Buy a 200-year-old waistcoat, brand new: Linen farming smocks, tea dresses, velvet smoking jackets - repro antique clothing has leapt out of its glass case and on to the retail peg, reports Tamsin Blanchard

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The Independent Online
AS FASHION stylists scour antique-clothing shops and market stalls for the real thing, a collection of reproduction antique clothes has been launched. It comes, however, not from designers with their fingers on the pulse, but from the Gallery of Antique Costumes & Textiles in Marylebone, north London. The gallery was opened nearly 20 years ago by Lionel Segal, who initially specialised in Chinese textiles.

Textile Treasures is a small collection of design classics, some of them centuries old. Mr Segal is concerned that the reproductions should capture the magic of the originals, bringing to life designs perhaps too fragile for everyday wear.

The collection includes 18th-century waistcoats, flamboyant 19th-century shirts, Twenties tea dresses and a 19th-century linen farming smock. 'The smock was to the 19th century what blue jeans are to this century, but today hand-smocking is quite special and glamorous,' Mr Segal says.

The shop has always stocked period clothing (such as the 16th-century embroidered coat hanging in its huge old wardrobe), and Mr Segal urges as many people as possible to try on garments that he thinks might be worth replicating. If something works in a modern context, he commissions a pattern to be made.

He sticks to simpler garments for the Treasures collection: 'We wouldn't even attempt to copy one of our Twenties beaded dresses.'

The collection includes a 19th-century riding shirt that fastens under the crotch like a modern body, and is both practical and comfortable to wear with tight trousers.

A waistcoat from a 19th-century pattern can be made to measure in a choice of 26 embossed and embroidered silks, and features antique buttons. It could also be made in restored antique brocade. 'I want these waistcoats to be something to treasure as much as an original - a family heirloom,' Mr Segal says.

The most popular reproductions so far are the Twenties tea dresses and floaty pyjama trousers in silk that look as though they have been stained with rose-water. The dresses are finished and pin-tucked by hand, but at pounds 200 each they may be no cheaper than an original, should you manage to find one.

Another survivor is the velvet smoking jacket. The gallery's version is made from an original mid-Victorian pattern. These indispensable items look perfectly at home in the Nineties.

Textile Treasures occupies one tiny corner of the shop, which is a fantastic bazaar of ornate fabrics, cushions and clothes where you could browse for hours. Downstairs are old wallpaper designs, more precious fabrics and exquisite trimmings.

For those who want something a little more everyday, the Wealth of Nations is a more established and affordable mail-order collection. The company works on the same principles as Textile Treasures, breathing new life into traditional designs from around the world.

The oldest design in the range is a Celtic linen shirt. 'We look for clothes that will stand the test of time,' says the director, Julia Woodham-Smith. One exotic example is the Chinese worker suit, which dates back about a century to the last years of the Qing Dynasty. From Hungary there is a waistcoat with 17th-century frogging, and from Britain a navvy's belt, handmade like the turn-of-the- century originals.

As Mr Segal says, period designs have an enduring appeal, and these reproductions have a worn-in look, so much more interesting than the crisp newness of off-the-peg clothes.

Modern Treasures at Gallery of Antique Costumes & Textiles, 2 Church Street, London NW8 (071- 723 9981). Wealth of Nations from Liberty, Regent Street, W1. Mail-order catalogue: 071-371 5333.

(Photograph omitted)

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