John Cavanagh, fashion designer: papers

Scope and Content

Contains: Collection designs (ca. 1951 - 1966); season charts (1951 - 1974); designs for private commissions (ca. 1950s - ca. 1970s); unidentified fashion designs (ca. 1950s); packets for patterns designed by John Cavanagh (ca. 1960s); Duchess of Kent wedding materials (1961); Princess Alexandra wedding materials (ca. 1962 - 1963); photographs of the collections (1952 -1970); photographs of Cavanagh customers (1956 - 1968); photographs of John Cavanagh (ca. 1953 - ca. 1960s); photographs of buildings and interiors (ca. 1950s - ca. 1960s); other photographs (ca. 1950s - ca. 1960s); press cutting volumes (1947 - 1975); loose press cuttings and magazines (1953 - 1966); printed advertisements (1959); scrapbooks (1952 - 1959); programmes of Cavanagh fashion shows (1962 - 1967); descriptions of Cavanagh collections (1954 - 1966); fabric samples (undated); personal belongings (1957 - 1966); unrelated and unidentified material (1968; undated).

Administrative / Biographical History

John Cavanagh (1914 - 2003) began working in the fashion industry in 1932 when he was appointed as Junior Assistant at the newly opened London branch of the House of Molyneux. He soon gained experienced of working in Paris and by January 1933 was part of the team working on producing the 200 outfits which comprised each Spring and Autumn collection as well as the over 90 outfits which made up the mid season collection. He spent the next eight years between London and Paris meeting and becoming friendly with other young fashion designers at the start of their careers including Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain.

Following the outbreak of the Second World War Cavanagh joined the infantry in August 1940, later joining the British Army Intelligence Corps. After the war he spent many months in London and New York trying to find work, in New York he met Balmain who offered him work in his Paris salon, where he spent four years.

Molyneux closed his London business in 1951 and John Cavanagh grasped this opportunity to establish his own fashion house, named Cavanagh, which he opened in January 1952 at 26 Curzon Place, Mayfair. Cavanagh's first collection was positively received by fashion journalists, other designers and by clients. In March 1952 he was elected as member of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers and a clientele of well dressed women, including Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, wore Cavanagh designs.

His Spring-Summer 1953 collection was named 'Coronation' to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and was a success, consisting of dresses made up in fabrics designed by Oliver Messel. Cavanagh regularly dressed Princess Marina and her daughter Princess Alexandra for many Royal occasions and visits, as well as several stage and film stars. In 1959 he launched a boutique range however the couture designs represented Cavanagh's true genius.

Cavanagh was commissioned to design the wedding dresses for two Royal weddings, the marriage of the Duke of Kent to Katherine Worsley in 1961 and the marriage of Princess Alexandra to Angus Ogilvy in 1963. However the 1960s also saw fashion become more youth orientated and London couture with its emphasis on the royal and social calendar began to appear out of date. As a result the boutique range was expanded and couture was gradually reduced, however this did not save the brand and in 1972 Cavanagh closed.


This archive has been arranged according to the following series of material:

  • AAD/2011/13/1 - Designs
  • AAD/2011/13/2 - Duchess of Kent and Princess Alexandra Wedding materials
  • AAD/2011/13/3 - Photographs
  • AAD/2011/13/4 - Press cuttings, advertisements and scrapbooks
  • AAD/2011/13/5 - Programmes and collection descriptions
  • AAD/2011/13/6 - Fabric samples
  • AAD/2011/13/7 - Personal belongings
  • AAD/2011/13/8 - Unrelated and unidentified material

Access Information

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Study Rooms by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here:

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Acquisition Information

Transfer from V&A Fashion and Textiles Department, 2011.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here:

Custodial History

Given to V&A Department of Textiles in several accessions between 1973 - 1996.

Related Material

AAD/1979/9 - John French, fashion photographer: papers, ca.1948 - 1985

AAD/1995/24 - Simone Mirman, milliner: albums, 1954 - 1967

AAD/2010/5 - Barbara Goalen, fashion model: papers, 1947 - 1985

AAD/2011/14 - Lilian Hyder, material relating to INSOC (Incorporated Society of Fashion Designers): papers, 1941 - 1987