Swinging Stockport; The launch of a new exhibition about the career of Mary Quant at the Victoria and Albert Museum has sparked fond memories for retired marketing man Norman Satinoff. Here, Norman, from Cheadle, tells the Manchester Evening News about his experience of working alongside the fashion legend - and the crucial role a Stockport business played in propelling one of her most iconic designs to success.
ARY Quant's iconic and instantly recognisable designs defined the 'Swinging' Sixties.
More than 50 years since the legendary designer turned the fashion industry on its head, her enduring legacy means that any woman with a mini skirt, skinny rib top or Peter Pan collared dress in her wardrobe today has Quant to thank.
And while the fashion icon is synonymous with London, and particularly her Kings Road boutique, Greater Manchester played a less widely known - but very significant - part in the success of one of her most iconic designs.
When Quant launched her first ever range of PVC raincoats in 1963, they were an enormous hit with fashion buyers and even earned the designer her first magazine cover for British Vogue.
But a production difficulty with sealing PVC seams led to a delay in launching the product onto the high street. That was until Quant joined forces with Stockport-based Alligator Rainwear, signing a licencing deal that would change everything.
The firm devised a way to work with the material, allowing them to be produced in large numbers.
It led to an explosion in popularity for the striking waterproofs, which came in a range of styles and vivid colours and were priced at PS10 each.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, the long established brand was one of the leading companies in the country for rainwear.
Anyone travelling into Stockport at the time would have been able to see the huge 'Alligator' signage at the top of the Richard Street headquarters for miles around.
The firm already had experience of collaborating with well known designers, including Pierre Balmain and Pierre Cardin, when the opportunity arose to work with Mary Quant.
Working in marketing, advertising and sales for the company, Norman Satinoff had a front row seat for the exciting venture, even travelling to New York with Quant and her team to sell her designs to the US market.
"Manchester was the centre of the rainwear industry in those days," says Norman, now 76 and living in Cheadle.
"At the time, Alligator had a mill in Ancoats and one in Stockport. The main manufacturing and head office was based in Stockport.
"It was one of the foremost fashion companies at the time, the top end of the fashion industry.
"There were three ranges a year and you had to work a long time ahead.
"It was a competitive industry, so to compete, one of the things they did, in addition to the home grown designers who were based in Stockport, they used Pierre Balmain and Pierre Cardin.
"Men were the main designers, but things changed when Mary Quant came on the scene and in her own innovative way, shook the whole fashion industry. She started setting trends.
"It was decided it would make sense to form a link with her.
"I think Alligator wanted to be ahead of fashion, because fashion changed so rapidly.
"She was the 'in' designer - she was the Beatles of fashion at the time.
"Because she was so pioneering, she came out with a fabric but we'd never used PVC. It was quite a challenge to us and we had to get our machines geared up for that."
The new collaboration required the firm to reach a new audience of fashion-conscious young women, and led to a different approach in its advertising.
"When it came to Mary Quant for Alligator, we did something quite different for fashion advertising," adds Norman.
"We advertised nationally, but it was decided to do something quite unusual, to advertise fashion rain wear in the London Underground, along the escalators and on the boardings behind the tracks.
"Our advertising agency was always based in London and they pushed the idea, because London attracted so many people from abroad, they thought it was a good idea to promote it in London.
"So for a while, instead of going in all the national magazines, we went down the tube.
"(Quant) was the Swinging Sixties, it worked very well there."
At the height of the collaboration, Norman was invited to join Mary and her team in New York to help promote her garments to American buyers.
"Mary Quant had already made a name for herself in America, she and her husband had been here, she also catered for the masses with a new label called Ginger Group, which was more mass produced - more economically produced," added Norman.
"She was going with her entourage to New York on a selling expedition. She requested someone from Alligator to come along to show them the collection and I was designated to go along with Mary Quant.
"I was quite young at the time so it was an exciting adventure.
"I met Mary Quant and we flew to New York with her team. She always stayed, and showed to buyers, at the Algonquin Hotel, a 1930s Noel Coward type hotel, that is still going strong today.
"She was able to get buyers from all over the States, from Macy's, Bloomingdales, Bergdorf Goodman, J.C. Penney, a host of major stores would send their buyers.
"She was literally the talk of the town."
Norman says that despite Mary's growing status as a fashion heavyweight, she was incredibly modest about her success.
"In the 1960s, London was the fashion capital of the world, with all these people and Mary Quant was part of that scene, so there was a certain celebrity status to her," he says. "She was charming, very down to earth, very modest, not at all assuming, very easy to get on with.
"When we arrived and got off the plane there were cameras everywhere, it was a pop star reception.
"All the top buyers from across the States would come because it was the only chance to see the whole collection under one roof.
"She did not act like the big star, even though she had celebrity status, she had Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy modelling for her and she was a major name in trendy fashion."
Despite being accustomed to travelling around the world and meeting countless buyers from the fashion industry, Norman still found the American buyers to be a tough sell.
"The buyers would come to this suite in the Algonquin. The dress manufactures would be in one section, there would be some on the cosmetics side and buyers would come in and we'd show them the ranges.
"The buyers were quite tough. Maybe because we had familiarity with the British brands, they knew us and we had a good rapport, but we were meeting these American buyers for the first time and they were tough cookies, very demanding.
"But maybe because it was very different to what they had seen before, it seemed to break the barrier.
"It was a great learning curve, it was exciting times."
The brand enjoyed a successful partnership with Quant for years before amicably parting ways as fashions moved on.
By the late 1970s, Alligator closed down after more than two decades in Stockport. The site, near Portwood roundabout, was eventually redeveloped into a Tesco supermarket.
Norman added: "It naturally drifted away after reaching a certain peak, either (Quant) moved on or we did and fashions and tastes changed and we drifted apart, but it was a very happy marriage at the time."
The Mary Quant exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and (inset left) Mary Quant and Norman Satinoff. Below is a magazine ad for Alligator raincoats
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|Publication:||Manchester Evening News (Manchester, United Kingdom)|
|Date:||May 26, 2019|
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