Fashion History in the Making; Fashion Fit for Royalty Will Feature as Part of a Month-Long Celebration of Clothes from the Past at Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens This May. JANE HALL Speaks to Costume Designer Extraordinaire Julia Soares-McCormick about Her Passion for the Trends of the Tudors
Byline: JANE HALL
It was 1969 and Sindy, the wholesome British rival to the young, brash all-American Barbie, was at the height of her popularity.
Across the land young girls were losing their head over "the doll you love to dress" with her bouncy side-parted hair, long eyelashes and trendsetting wardrobe of 1960s fashion staples.
But while Julia Soares-McCormick's contemporaries were discussing the merits of whether Sindy should don her fun fur on the ski slope or two-tone frock for an afternoon's shopping, her thoughts were turned to the extravagant outfits of a lady who really had lost her head more than 400 years previously.
For 1969 also marked the release of a film that was to leave a lasting impression on the then 11-year-old Julia: Anne of the Thousand Days.
The story of Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn, it starred Richard Burton as the king and Genevieve Bujold as the ill-fated queen beheaded in May 1536 after being found guilty of adultery and treason.
The big budget movie played fast and loose with history. But it wasn't the merits or otherwise of its historical accuracy that the young Julia took away with her that day from the cinema in Sunderland.
It was the Oscar-winning Tudor costumes designed by Margaret Furse - who was to go on and work her magic on another 16th Century royal in the 1971 film Mary, Queen of Scots - that drew Julia's eye.
"Anne of the Thousand Days captured my imagination. I adored the costumes and the sets. And while Richard Burton looked nothing like Henry VIII, Genevieve Bujold looked fabulous as Anne.
"The history may have been very suspect, but it is still one of my favourite films," adds Julia, now a 54-year-old mother of one. "For an 11-year-old seeing the crowns, feathers, jewels, hats and lavish costumes worn by both the men and women up there on the big screen had a very powerful impact on me."
So much so that at the age of 14 she made her first reproduction 'Anne Boleyn-dress' from an old 1950s red velvet gown that had been her mother's.
Other attempts to recreate the vividly colourful, extremely expensive and sumptuously made clothes favoured by the rich in Tudor times were to follow.
Later Julia went on to study art and design at what was then Sunderland Polytechnic followed by a degree in theatre design at Trent Poly.
Graduating with a BA (Hons) she worked in theatres in the Midlands and when My Fair Lady was revived in the 1970s as a stage play, Julia made the jewellery worn by the late Dame Anna Neagle who played Mrs Higgins opposite Tony Britton as her son.
A move to London, marriage and the birth of her only child, James, now 23, put an end to Julia's own costume drama, however, and for the next few years she worked as a registrar in a college. That is how it might have remained but for three events that were to play as big a part in her life as that 1969 trip to the flicks: divorce, a move back to the North East and James heading off to university.
Feeling at a loose end, Julia decided to dust down her sewing machine and start making her beloved Tudor clothes again. But as she says: "What's the point of making them if there's no one to look at and enjoy them?" And so, three years ago, Julia Renaissance Costumes was born, specialising in fabulous masquerade and theatre outfits of the Tudor era. Julia, who lives in Cramlington, Northumberland, with second husband Michael McCormick (who makes a very convincing Henry VIII), has at last turned her life-long passion for 16th Century fashion into a thriving business specialising in historical catwalk shows and costume displays.
She has taken her period performances - which feature historically accurate reproductions of outfits worn by Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, James VI, Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard - to the Royal Armouries in Leeds, Edinburgh and Carlisle as well as venues cross the North East. …