As part of my trip to London, I visited Angels costume house. Frocktalkers, it was amazing to see this place. I remember way back in 1992, I was interning on the Francis Ford Coppola film Dracula. Our associate costume designer Richard Shissler had made a trip to London to pull costumes for some of our massive crowd scenes. My job was to unpack the boxes that arrived from London. I remember gasping with delight and awe at the assortment of beautiful Victorian garments – many of them antiques, originals – that arrived. Where did these garments come from? Angels costume house.
My guide was the lovely Mark Rhodes – he gave me a personal tour of the facility, and a bit of a history lesson about Angels. It was so lovely to meet another like-minded costume fanatic; we had such a good time.
The workroom at Angels is actually split up into sections. Here we see the “tailor” side of things. They have dozens of stitchers, cutters and craftspeople, many of whom have multiple expertise (millinery as well as garment stitching). They are a busy crew.
This book is the original size/measurements record for Angels. If you ever came in for a fitting, your sizes were recorded here, in pen, for all time. The record goes back many, many years – it’s a fascinating document.
It all started in 1840, when Morris Angel opened a second-hand clothing shop in London. It quickly turned into a rental business, then a costume business, and has been around in one incarnation or another ever since. There is even a hand-written letter from Charles Dickens hanging on the wall to give you an indication of how long they’ve been serving the artistic community.
Angels has scads of costumes in their stock – uniforms (a different selection from what one might find in LA), children’s clothing, and day and evening wear from all eras. There is a section devoted to India/Pakistan that is so full, the clothing is folded and stacked rather than hung on hangers – there is simply too much of it to hang. The colors and the fabrics are wonderful – we just don’t get the volume of this kind of thing out here in the west.
They have a humidified, climate-controlled fur room, housing all manner and era of skin garments, hats and footwear.
Mark walked me through the fabric and notions room, which contained bolts of deadstock vintage fabric, as well as trimming and notions. What you see here is jet bead (glass) trim – vintage, original, and still on the bolt. It’s amazing.
Angel’s also has a wig department, and I was quite taken by the antique moustache display case. I thought it might make a nice gift for my nephews.
One of the very cool and smart things that Angels does is that they operate a “Fancy Dress” business in conjunction with the rental business. “Fancy Dress” in the UK means dress-up costumes, like Halloween costumes, in our vernacular. Angels has a Fancy Dress store in London proper, AND a Fancy Dress online business that is booming, year-round. The costumes they sell are what you might expect to see at a pop-up Halloween store, like “Spirit Halloween Stores”, or even at Party City. I toured the facility for the online sales of costumes, and it’s massive. It’s such a smart way to diversify your business so that even if there is a recession in the film industry, you have another way to stay afloat with the Fancy Dress online sales.
There are a number of designer offices in the building for costume teams to set up. The unusual thing (vis-à-vis our system here in the US) is that there is no cage space at Angels. If you pull a rack of clothes, you can park it in an open area in the center of the stock floor, and that’s where it will wait for you until you load it on the truck. Contrast that to our system, where we rent a large, fenced-in lock-up space to hold all of our garments for work, load in, fittings, age/tech, everything. There is no individual, secure hold space you can rent at Angels.
I was like… Woah, wait. Doesn’t stuff get stolen, or pulled from racks by accident? Mark smiled and explained that their sign-in policy (everyone who comes to Angels must sign in up front before entering) lets them know who is in the place, and that is enough to deter people from unprofessional behavior. When I told him that we have rack covers with zip-ties to put on our hold racks out here, he chuckled. America, with their guns and fear; HAHA! At least, that’s what I imagined he was thinking.
One of the REALLY nice things about Angels is that it is easily accessible with public transportation. I took the train there, ZIP! And I took the bus back home, ZIP! It was really quite easy, even in the rain.
Angels is good enough to offer tours to the general public – just send an inquiry through their website and you can book a visit. One thing not to miss, though… the bathrooms. Check out the cool stall doors!!
Thank you to Mark Rhodes and to Tim Angel for having me – it was so lovely to see your beautiful facility. I look forward to returning there, and to working with you. In fact, I can’t wait!!! Many thanks for showing me around. Check it out, Frocktalkers, if you are in London!!!
Angels, the Costumiers
1 Garrick Road, London NW9 6AA
Tel: +44 (0)20 8202 2244; Website: http://www.angels.uk.com/home.html