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Victor Stiebel PDF Print E-mail

Victor Frank Stiebel (1907- 1976)

was a South African-born British couturier.

Born in Durban he arrived in Britain in 1924 to study architecture at Jesus College, Cambridge.  Having designed for theatre wardrobe at university, he worked as a dress designer for the House of Reville for three years beginning in 1929 until he opened his own fashion house in Brunton Street in 1932. Terry Reville was a court designer and his fashion house was one of the foremost in London before the First World War. Here Stiebel learned the art of fashion design, this being the method by which the trade was learned prior to fashion design courses being established at the art schools.  He enlisted for the Second World War in 1940, closing his house, but he was allowed to continue designing while involved with the services, his designs being manufactured as part of the war effort using the government stock fabrics which were all that was available at the time. Called "Utility Fashion", each designer produced a coat, dress, suit and shirt or blouse.  He returned to designing in 1946, working for Jacqmar, and becoming Chairman of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Dersigners. He reopened his own house in 1958, having great initial success, but being forced to close after only 5 years in 1963 on health grounds, having become confined to a wheel chair as a result of multiple sclerosis.  Hardy Amies was kind enough to take all 120 of Stiebel's employees.

Stiebel was commissioned to design new uniforms for the WRENS (1951) and the WRAF (1954) whilst also creating the going-away outfit for Princess Margeret on her marriage to Lord Snowdon in 1960. He was for many years the companion of composer Richard Addinsell

In 1968, Stiebel published an account of his youth in South Africa but it did not include his career in fashion. Instead, he writes about his experiences as a child described as 'artistic' by his mother, something that was not appreciated by the rest of his family. He was regarded as odd for preferring the dramatic society to playing rugby at school. He describes the landscape, the flowers and the sea but is not oblivious to the realities of life in a racially divided land.

 

Extract from South African Childhood:

The impressions of that first afternoon are still clear in my memory.  The bays, the rocks and the beaches that over many years were to become familiar seemed that afternoon alien and a little frightening.  We knew nothing then of the pools and the caves, of the shells and the seaweed and the fish, of the rich submarine life that surrounded us.  We still had to discover for ourselves the little bays that were pleasant to swim in, the stretches of coast where the backwash tugged less dangerously and where no rocks lurked unseen, and the most suitable positions from which to fish.

We tumbled happily down a knotty path which, when it reached sea level, suddenly straightened and cut its way sharply through a belt of bush solid with undergrowth and creepers.  We found ourselves in a stifling tunnel glowing with a thousand dark greens, but the white sand under our bare feet was cool.  Ahead of us, in a pin-spot of light ever growing larger, we could see the sea, at ground level, a more distracted animal than the supine monster we had gazed at from the lawn of the bungalow.  The exit from the tunnel was dramatic: white light suddenly stuck at unsuspecting eyes, and we were in a world of violent movement, of noise, of sea scents and colours.  The air, an extension of the sea spray, glittered in a spume of diamonds above the turquoise, the emerald and the aquamarine.  My father wore white shorts belted with a thong of yellow Indian leather from which hung a rockbait knife, a white shirt and white sandshoes without laces (we used sandshoes more as slip-on slippers than as shoes).  Rough coloured towels were slung across his shoulders.  I remember, too, the ridiculous linen hat which even he was unable to wear with style.  Noelle and I carried bait tins, bait knives and bathing-dresses.

After a pause, we accustomed ourselves to this strange new world, we crossed a stretch of white beach and climbed on to a spur of emerald rock that jutted a hundred yards into the sea.  Tentatively we stumbled across the slime.  Our father had work for us and we were not allowed to linger.  The following day he would want to fish and for fishing he would need bait, the bait he preferred to all other was rockbait.  Rockbait lived in the rocks and how difficult was it to find! The single indication of the prize was a thin spray of water.  Occasionally, as we walked across the rocks, we trod near a concealed bait shell and a jet of water streamed into the air.  Otherwise we had to watch for the spoutings or trample backwards and forwards across likely areas.  Having found a spray point we cut deep down with a roackbait knife into the seaweed and under the rock.  With probing and prising we eventually found the bait lying in its shell case, a disgusting apricot-coloured lump of sea flesh.  It was horrible sutff and I still have a feeling of revulsion when I remember its putrid smell and obscene intestinal appearance.

For half an hour we children hacked away with little success.  My father, more skillful and certainly more interested, worked methodically round a distant rock.  When he was out of sight, we knew that it was safe for us to stop work and to consider instrad the pools, large and small, each one littered with treasures.  When my father returned with his loot we were allowed to bathe.  That first afternoon bathe, a prelude to endless days spent in and out of the sea, had a particular quality of fear combined with exhilaration.

Except from my mother, who did not care for the sea, we Stiebels were good swimmers.  If my father’s method of teaching us was, as my mother insisted, brutal, it was nevertheless simple and successful.  As soon as he thought we were old enough, and strong enough, we were taken down to the Durban municipal baths and thrown into the deep end.  I remember the frightening shock of that first plunge into deep cold water, but equally I remember a sense of achievement as I struggled to the pool’s edge.

 

Bibliography:

1968.  South African Childhood.  Harper Collins Distribution Services

 

 

 

 

 
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