Renowned British designer John Bates, often credited with pioneering the iconic mini skirt and shaping the quintessential fashion of the 1960s and 70s, has sadly passed away. He is survived by his partner, John Siggins.
Bates, celebrated for his label Jean Varon, stands as one of the most influential British designers of the 60s and 70s. His creations adorned celebrities, royalty, and everyday women, leaving an indelible mark on the fashion world.
In the 1960s, he boldly claimed the mantle of the mini skirt’s originator, a title often associated with Mary Quant or André Courrèges. Bates’ designs not only challenged prevailing fashion norms but also revolutionized the way women dressed. His modernist creations, famously worn by Diana Rigg in her iconic portrayal of Emma Peel in «The Avengers,» epitomized the era with their clean lines, contemporary shapes, and innovative materials.
Bates seamlessly transitioned his style into the 1970s, embracing a more ethereal, dreamy, and retro-inspired aesthetic. His label, Jean Varon, became synonymous with highly detailed and colorful maxi dresses, which were just as coveted as his minidresses. Even today, vintage fashion enthusiasts seek out both his 60s and 70s designs.
What sets Bates apart is that his work remains accessible through classic TV shows like «The Avengers,» 1970s sitcoms like «The Good Life,» or films such as Maggie Smith’s appearance in the 1978 movie «California Suite.»
Born into a mining family in Northern England in the 1930s, Bates initially had an uncertain career path. However, after relocating to London, he found his calling in fashion and was mentored by Chelsea couturier Herbert Sidon.
In 1959, he launched his own label under the name Jean Varon, targeting ordinary young women. His designs stood out for their vibrant colors, simplicity, and, notably, shorter hemlines that challenged conventional norms. Despite initial resistance, his collection caught the attention of Wallis, leading to his own line for the retailer, along with concessions in prestigious department stores like Harrods and Harvey Nichols.
Bates reached international stardom in 1965 with his designs for Diana Rigg, resulting in an Avengers-inspired collection. His remarkable achievements were recognized when one of his designs was chosen as the Dress of the Year by the Fashion Museum, Bath, in the same year.
As the 1960s progressed, Bates pushed the boundaries with shorter and shorter skirts, expanding his business to include a higher-end John Bates label and other collections. However, the economic challenges of the late 70s and early 80s took a toll on UK fashion firms, leading to the closure of his business.
Bates, who shunned the limelight, eventually left the fashion world and retired to Wales, where he pursued his passion for painting.
John Bates leaves behind a lasting legacy in the fashion industry, with his groundbreaking designs and contributions to the evolution of women’s fashion during the iconic 1960s and 70s.