“Women are often dishonest – dishonest with themselves. They refuse to see themselves as they really are!” John Bates, the 27 year-old dress designer, doesn’t believe in mincing words. “And they might fool themselves,” he goes on, “but they don’t fool anyone else. I’m all for people trying to minimize their bad points, but sometimes women disguise faults which could be eradicated altogether, if they got down to some hard dieting and exercise.”
John feels that with so much good inexpensive, wholesale fashion, a girl has to concentrate on her face and figure. “Fashion is a challenge and I think it’s a challenge women need. Nowadays, with so many people buying the same clothes, a girl has to decide how best to present it so that she gives her wardrobe an individual stamp.”
Despite his vested interest in fashion – he is the designer for fashion house Jean Varon and recently designed Diana Rigg’s Avengers wardrobe – John doesn’t think one should follow it slavishly. “Study it to see what’s in it for you. I’m always hearing complaints that current fashion is directed at just one type, but that’s nonsense.
“I have three different types of girl to model my designs. Look at this design.” He showed me a short fly-fronted dress. “It’s classic really. Worn a little longer, maybe in a different colour, it would be ideal for the older woman. And to prove his point, we took the photograph left, of a simple dress from his collection adapted and worn by three women of different ages.
“Appearance is not all-important – there has to be something else – but it is quite important. Like all men, when I first meet a girl, I react to her appearance. It’s only after the physical impressions that you listen to what she has to say. So it is important to be attractive as well as interesting.”
And what makes a woman interesting? “Constant change,” says John emphatically. “When you’ve found your style, don’t stick to it or you’ll find yourseld in a rut. Don’t be ‘dated’ by fashion or make-up. Be bold. Try different styles as they come in – you’ll be surprised how much suits you. And don’t let it stop there. Change the furniture around; try new dishes on the family. It’s the secret of keeping interested – and interesting!”
And if you’re going to be bold, leave your husband at home when you go shopping is John’s advice. “He’ll insist on your playing safe – Englishmen are dreadfully conservative – and then he’ll spend an entire evening gazing at a girl in the outfit you might have bought if you’d shopped alone.”
John feels that English women have a rough deal. “Seventy per cent. of their problems would be solved if only Englishmen were more appreciative. They just don’t care; so who can wonder if the womne don’t care of give up? I blame segregated education and clubs.
“Englishmen will drool at the mention of a French woman and never look at their own. Yet English women are the best in the world. They have the best figures, skins and colouring, and a marvellous sense of humour. French girls are marvellous only because their men tell them they are.”
Rejecting emigration as an answer to the problem, what did John suggest?
“She must rebel. She must ignore any lack of interest from her man and make the changes she wants, dress to please herself, say what she thinks. Do be subtle about this. Express your opinions pleasantly and watch your timing. But a woman can get her own way if she goes the right way about it.”
John says that women must remember that they are people.
“That’s why I think that they shouhld carry on with their jobs after they are married. This ensures that they are still part of the human race – it keeps them bright and interested. It’s terrible for them to be cut off from the outside world and plunged into domesticity. And thre’s no reason why babies should stop them; if a woman finds babies aren’t enough to keep her occupied and happy, she should use nurseries…work to pay an au pair girl, if necessary.”
Not that John wants to see women imitate men; he just wants us to drop the age-old idea of the battle of the sexes and get down to enjoying life, and he thinks women can achieve this.
He enjoys working with women. “They’ll always have a go at trying to achieve the effect you want,” he explains. “Men approach problems in a different way. They’re apt to apply a slide-rule and, if you suggest trying something slightly different, they’ll insist it can’t be done. But women don’t approach things like that, and what might seem illogical to a mere man, actually works in practice. In fact, very often I don’t see their reasoning at all.