Frockery Focus on Jean Varon (John Bates)

John Bates, creator of the vintage Jean Varon label, was undoubtedly one of the most influential and iconic designers of the 60s and 70s.

Born in Northumberland in 1938, Bates secured an apprenticeship at the age of 18 with the design house Herbert Sidon in London before becoming a freelance fashion illustrator and going on, in 1959, to found Jean Varon – a name he allegedly chose because it was French and sounded more sophisticated.

Along with his contemporaries, he helped push the boundaries of 60s fashion, raising hemlines to unprecedented heights, introducing trouser suits for women and creating the mesh midriff bikini dress. He made use of futuristic shapes and fabrics, especially leather and vinyl, in his avant-garde designs and is even credited by some as having been the inventor of the mini skirt.

Julie Christie wore one of his dresses in ‘Shampoo’ and he designed the iconic black leather catsuit worn by Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, along with a whole range of clothing for the Avengers series.  Meanwhile, one of his midriff exposing designs won Dress of the Year in 1965. This newsreel film,  Dressed to Kill, gives a flavour of his innovative work during the swinging 60s and even features designs for canines!

By the 1970s, ultra feminine evening wear was becoming a key element of the Jean Varon label, with the famous backless evening dress making its debut in 1973 and the empire line gown consistently featuring in collections. Royalty and many of the celebrities of the day - including Princess Margaret, Princess Alexandra, Julie Christie and Dusty Springfield - wore Jean Varon, assuring John Bates his well deserved place as one of the most influential designers in fashion history.

John Bates is currently living, and painting, in Wales.

We have been privileged to offer several Jean Varon pieces  at The Frockery over the past few years and they are invariably snapped up by discerning customers.

We currently have this evening dress in stock, which is a beautiful example of Jean Varon and every bit as wearable today as it was in the 1970s.

Update, July 2012: This vintage 70s Jean Varon black maxi dress has just been added to the catalogue.

vintage 70s jean varon john bates black maxi dress