Vintage sale set to hit Southwold

Southwold plays host to a vintage sale with clothes, shoes and accessories from every decade. Karen Hindle meets one of the stall holders to have a rummage through her wardrobe, try on her clothes and learn more about some of the garments she will be parting with.

Southwold plays host to a vintage sale with clothes, shoes and accessories from every decade. Karen Hindle meets one of the stall holders to have a rummage through her wardrobe, try on her clothes and learn more about some of the garments she will be parting with.

THE demand for vintage clothing and our ability to recycle has meant there has never been a better time to visit jumble and vintage sales and have a rummage not only for a bargain but for a really unique piece of clothing from a bygone era when everything was finished by hand and the seamstress's very soul went into the work.

Southwold's Vintage Soul sale run by Mandy Birch and Nadia Leonard is a rare opportunity for people to buy some really unusual pieces.

This weekend artist Marianne Koby Johnson will be running her stall of vintage clothing, some of which hails back to the turmoil of the Russian Revolution, civil war and the emigration of millions of people running away from brutality, oppression and unrest.

Tucked in her wardrobe in her spare room at her home in Halesworth, Marianne has some pieces of clothing which belonged to each of the five generations of women in the family: great-grandmother Olga Ionin, grandmother, Katuisha Ionina, step-grandmother Tamara Gamsakhourdia, and her mother Irina (nee de Koby) Holman. There are also items made for Marianne by her mother.

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Each item tells a story. There is the hand-made black silk dress with hand sewn beads all the way round the yoke and the hem. There is a white dress with blue flowers which Marianne loved to wear as a young woman, then there is a cream coloured summer coat with a heavy lace collar worn by Olga when times were better in the Georgian summers.

Marianne, 57, slips on the cream coat - all it needs is pressing - you would never know that this coat is nearly 100 years old. The lacework is immaculate and looks just as it did when worn at Marianne's 1969 wedding.

Surprising, then to think it had been smuggled out of Georgia, a state undergoing considerable unrest in 1920 when the family had to escape the civil war.

Tucked in boxes there are outfits worn by her step-grandmother's dance troop the Lilliputian Dancers and silk panels painted by her great grandfather Colonel Evgeni Ionin who was also high up with the police.

Hanging on the wall is a cream satin dress with green and red beading which had once been Irina's wedding dress. She had redesigned and reworked it.

All of these pieces have been lovingly kept by Marianne, who only recently has truly embraced her family history.

'There were a lot of very strong women in my family and they are all very interesting. I have always appreciated my history and as a result have had a love of languages, but I also loved art.'

Marianne's family history is one filled with peaks and troughs of great wealth, terrible hardships and survival.

Her family lived on the edge of the Black Sea in Georgia a state which declared independence from Russia, during the Russian Revolution; was then taken under British protection only to have that independence quashed after being taken over by a Bolshevik Government.

Because Marianne's grandfather Sergei de Koby was chief of police in the Adzharia province of Georgia, and part of the old establishment, his life and the lives of his young family including four-year-old daughter Irina de Koby, were in danger.

They loaded up as many of their possessions as they could and left their home country ending up in a safe house in Constantinople.

'My mother just remembers life in Georgia,' says Marianne. She remembers the carpets on the walls, picking oranges in a fruit grove and standing on the edge of the Black Sea. It is wonderful she remembered her old life before being brought up in Paris.'

Family life was disrupted for some years when Sergei, his wife Katuisha de Koby and his in-laws, the Ionins, had to escape. It was too dangerous to travel together so they all went their separate ways across eastern Europe.

'They knew where they were heading in Constantinople and they eventually were able to go to a friend's apartment in the city,' said Marianne.

The four of them later settled in Yugoslavia with Irina, where they ran a restaurant.

Katuisha eventually left to live in Paris with Sergei following. They were both penniless until they became established and then sent for Irina who had remained behind with her grandparents.

But despite their best efforts the marriage between Sergei and Katuisha did not last and after they divorced they both married again: Katuisha to an opera singer and Sergei to celebrated dancer and choreographer Tamara Gamaskhourdia.

Marianne said: 'Tamara was a very powerful woman who was very strong-willed and independent. Once when she went for an audition she ended up telling the examiners how to do the dance.'

Tamara also ran a dance group of dwarfs called the Lilliputian Dancers who were also well-known, but once that ended she opened a fashion house in Paris called Laure Belin which specialised in underwear and corsetry.

Marline Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Jacqueline Kennedy and Begum Aga-Khan were just some of the people who were on her highly exclusive client list.

The work of Tamara and the influence she and many other Russian women had on international fashion may have been lost had it not been for a very hefty tome called Beauty in Exile: The Artists, Models and Nobility Who Fled the Russian Revolution and Influenced the World of Fashion, by Alexandre Vassiliev.

The book pays homage to the fashion houses which brought us beading, embroidery, lace and fur. Tamara has a chapter all to herself for her work in corsetry.

A woman ahead of her time she knew the advantages of health and fitness and rigorous exercise. She created bras which were second to none in the world of fashion and was able to react to the change in fashion ideas from the floaty 1920s and 30s to the more rigid tailored late 1930s, 40s and 50s.

While Tamara's fashion house no longer exists her work and that of the rest of the Ionin and Koby family bears testimony to great art, great needlework, and the importance of the closeness of family.

Marianne said: 'While many of these items will not be for sale I want to be able to share them with others and tell their story.'

Vintage Soul is on Saturday, November 28 10am-6pm at St Edmund's Hall, Southwold.

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