The House Of Mirelle project started in November 2014 after a conversation with the Assistant Curator of Hull Museums.
I contacted her to explore information about a fashion label I was researching, listed on the Museums website. The label was Elka Couture and the listing on the Museums website suggested that the label was part of a fashion house called ‘The House Of Mirelle.’
You can see the Elka Couture maxi dress in a photo on this blog post.
As we talked, my curiosity was piqued about The House Of Mirelle. It must be a significant part of British fashion history, I thought, as Elka Couture is a fashion label widely collected and it was made there.
Hull had classified the dress using the language of museums: ‘costume.’
At the start of the project there were small questions to answer; what was the House Of Mirelle and what was its relationship to Elka Couture, for instance.
There were larger ones too. What part did it have to play in the history of Hull and the overall history and story of what’s termed vintage fashion?
Many months on from that initial conversation and the House Of Mirelle project has an exciting, fascinating life of its own.
It has expanded and grown from a story about a fashion label and it is still developing and growing.
The House Of Mirelle was a part of the City of Hull throughout some of its formative years.
It witnessed the changes to the City, fashion and fashion retail and the culture that surrounds it and for that reason, it tells the story that reflects and touches many people’s lives.
As each person shares their stories, doors open on new discoveries and elements of Hull’s history that are wider than the fashion house itself.
People describe a town when shopping was a pleasure, they share memories of what it was like when their mothers, aunts and friends worked in the highly skilled dressmaking industry also.
Women have spoken about their wardrobes that still contain items designed and made at The House Of Mirelle and the outfits come from all around the globe – as far as Perth, Australia.
One dress reached there by means of a Ten Pound Pom ticket bought in the emigration from Hull in the 1950s.
Inextricably involved with the House Of Mirelle is the woman who owned it – Mira Johnson. She was a well known actress-entertainer who married a dashing, good looking soldier and established a high end couture house ‘for business ladies’ in the centre of Hull.
The timing couldn’t have been more pronounced – it was established in the last months of wealth, optimism and peace before the outbreak of World War 2. It survived throughout, well into the 1960s and 70s before it was closed permanently.
Those years saw some of the most radical changes to women’s lives and the fashions that went alongside them.
Nowadays, although women may have clothes crafted by private dressmakers or perhaps have their wedding dresses made for them, it is no longer routine to buy an entire wardrobe designed by top end designers and handled by skilled dressmakers from stores like Mirelle’s.
“Couture” and “high end” in the modern world, describes what the House Of Mirelle sold and is far out of the reach of the pocket of most woman.
By the 60s and 70s, most clothes were bought from large chains, off the peg and mass produced. This was entirely different from the skills used to make up and alter clothing at the House Of Mirelle.
With it came the decline of sewing skills in the female population and by the end of the 1970s it was no longer taught as part of the curriculum in schools.
During those years Hull itself underwent enormous change. The City centre, bombed during WW2, was rebuilt in the 50s, 60s and 70s using the Abercrombie plan. Since then the fishing industry and the dockside bringing so much trade to and from the area has all but been dismantled.
In 2017 the heart of the City has restarted. What it was in the golden age is very different to what it is now. Many people comment that they can’t believe that a high-end couture house once existed in Hull, but it did.
It existed alongside a lot of other craft, dressmaking and tailoring shops, as well as entertainment and businesses that made Hull a cultural heartland, long before it gained the status of UK City Of Culture.
The small questions I had at the start of the project have now been answered: Elka Couture was sold at the House Of Mirelle, but not made there.
The bigger questions are still being asked and answered. What started as an idea for an article about Elka Couture and The House Of Mirelle has developed into a book.
The book tells stories that give life and colour to a time in Hull when a couture fashion house existed in the City.
My research is being carried out consulting with Hull Museums at key points and alongside the people of Hull who are sharing their memories, ideas, thoughts and histories to tell the story and make it come alive.
If you’d like to know more or contribute your memories to the House Of Mirelle project, contact me below or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org: