John Bates at Jean Varon

Detail of an embroidered dress

From 5 April 2014

Free entry

John Bates was one of the most innovative and influential young British designers of the 1960s and 1970s. Together with Mary Quant and Jean Muir, he produced clothes for the generation that created ‘Swinging London’.

This display of 12 outfits from his 'Jean Varon' label focuses on daywear and eveningwear, mostly from the 1970s. Highlights include a recreation of a red velvet mini dress that he originally designed in 1967 and which was worn by Twiggy in a Vogue photo shoot that year.

The label’s big breakthrough came in 1965 when Bates designed a collection for the actress Diana Rigg to wear for the role of Emma Peel in the TV action series 'The Avengers'. It included an iconic black leather catsuit that caused a media sensation. 

Copies of the collection were sold in department stores across the country. By 1968, Bates was designing for other celebrities, including Cilla Black. His designs are still eagerly sought by collectors today and many remain as wearable now as when they were first created.  

Image gallery 

Evening dress, acetate and nylon, labelled Jean Varon, about 1976. Day dress, cotton, labelled Jean Varon, about 1975-76. Day dress, printed viscose rayon and nylon, labelled Jean Varon, 1976. Evening dress, printed acetate and nylon, labelled Jean Varon, 1972. Day dress, synthetic satin-backed crepe, labelled Jean Varon, 1972. Evening dress, printed acetate, labelled Jean Varon, 1973. John Bates at work, 1965. John Bates with models, about 1978. John Bates in the Noel Street office, about 1967.