Acquired from costume designer Dinah Collin
This housecoat was made by the firm Cresta Silks which was founded in 1929 by Tom Heron who had previously managed the Cornish block printed textiles company Crysède. Cresta specialised in the manufacture of women’s clothes in high quality fabrics designed by notable contemporary artists including Heron’s son Patrick who was chief designer. These were sold through a chain of elegant shops in Modernist style, the architect of which was the young Wells Coates with whom Heron had worked at Crysède (see an example on the website of the Heritage Lottery funded community archive Welwyn Garden City: https://bit.ly/2uKEXr2)
A deeply principled man, Heron’s concerns for his business went beyond the mere appearance of the clothes he was producing. In 1930 he employed Wells Coates to design a factory and company headquarters at Welwyn Garden City where he put his ideas of modern ethical trading into practice, manufacturing goods that were, he said, ‘well-designed and well-executed, and not the rubbish which modern business, without high motive or true sense of values, is ever seeking to thrust in our way’ – an ideal that went back to those of the socialist designer William Morris.
Into this enlightened and humane environment came the owner of this housecoat, Anita Zanda, and her young son Peter, who later became a theatre designer. The pair left Berlin as refugees in 1933, and amongst those who offered them a home in Welwyn Garden City was the Heron family. Tom Heron also offered Zanda employment, and she worked for Cresta for many years, managing shops in London and Brighton. Surviving photographs reproduced in Additional Images, two taken in Germany around 1920, the others later, in the 1950s, show her to be a very elegant and well dresses woman.
Like earlier tea gowns, housecoats were smarter and more fashionable than dressing gowns, the purpose of which was to cover nightwear, and could be worn around the house and for informal entertaining. Although the silk of this example does not have the imaginative visual complexity of many Crysède designs (see Related Items) it shares the flat simplified forms of the block printing process realised in non or semi naturalistic colours.
In the early 1950s Cresta was taken over when production proved uneconomic in the post war climate and Heron’s health deteriorated. Under new ownership the character of the company changed, and the printing blocks and screens and shop interiors were destroyed.