magazine. This may have prompted Morton to close his couture house in 1957 and enter the field of ready-to-wear on a full-time basis. Morton always acknowledged he felt constrained by couture, and his real design career began when he started designing clothes for the average woman.

In 1958 Morton formed the company Reldan-Digby Morton with Nadler, a large fashion producer owned by Cyril Kern. Morton's ready-to-wear designs for Reldan-Digby Morton introduced ready-made garments with a couture image to the British public. The collection of separates was renamed Togethers and produced at the company's High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire factory. They were also successful in America where some of the more adventurous designs such as bright yellow-and-black striped suits and jet black beach coats appealed to a particular market.

In 1963 Morton began designing menswear, an area that had always appealed to him—he had personally adopted the neo-Edwardian style so fashionable for men in the 1950s. Morton designed his first menswear collection in Trevira cloth for the Cologne Fair, one of the most widely publicized garments of which was the Mesh-Over-Flesh Vestshirt which featured string vest fabric with formal shirting. Other designs played on the traditional image of the male suit, with unusual features such as curved side slits on formal trousers.

Primarily a designer of tailored clothes, Digby Morton was recognized for his use of traditional fabrics in unusual color combinations. His couture designs for women reflected his belief that the British couture customer required unobtrusive suits in good tweeds that were wearable rather than dramatic.

—Catherine Woram

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