Margaretha Ley : unsung fashion heroine

Margaretha Ley is not a name many people are that familiar with, but in fashion business terms she was BIG in the game!

A teenage Swedish beauty queen, she went on to become a top model in Paris, but design was her real passion.
She first made a name for herself designing for German knitwear label Mondi in the 70’s, establishing a design signature so crisp and successful for them that they’ve run with it to this day – look out for lots of vintage Mondi in the girlgang vintage section, it’s one of my all time 80’s faves!

But in 1976, she and her husband Wolfgang decided to set up their own brand, Escada – named after a racehorse they’d won money on – what a racy couple!
The Escada look totally ruled the 80’s – it was the epitome of preppy Euro-chic elegance – a boxy shouldered, slim-hipped 40’s-ish silhouette, bright colour blocking, showy equestrian and baroque prints, gold buttons on everything, all topped off with matching shoes and handbag and a sleek chignon or French plait. It was aspirational, classic and young all at the same time. Understandably, women everywhere went nuts for it and Escada expanded rapidly, opening stores all over the world.

The diffusion brand Laurél was launched in 1978 and had a younger, louder edge – some of my most favourite vintage items from my own collection are Laurél – they had crazy prints that could rival even Versace and Moschino!

During the 80’s, Mondi, Escada and Laurél also largely set the tone for ready to wear brands to provide total looks for their customers, with really high production values – Escada belts for instance, are so exquisitely made – this was luxury for the mass market. There was nothing exclusive or elitist about their business strategy. So whilst their goods were by no means cheap, they were accessible like never before. They also produced the majority of their product in factories they owned in Germany, allowing a high degree of quality control - totally living the dream from a fashion biz perspective!

According to an article in the New York Times, Margaretha headed up a team of designers who created 1,200 styles each season, just for Escada alone. The ranges were broken down into colour groups with shoes, scarves, gloves and jewellery to coordinate – a whole RAINBOW of product!
So luckily for us, there are still a lot of amazing vintage examples out there ready to be brought back to life.

In addition to Escada and Laurel, Wolfgang and Margaretha grew a whole group of brands including Crisca, Apriori, and Natalie Acatrini. They also produced Cerruti 1881 womenswear under licence and owned majority stakes in US companies St. John Knits (AMAZING – so has Margaretha’s fingerprints all over it!) and Badgley-Mischka.
Geez louise, that’s some big fashion world domination right there!!!

Tragically Margharetha died in 1992 aged 59, cutting short the career of a hugely influential talent. In testament to her the brands she established continued to go from strength to strength. All good things come to an end though and in 2009 Escada filed for bankruptcy.
They were bought out at this stage though so I really hope they rise from the ashes back to their former glories!

In the meantime I’ll be making it my personal mission to seek out the best, most bad-boy bits of Margaretha Ley hey-dey vintage to bring to you through the girlgang shop – you won’t be disappointed!