The Secret Life of Clothes, 3: The Hoarder's Story

 “I have hoarder etched into my DNA. I come from a dynasty of hoarders. I don’t believe in minimalism; I think it’s psychologically damaging."

Menage Modern Vintage is delighted to present a selection of wonderful pieces from the personal collection of award-winning film and TV Costume Designer Annie Symons.

Always a wayward child, Annie began her career in costume at the age of 14, skipping off school to work in the local theatre. After graduating in Film & Costume Design from the National Film & TV School, Annie designed several shorts and features for the British Film Institute early in her career with some of the UK’s most innovative and creative directors, including Derek Jarman and John Maybury.

Annie was the Costume Designer on the first feature film I produced, John Maybury's Love is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon, in 1997, in which she brought to life the colourful characters who haunted the drinking dens of 1960s Soho.


A still from Love is the Devil, directed by John Maybury, starring Derek Jacobi

Love is the Devil publicity still - L-R: Adrian Scarborough,  Karl Johnson, Daniel Craig, Anne Lambton, Tilda Swinton, Annabel Brooks and Derek Jacobi as Francis Bacon, in the Colony Club, Soho.


"As a costume designer, for decades I have vindicated this vast collection of clothes, costume, accessories, fabrics and haberdashery as some kind of collective scrap book where the significance of each garment is not just to do with memory but with the future. A constant possibility that a detail may trigger a thought process when searching for inspiration for new design projects."

In a moment of poignant serendipity, I ran into Annie a few months ago, after a gap of 20 years, at the funeral of a mutual friend.  I later went to visit her in her studio, in the middle of an epic clear-out… and she invited me to take my pick for the website. Says Annie: " I was moving again for the third time in two years and I realized a cull of my chattels could be liberating.  I happily handed over the custody of some of my treasured garments.  This was the right time and the right place and the right person."

We are thrilled to present a selection of these items for sale at Menage Modern Vintage.  Among them, a paisley blouse made by Annie’s mother in the 1960s, worn by Tilda Swinton when she played Soho doyenne Muriel Belcher in Love is the Devil;   here she is wearing it in a publicity still.  (At the time she was six months pregnant with twins, artfully hidden behind the large handbag).



Tilda Swinton as Muriel Belcher in Love is the DevilVintage Paisley Wrap-over Blouse c.1967,  as worn by Tilda Swinton



Tilda Swinton as Muriel Belcher in Love is the Devil, and the vintage paisley wrap-over blouse she wore, for sale at MMV


There are garments going back years, some of them from Annie’s own wardrobe, including some rare Vivienne Westwood items, an Alexander McQueen Highwayman coat, and the incredible Pleats Please dress she wore when she won a BAFTA, designed by Chinese artist Cai Guo Qiang, famous for his ethereally beautiful installations of fire and smoke, such as this extraordinary work:

 Firework Installation by artist Cai Guo Qiang


The wonderful serpentine dress (below left) is one of a series that the artist created for Issey Miyake, making marks on the fabric with gunpowder, his preferred artistic medium.  A dress from the same collection sold for £20,000 at Kerry Taylor Auctions in June 2015, and others have been exhibited in art galleries around the world.


Pleats Please Serpentine Dress  by Cai Guo Qiang Pleats Please "Dragon or Rainbow Serpent" Dress, 1999

Annie's Pleats Please Divine Serpentine Dress by Cai Guo Qiang, Guest Artist, Series 4, and his "Dragon or Rainbow Serpent Dress" from the same series.


Also in the archive are gems from the fifties onwards, many of them handmade, some of them inherited from her mother. There are incredible finds: corsets, tailored suits, a tribal wedding dress, 1960s minis and one-off pieces made for the stage and screen.

One of my personal favourites is a 1930s style crepe de chine tea dress made for The Woman in Black 2, starring Phoebe Fox.  The dress still has the wardrobe label attached with the actress’s name and scenes, and features prominently in the press stills for the film.  It was used in an underwater scene and arrived complete with weights sewn into the hem.


Publicity Still from The Woman in Black 2, starring Phoebe Fox

 Publicity Still from The Woman in Black 2, starring Phoebe Fox


Referring to an upcoming Instagram campaign, Annie continues "I am particularly excited about Chiara’s new venture of turning iconic pieces  of clothing into iconic photographic images." 

Annie is currently designing for film and TV and also for commercials.  She has an impressive array of awards to her name, including a BAFTA, an Emmy and several RTS awards.   Liberated from her chattels and her "unwieldy three-dimensional notebook", Annie has now started drawing and painting again after almost 40 years.  "And in any case I can always buy and make more clothes..."  


Annie's work can be seen at