SHE LOOKED LIKE THE
EDITION DE LUXE
Schooled in Bath at The Royal School for Daughters of Officers of the Army ( she was an imposter, her father was an accountant) where the ankle-length purple-lined wool cape was her favourite part of the school uniform, Joanne passed much of her misspent youth hanging around the city's world reknowned costume museum.
After a stint studying Biochemistry at Bristol University, she careered off at a wild tangent and got right in to her primary love of dressing up and showing off by ripping down the velvet curtains of her rented Georgian apartment and running up elaborate ballgowns in which to flounce around the city's decadent nocturnal demi-monde.
Soon she was clothing the gothique belles of The Bastille in heavy gold brocade and moth-eaten damask, garnered from the darker corners of the local flea markets, and collecting all manner of passmenterie to adorn and define.
After an unhappy affair with a tall snaggle-toothed stranger, swooningly reminiscent of the Titian-haired Thin White Duke (the teeth!), Joanne decided some bracing sea air would be just the ticket, and climbed aboard the Mail Coach to Brighton.
Having been weaned on the Regency Romances of the inimitable Miss Georgette Heyer (Devil's Cub!, Regency Buck!, The Grand Sophy!), Joanne immediately fell for the raffish charms of this naughty-but-nice city, favourite hang-out of the Prince Regent and scene of his magnificently louche chinoiserie-drenched wedding cake of a palace, The Royal Pavilion.
The next few years were a veritable whirl of lace and feathers, making corsets for can-can dancers and tight trousers for boys in bands.....but an epiphany was approaching! In a pause to draw breath, Joanne started to think that something was lacking....what was it? Oh yes...technique!
Since her time peering down microscopes whilst dreaming of Vionnet, she had never studied a subject in any formal sense....and enzyme pathways do not generally lead to a perfectly rolled collar or an immaculately executed button hole.
Not short of creativity, and able to figure out most technical challenges, albeit in a somewhat convoluted and labour-intensive manner, Joanne nonetheless decided that now was the time to finesse her finery by buckling up and buckling down to an apprenticeship with someone who properly knew what they were doing.
Enter, stage left, Mr Paul Hubbard, Saville Row trained tailo, and the go-to man for some of the cream of British independent design talent looking for sample making and exclusive production of their collections.
To this day, Joanne cannot speak highly enough of this period, learning from this master craftsman, and also from his right hand man Tara, a courtly Indian gent born in the days of the Raj who'd fled the violence of Partition to the cold shores of Britain.....he learnt his trade on an old singer treadle machine, and his skills were manifold. The arts she acquired then are the foundation for everything she creates now. Plus, she got to work on the collections of such talents as Giles Deacon, Luella, Hysteric Glamour and Fake London.
Freelancing for Madame Tussauds was the next venture....creating the red carpet looks for many a waxen faced figure in fields flung far and wide. When MT set up their outposts in Hong Kong and Shanghai, Joanne dressed 'The Twins' in clouds of tulle, and perched tiny swans on their heads, and sequinned and Swarovskied Leo Ku to the point of collapse.
Drawing on her early work with velvet curtains, Joanne recreated (for Tussauds Hollywood) the green plush ballgown for Scarlett O'Hara's attempted seduction of Rhett Butler (oh be still my beating heart!) after the burning of Atlanta. Jackie O and J-Lo for Washington, Madonna for NYC, Christine Aguilera in her glittery boudoir for London....
The problem was....her new clients were strangely unresponsive ( and sometimes headless!), and Joanne spent many an hour basically talking to herself. It was time to start working with humans again!
A little garret studio, tucked under the eaves of an old warehouse in Brighton's bohemian North Laine ( the stomping ground of Graham Greene's Pinkie Browne), was where she next set up shop and opened her doors to real people wanting fantasy gowns. Freezing cold in winter, chicken-broilingly hot in summer, this was home to the fledgling Joanne Fleming Design for a full five years, and where Joanne gained a reputation for designing ensembles of charm and distinction for ladies who love to dress up.
This brings our little tale almost to the current day....in December 2010, JFD relocated to the current premises in a building dating back to the Regency itself; in fact the original cast iron range is still in situ....and if the fashion thing doesn't work out, Joanne plans to set up The Olde Pie Shoppe! Let's hope it does as she is a rubbish cook....