Jan Huntley-Peace vintage swimwear shoot in Milnthorpe
She's worked with top designers like Zandra Rhodes and Norman Hartnell. So what is Jan Huntley-Peace doing in Milnthorpe? Amanda Griffiths investigates Photography by Lisa Aldersley and Rob Berry
Jan Huntley-Peace may have swapped London for the peace and quiet of Milnthorpe but being away from the bright lights hasn’t dimmed her passion for fashion. If anything, it’s probably been even more inspirational.
Jan, who made the north her home with her partner, Peter, and daughter, Bethane, creates what she intriguingly calls ‘Art to Wear’.
Inspired by old fabrics and jewellery, Jan weaves her magic creating ranges of vintage inspired jewellery - especially popular with brides, head pieces and bridal wraps. However, a love of vintage fashion has also seen her create a range of vintage-inspired swimwear, from �120 for a bikini up to �230 for a made-to-measure swimsuit.
‘When I was a student I’d wear 1940s dresses with Doc Martins,’ she says. ‘I think vintage did go out of fashion for a while, but it’s been slowly coming back over the years.
‘I think the likes of Stella McCartney and Kate Moss are responsible. There’s a lot of vintage copies in the shops now but to me you can’t beat wearing the real thing - it just looks and feels beautiful.’
Jan had the idea for the swimwear range about four or five years ago. ‘Their shapes make them great to wear and really flatter most figures. When I was growing up I would find them in shops, I’ve still got them and wear them, but as I tried to find more I couldn’t, so I designed my own,’ she adds.
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Jan has had some incredible training in the industry, getting her first job with Zandra Rhodes when she was just 18. ‘I didn’t even know who she was at the time because I just wasn’t into fashion,’ she laughs. ‘I was good at art at school and always wanted to paint.
‘It was brilliant! It was the 80s, all the clothes were mainly one-off pieces and I was designing and doing the embroidery for her. She used to have these parties every six months and would invite everyone in the workroom to her house. It was really exciting.’
Jan went to art school to get her degree and also worked one summer at Jean Muir where she says she learnt a lot about tailoring. ‘Putting a 25" zip into a silk/velvet dress takes some skill,’ she says. She also worked for the � Emmanuels, who made Princess Diana’s wedding dress, before getting a job with the Queen’s dressmaker, Norman Hartnell in Mayfair.
Falling in love and having a baby made her wish for a less hectic life so the family moved north, initially to Hebden Bridge before settling in Milnthorpe, after finding a house with view over the estuary, an important requirement for Jan, as she loves to be able to both see the sea and get there easily. As she works from home, Jan also needed suitable studio space at home too.
Her jewellery, made from woven wire and antique pearls and jewels as well as lace hand pressed into porcelain, was inspired when working for a wedding dress designer in Staveley. A customer came in wanting jewellery and the designer, Suzanne Leverington, asked Jan if she could do it.
Now she mostly sells the jewellery at Sienna in Kirkby Lonsdale and Slam in Bowness, as well as at shows and exhibitions all over the country. She’s also joined forces with another vintage clothes retailer in Kendal, Thea Rogers, and the pair have just begun organising vintage fairs (the next one is at Kendal Town Hall on 23rd October) to showcase not only their goods but other items that fit the trend for vintage in both fashion and weddings.
‘I love the idea of wearing something new, that has a history, a narrative,’ says Jan, summing up her work. ‘A wearable object that inspires, feels beautiful, looks elegant and is that little bit extraordinary!’
Hair and make up: www.lucypearson.co.uk
Models: Rebecca Wain and Rachel Hayton
Clothes: Jan Huntley-Peace; The Exchange, Kendal; www.vintagerevival.co.uk and models own