To follow are a series of blogs created by Coutours. These help stitch together the fascinating fabric of London into a series of interesting tales and stories to showcase London in all its glory.
How many of you think of Winston Churchill as a style icon? I think he looked rather dapper in his
pinstripe suits and hats but he did have a rather interesting impact on the history of fashion. So let’s
take a look at some of his most famous outfits and fashion choices!
First up, the pinstripe suit; a classic that gained popularity in the 1920’s and has been in and out of
fashion ever since. Of course, when we look at its history, the most famous wearer of this particular
style was Winston Churchill (although there were a few bootleggers and those from the organised
criminal underground who also favoured this look!) Though he had a hard time holding onto money,
his clothes were always bespoke. More often than not, his suits were specially tailored by Henry
Poole & Co.
Interestingly, tailoring gave us the word ‘bespoke.’ Once a client had chosen a fabric, it was then
‘spoken for’ or ‘bespoke.’
History is full of important figures, people who changed the world, heroes even. The 20th century knew a lot of struggle and during those extraordinary times, Britain needed extraordinary people. We all know the names of those in the spotlight, such as Winston Churchill, but who was fighting behind the scenes? Spies played a vital role in the Allied war effort, so let’s remember some of the most extraordinary female spies from the 20th century.
“Mata Hari” sounds quite exotic, doesn’t it? Of course, that was exactly the point it was chosen by Margaretha Geertruida Zelle. She was as much a “femme fatale”, as she was a woman living in a time when choices for a woman were limited. After marrying young and struggling with married life, she had to leave her daughter behind with her ex-husband because she was unable to provide for her. She moved to Paris in 1902 for a better life and took several odd jobs to support herself. This is where she first took to the stage as an exotic dancer and quickly made a name for herself.
She performed under the name Mata Hari, meaning “eye of the day” in Malay and danced nearly nude, with only a decorated breastplate and jewellery. As she spun stories about being a Javanese princess and performed draped in gauzy shawls, her fame grew. When the war started, her career was already in decline, but since she was still beautiful and well-known, she became a courtesan and took rich and powerful lovers of all nationalities.
As she continued travelling, she caught the eye of the Germans, who offered her 20.000 francs to become a spy. She accepted, but there’s little evidence she actually passed them any information. She was also approached by the French secret service and agreed to spy for them but was soon after suspected to be a double agent working for the Germans. Her trial took place in 1917 and she was found guilty, though no real evidence that she had passed any information was provided.
So was she really a spy? Did she seduce men left and right to pass on information to the other side? Or was she just a woman trying to survive in difficult times? It’s hard to say who Margaretha really was, as history looks back on her as the ultimate femme fatale, though she herself claimed she’d never been a spy.”
Her legacy, however, is undeniable. French investigator Captain Pierre Bouchardon called her “a born spy”, though she herself claimed “I have always lived for love and pleasure.” She was killed by a firing squad, but showed grace and courage until her final moments, as she refused to wear a blindfold and reportedly blew the soldiers one last kiss before they opened fire.
As a tour guide and a lover of London, I will be writing a series of interesting stories about London; tales I have heard, places I have visited, tasty food I have eaten and delicious drinks I have enjoyed. Watch out for this every week or so.