SO2 - Flossie Thomas

First Things First...

Black British Lives Matter: A Clarion Call for Equality is more than a book; it is an incitement to change people's perceptions. In response to the international outcry at African-American George Floyd's death, prominent British television personalities and journalists Lenny Henry and Marcus Ryder commissioned a collection of essays from black British figures to discuss how and why there is a need for black lives to matter — not just for black people but for society as a whole.

Ryder, who serves as co-editor of the title, recently took to Twitter to share his appreciation for British Vogue's spotlight of the new release. “ Black British Lives Matter is featured in @ BritishVogue this month! My grandma, Flossie Thomas, was a top Jamaican fashion designer, making dresses for numerous Miss World contestants in the 70s. Being in Vogue I feel she is smiling down on me,” he wrote.

Naturally, SO2 made contact and spoke to both Ryder and his mum Marlene about the Jamaican designer who left the island at the age of two for Panama, whilst the Panama Canal was being built, then returned to Jamaica. Headed to New York to study art and suss out the fashion industry. The Big Apple appeared not to have been to her liking so she returned home and set up atelier on King Street above Garden Grocery.

Her parents Richard Warren-Lindsay and mum Annie opened Arlington House, a restaurant that would become the epicentre of the new wave of politicians like Wills O Isaac and Bustamante. Indeed, Gladys Maud Longbridge worked at the restaurant where she would meet her future husband and the country's future PM Alexander Bustamante.

Back to Flossie, however, whose own career was about to make a meteoric shift. Her daughter Marlene's friend, Evelyn Andrade, who was a contestant in the Miss Jamaica 1954 competition, which she'd go on to win, wore a Flossie Thomas design. It would be another Miss Jamaica, however, notably Mitsy Constantine who, too, wore a Flossie Thomas gown which would solidify Thomas as the go-to designer for future Miss Worlds.

Thomas was now cutting, stitching and fitting non-stop. By the time Jamaica's first native Governor General Sir Clifford Campbell's daughter Sara Lou Mena walked up the aisle wearing Flossie Thomas, her label was as revered as that of Oscar de la Renta, Vera Wang and Monique Lhuillier.

Thomas would visit the United Kingdom, where her daughter Marlene, having left Immaculate Conception High School, was enrolled at the Regent Street Polytechnic. Indeed, when Marlene remained [in the UK] Thomas, her grandson recalled, would visit every summer with a suitcase of new clothes for his mum. He also recalled that his glamorous, not-so-typical grandmother would spend hours traipsing down Oxford and Regency streets in search of the latest designs and patterns. “She had a fresh take on design; one I think that was a result of her years in Panama and later New York. She stayed abreast of trends, etc, and would also visit Paris.”

Thomas's daughter Marlene recalls how she once enrolled at Central Saint Martins and learnt how to make flowers by hand. Needless to say her wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses soon featured beads, sequins and blooms.

Proud of the impact Flossie Thomas had in Jamaica and appreciative of her superior skills Flossie Thomas's daugher and grandson are determined to keep her legacy alive and indeed are eager for more stories of black excellence to be shared. They're off, we reckon, to a formidable start.

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