The House of Eliott

28 September 2011

Has anyone else been watching the rerun of The House of Eliott every afternoon on ITV2? Oh, it is fabulous and, to my delight, it hardly seems to have aged at all since I saw its original run in the mid 1990s.

Ah, the mid 1990s when I was doing my A Levels at Colchester Sixth Form, was convinced that Carl McCoy from Fields of the Nephilim was the Perfect Man and was also desperately in love with Simon H+++, who probably didn’t love me back but WE WILL NEVER KNOW (I’ve written about what my cronies refer to as The Simon H+++ Situation at great length before but in summary, well, you aren’t missing much). Ah, youth.

The House of Eliott perfectly suited my rather louche, romantic state of mind at the time and I find that it (along with my perennial favourite, Gilmore Girls, which shares some common themes now that I come to think about it – oh God, I wish that I could live in Stars Hollow) also perfectly suits my mental state at the moment too, even though I am older but not necessarily wiser.

For the uninitiated, The House of Eliott is set in the 1920s and tells the story of two pulchritudinous sisters, Beatrice and Evangeline Eliott who are left (almost but not quite!) impoverished by their awful doctor father and so end up turning a flair for design and talent for dressmaking to good account by eventually and amidst many dramas, triumphs and travails founding their own fashion house.

Now, the 1920s are not really my favoured period when it comes to social history and design, but one can’t help but be entranced by the gorgeous clothes paraded around in The House of Eliott. In the last episode they designed the costumes for a rather modern ballet, which was just superb and really showed off the costume designer’s talents to the full as the dancers wafted about on the stage in diaphanous gauzes and silks.

Of course, it’s not all pretty dresses, champagne and parties there’s also plenty of social commentary here as well about the often parlous situations of women without a male ‘protector’ and also the yawning gulf between rich and poor in the days before a proper welfare state was created. The House of Eliott is almost as much about the seamstresses that the sisters employ in their workshop as it is about about Bea and Evie, although there was an interesting discussion in a recent episode when Bea almost angrily rejected the suggestion that she and her sister ought to feel responsible for their employees outside the workplace as well as within it.

Above all though, The House of Eliott is about progress – the sisters are both bang on trend with short ‘shingled’ hair and ever raising hemlines but the fashionable epiphanies are set against a background of handsome young well bred men racing cars, making films or flying planes as the world becomes increasingly small.

For me at least, there is also the additional thrill of the fact that the series was mostly filmed in my very own Bristol (standing in for London) so I get to spot locations – so far I have spotted Berkeley Square, the Bristol Museum and Blaise Castle amongst other familiar spots around the city.

Are you a fan as well?

Jeanne Lanvin, 1923, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

1928, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

1926, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

1925, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

1925, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

1924, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

1925, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

1925, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

PS. BBC, you know how you recently resurrected Upstairs, Downstairs for one last whirl? Well, I’ve never forgiven you for cancelling The House of Eliott without warning at the end of its third series. Just saying…