July 20, 2012
JEAN VARON: AVENGERS DESIGNER
It's been a while since we looked at this wonderful time capsule from British Pathe. Made in 1965, the camera crews captured a Jean Varon fashion show that highlighted his designs for Mrs. Peel on The Avengers. Although the narrator mis-identifies the first model as Diana Rigg, the outfits are the real McCoy. Spy Vibers will recognize most of the collection from Rigg's first season in 1965-1966. Patrick Macnee also makes an appearance in the audience, with his trademark charm and twinkle in the eye. Jean Varon was actually the house-name of fashion designer, John Bates (born 1938), through the 1960s. He was well-known for creating modernistic outfits that were championed by British Vogue, the Fashion Museum in Bath, and by Diana Rigg in The Avengers. Bates (Varon) was an early adopter of Op Art elements in his black and white mini-coats and accessories. Some claim that Bates, not Courreges nor Quant, created the mini skirt. Ahead of his time, he was also making plastic garments as early as 1962.
I've been re-watching the 1965-1966 season of The Avengers and there are some wonderful moments when the camera just pans down to advertise Mrs. Peel's latest look. One memorable outfit, seen in this newsreel, is a silver vinyl ensemble with bra bodice, low-rise pants, and jacket. Bates was a great advocate of bra-lessness and of showing the midriff (and as much as possible!). The Telegraph caught up with him for a 2006 interview in Wales, where the designer-turned painter lives with his partner. If you want to learn more about Varon/Bates, check out John Bates: Fashion Designer by Richard Lester (not to be confused with the 1960's film director). Enjoy!