Our brand is known for its unique, hand illustrated prints created by our founder and lead designer Bryony. Each collection takes on a unique theme and each print is scattered with small but delightful details that add something special and unexpected. Some of our most playful designs are part of our Ballroom collection – a series of beautiful patterns inspired by the dances of yesteryear. Our Dancers print even features Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers doing a twirl!
I sat down with Bryony and had a chat about the inspirations behind the four key prints of our Ballroom collection: the aforementioned Dancers, Cocktail, Square Spot and the headliner – the Ballroom print itself. Bryony herself is a dancer – regularly attending swing dance classes and a wonderful variety of dance festivals in the UK and abroad. I also wanted to know more about how she got into dancing and how it inspires her creative work.
Q: With the exception of our Beatrice Ballroom and Freda Ballroom dresses, the Ballroom collection’s key dress is Irene. Tell us more about this style.
“The Irene dresses were inspired by dancing – not just the prints but also the shape. She has short, flattering sleeves that allow plenty of movement in the arms (the worst thing about a long sleeve dress when you’re dancing is feeling your arms are restricted!). The bust on Irene is very feminine and gives a more ‘evening’ feel than our classic Beatrice shape. The waist is high and the skirt full – leaving a great amount of fabric that flows beautifully when you spin or twirl. The dresses in this collection are all made from organic cotton twill that really holds its shape and washes beautifully. The colours don’t fade and remain as vibrant as when you first wear the dress. Our Marilyn skirts are the same shape if you’re looking for a skirt version to wear with a blouse or cardigan. Both Marilyn and Irene are perfect when matched with petticoats as they accentuate the shape and give some extra sparkle and movement – be it on the dance floor or not! These dresses are perfect for swing dancers but also anyone who wants to dress up a little and recreate the spirit of the 1940s-1950s era."
Q: Talk us through the four key prints of the collection – what’s the inspiration behind the fabrics?
“Let’s start with the most classic print - Square Spot. Who can go wrong with a polka dot? It’s a classic print that goes with everything – a true classic! Nothing can be more chic than a polka dot dress, a simple colourful cardigan and a pair of elegant flats or vintage style heels.
Our Dancers print comes in two daring shades of Mustard and Teal. The Dancers print was primarily inspired by my two all-time favourite dancing heroes: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I grew up watching their films, two of my favourites are Swing Time and Flying Down To Rio . I was always captivated by the elegance and grace of their routines. Between the two of them, I think they were the most glamorously dressed and talented stars of the 1930s and 1940s, whose legacies live on today. Here's one of my favourite clips from Swing Time (1936):
For this print, I was also inspired by particular venues I’ve been to where the dances of the 1940s live on – such as the Rivoli Ballroom and Hornsey Town Hall Both are beautiful buildings that continue to house some amazing events. I would absolutely recommend anyone who has an interest in swing dance to look them up!
The headliner – our Ballroom print, accompanies the illustrations in the Ballroom Collection storybook. This tells the tale of our special Palava characters Poppy and Fred’s big party. There’s a dance competition taking place, with plenty of foxtrots, jives and tangos!
Finally, the Cocktail print is inspired by the novelty prints of the 1950s – and the time when having a cocktail cabinet at home was truly in vogue! It was also a time when more people than ever had a record player and a decent sized record collection; where throwing parties in your living room with the latest 45 rpm releases was the best way to spend a Saturday night! It’s great to see vinyl and record players back in fashion in the last few years. This print evokes nostalgia for that time and the elegance of the after-dinner cocktail."
Q. Speaking of cocktails, which is your favourite?
“It has to be a Margarita, with a slice of bitter lemon! Although I recently went to a fancy dress party that had a cocktail theme; I dressed up my sister as a Tequila Sunrise and I went as a Dark and Stormy!
Q. In a previous blog we followed you on your adventures in Italy, attending a Lindy Hop festival on the shores of Lake Como. What other dances do you do?
“I’ve tried quite a few over the years! At the moment I am also taking lessons in Collegiate Shag. I have danced Lindy Hop the longest but I’ve taken workshops and short courses in Balboa, Jitterbug, St Louis, Tap, Boogie Woogie and a little bit of Charleston. Each dance has its own identity, history and music that accompany it. The more you learn to dance the more you enjoy the nuances of each dance but also how the earlier dances of the 1920s and 1930s continued to influence later styles.
Q. When did you start dancing?
"Five or six years ago I started taking Lindy Hop lessons. You will never have as much fun in your life as you do when you’re dancing! I’ve met so many fabulous people – and it's taken me to some extraordinary places. I’ve travelled to Italy, Lithuania, Norway, to name but a few! I’m also always getting ideas for designs as inspired by vintage dresses I see on other people at dance nights – sometimes the prints, the shape of the dress, or the way the fabric moves. The other thing I love about dancing is that no one is too young or too old to dance! It really is something that can be enjoyed by everyone. That way of thinking is something I've tried to encapsulate in my own dress designs, and in many ways is at the heart of Palava as well."
Image: © Michael Bazergan
Q. Lindy Hop is a partner dance, made up of some core basic moves -plus some more intricate exchanges between the lead and the follow. Talk us through some of your favourite moments in the dance.
Well, the best thing about social dancing as a follower is within reason, you never know what’s going to come next! Each dance is different and so is each leader. I recently started taking lessons in leading myself and really enjoyed learning how different yet complementary the role is within the dance. In terms of specific moves, a really good and really fast swing-out (the hallmark of Lindy Hop) is hard to beat, but I’m also a fan of the Sling-Shot and the Basket. If you’re intrigued by these unusual names, you can look them up on YouTube and find out more!"
Q. Finally, what’s been one of your favourite dancing memories?
“It’s probably taking part in a Lindy Hop dance troupe, where around 14 of us performed at Hornsey Town Hall – complete with live band and packed out audience! It was nerve-wracking to perform in front of so many people, but after the first few steps, everything fitted into place and the dance just took over – as it should! Swing dance is such a wonderful way to make new friends, have fun and experience life to the full. I would recommend it to everyone!”
We hope you’ve enjoyed this little insight into Bryony’s creative inspirations surrounding dance. All of the prints mentioned in this blog are currently part of our January Sale – so they’re a real steal! We hope you have a little look and treat yourself…and maybe even have a dance!
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Were It All Began...
Once upon a time... in a small town called Yarm on Tees there was a family owned shop called Strickland and Holt. To this day it is no ordinary shop and is well worth a visit if you find yourself nearby. Passed down through the generations since 1854 this small department store has taken many forms - from a wine and spirit merchants to a chemist to the gift, toy and clothing shop it is today.
In 1974 Stephanie Holt and her husband Michael left London and returned to Yarm to to see what they might do with the family business. Strickland and Holt became the birthplace of Poppy (now called Palava). Poppy initially made children's bedding from prints designed by local artists and it wasn't long before Stephanie and Michael were selling to the prestigious department stores Harrods and John Lewis. The company branched out into clothing and continued to make collections until the year 2000.
What Happened Next?
It was not until 10 years later that the youngest of Stephanie and Michael’s four children decided to bring Poppy back to life. Bryony moved back to the family shop and set to work.
Starting with children’s designs, Bryony began to draw her own illustrated prints, taking inspiration from the storybooks she had read as a child, such as Milly Molly Mandy and the storybooks of Eve Garnett.
Soon, Bryony's friends were asking about dresses for themselves and before long, the womenswear collection took shape.
Today and going forward
'Poppy' became 'Palava' a few years ago and Bryony now heads up a little studio in London rather than Yorkshire, but apart from that, the spirit of this little family business still remains. Stephanie and Michael still help out at the Yorkshire warehouse and the beautiful prints are still what Palava is known for.
We make clothes for real women and children - who live, love and laugh. Real women with real bodies and real lives. Real women who forget their keys and who have that extra slice of cake with their tea. Real children who have muddy knees and wild imaginations. We celebrate living colourfully and creatively and we will always do our best to bring an extra bit of joy to your day through our clothing.