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Lorner Holder

​Lorner Holder. © Full Spectrum Productions

​Cataloguing of Lorna Holder’s fashion business archives

Richard Wiltshire

London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) is pleased to announce the deposit of Jamaican-born Lorna Holder’s fashion business archives. The records include drawings which document 1980s fashion design, and hair and beauty retailing in London. The collection was catalogued through practical archival training provided by LMA to Full Spectrum Productions’ staff, interns and volunteers, and is now available for consultation.

Lorna Holder was born in Saint Thomas, Jamaica in 1952 as Lorna Patricia Walker. She moved to England when she was seven to join her parents who had already emigrated. Her career in fashion began with her studies at Derby Art College which were followed by her studying Fashion and Textiles at Trent Polytechnic, Nottingham from 1972 until 1975. Her tutor at Trent was Pauline Denyer, wife of the well-known fashion designer, Sir Paul Smith. When she graduated, Lorna was the first black graduate in fashion to pass through the university with a BA honours.

In 1976 she married Errol Leon Holder and moved to the Sultanate of Oman. Lorna went into business and managed the Ali Baba Trading Company, which sold garments, local arts and crafts, antique Arab silver jewellery and mahogany chests. Lorna travelled widely to source materials. In 1978 Lorna held the first televised fashion show in Oman at The Holiday Inn, Salalah.

Following their return to England, Lorna began working in 1979 for Davies & Field, a ladies' dress manufacturing company that included Littlewoods as a client for their mail order range. Based at 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, Tower Hamlets, she was hired as the Head of Young Fashion and assembled her own chosen team of designers, pattern cutters and sample machinists to work with her. Lorna created designs for major chain stores including the 'Justine' young fashion range for the Littlewoods catalogue.

Lorna left Davies & Field in 1986 having opened with her husband their own retail hairdressing and beauty salon, called Lapaz, at 15 Camden High Street, Camden. The name 'Lapaz' stems from 'La Paz', the town in which Che Guevara was killed. Paz was also Lorna’s pet name given to her by her great grandmother who lived in Cuba. A second shop was later opened at 101 Notting Hill Gate, Kensington and Chelsea. The economic climate forced Lorna to abandon the shops in 1990 and start working from home. She created Lorna Holder Couture in 1990, designing ladies’ wedding dresses, suits and dresses for clients, advertising in Vogue and Bride magazines.

Archival training

In 2004 Lorna established Full Spectrum Productions, a not for profit company working on a range of arts, community, educational and heritage projects. Begun in 2013, Jamaica Hidden Histories is a Heritage Lottery Funded educational project led by Full Spectrum Productions exploring Jamaican heritage in Britain. This project gave Lorna the impetus to deposit her fashion business archives with project partner LMA in 2014.

Caroline De Stefani training participants

​Caroline De Stefani training participants. © Full Spectrum Productions

The project fund also enabled LMA to provide archival training to project staff, interns and volunteers over five days between 25 July and 6 August 2014. The practical sessions included an induction to archives and research at LMA, conservation and cataloguing of records, and planning and delivering outreach activities to different groups, including creative writing. Participants contributed feedback comments on their learning from the training:

The value of archives

'When I initially heard the word ‘archives’ the first thing that came to mind was old pictures or objects that are dug up by somebody (usually expecting to find something valuable). I thought, to myself “when would I ever be so lucky as to stumble upon somebodies forgotten treasures?” Not for one moment did I think that an archive was something that you or I could find in the confines of our very own home.'

'What struck me most was the emphasis on the idea that the documents kept were unique items, one-offs and originals, which are therefore credible as historical sources. For some reason this differentiation which really separates the archive from the library had never fully hit home for me. I feel I now really know what a document is. As an artist who works a lot with notions of memory, storage and collection, I feel this will definitely fuel and provide substance for elements of my work.'

Acquisitions and cataloguing

‘The catalogue training itself was informative... It was great to be told about how to archive businesses and lives within the home as well as within institutions, and is something I will endeavour to pass on as an encouragement to others. We often don't really realise the wealth of material we collect. I think in that sense the course was a real eye-opener.'

'For me the biggest highlight of the course was when we were given Lorna Holder’s archiving materials to be organised and catalogued. Fashion is something that interests me instantly so it only felt right that I was selected to go through her 1979 fashion folder, which she created whilst working at Davies & Field. How sweet that moment was! Touching the velvet fabric samples which were smooth to the touch, lifting pages of thick paper covered in colour and examining the perfectly cut edges of the fabric cuttings, which complimented the bodies of modelesque figures.'

'When packaging the archive I learnt the different materials used to preserve items, how to edit down a collection (not taking commonly found periodicals for example) and the importance of space...'

'I learnt how an archive is structure[d] and specific language used in this world, like fonds [collection level description]. The final day of training was excellent in helping me learn how to devise a range of activities from workshops to walks for a variety of audiences.'

Records and access

The catalogued records (LMA reference LMA/4660) include Lorna Holder's portfolio and photographs of her end of year graduation fashion show at Trent Polytechnic, Nottingham (1975). The collection also contains records of Ali Baba Trading Company, Oman (1976-1978) consisting of letters, photographs and film of the first televised fashion show in Oman. Design portfolios created at Davies & Field include sketches and textile samples for ladies' clothing (1979-1986). Records of Lapaz, retail hairdressing and beauty salon (1985-1990) include premises correspondence, account books, photographs of Black hair models and styles and of the two salons, and advertising. Finally, records of Lorna Holder Couture include dress designs, order book, and photographs.

LMA would like to thank Lorna Holder for depositing her archives and the participants who attended the training and catalogued the collection. The records are available for consultation except one film recording which currently requires prior appointment. The collection is featured by Full Spectrum Productions in a '1980s Fashion Archives Display' of photographic and video footage. For further details on this exhibition and to get involved with the project which runs to 2015 please see the Jamaica Hidden Histories website.

02 October 2014
Last Modified:
29 September 2017