Who was Ninette?
A few years ago I spotted a series of rather simple, yet wonderful adverts that appeared in several theatre programmes from the early 1920s for the fashion house of Ninette. With two outlets in London at 47 Cranbourne Street and 79 Shaftesbury Avenue, Ninette was rather well placed. But who was Ninette? At first, all attempts to locate any further information were elusive, so who was behind this rather wonderful British fashion house that flourished in the Jazz Age but now completely forgotten?
Thankfully I received a few clues from Douglas Woodward, who in writing his autobiography, referred to Ninette, as his mother worked in one of the salons. Douglas thought that the owner, Madame Ninette, was a Polish settler with an eye for fashion who had arrived in London via Paris and had set up her salons at the end of the First World War. She had a husband, also Polish, known only by his surname, Molian, who looked after the money side of things. Both were of Jewish extraction. With these clues I managed to find out more.
Madame Ninette was in fact Yetta Blaustein born in Austria 20 August 1890 to a large family who clearly had relocated to London. In 1901 the family was living in Hackney and by 1911 they had moved to Spitalfields. At the age of 21, and along with her mother, she was described as a ‘wardrobe dealer.’ Clearly mother and daughter were involved in some dressmaking enterprise and must have taken the name of Ninette.
Ninette’s dressmaking concern appears in the London phone books in 1906 with an address at 14 Baker Street, then in 1907 at 86 Geroge Street. In 1913-14 they were situated at no.1 Argyl Place but in 1914 a branch had opened in 79 Shaftesbury Avenue, where they seemingly remained until the 1940s. Another branch opened at 47 Cranbourne Street in 1918.
In early 1920 Yetta married David Molian (born around 1877 in Russia and described as being from Glasgow). In 1911, David was living in lodgings in Highbury and was an engineer but employed as a cigarette machine operator. The couple had a son called Samuel Noah born in September 1928 in St Raphael on the Riviera.
In July 1921 Yetta as chairman of Ninette, wound up the company with the business being re-launched as Ninette Ltd with both retail outlets still in place and a wholesale location opening at 191 Oxford Street.
According to Douglas Woodward ‘to Ninette’s came the great, the good and the not so good, to try on and buy the latest creations… But far and away her favourite client was from a very different background – Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, daughter of the Earl of Strathmore’ later to become Duchess of York, and then the Queen.
Ninette’s creations resonated with the vibrancy of the 1920s and various other celebrities wore her creations. For example, in the spring of 1923 Flora Le Breton (wearing a Ninette gown) and Vincent Davies were the dancing act at the opening of Revelle’s club and in Paris, Joan Pickering at the Club Daunou, wore another Ninette creation of ecru lace on a little dance frock of powder blue faille over flesh pink georgette. The absence of adornment was its greatest charm and caused great admiration as it lent its wearer that coveted ‘jeaune fille’ appearance.
Unlike other couture establishments, Ninette was not so prominently featured on the London stage and in the 1920s for example, only supplied four minor stage productions.
In the 1930s another branch opened in 53 Dean Street but the focus of activity continued to be Shaftesbury Avenue that thrived into the early 1940s.
What happened during the war is not known. David Molian died in 1948 and Yetta in 1971.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
Brighter London Magazine
Theatre programmes from the period 1920-1923
Voyage around a Barbican Garden by Douglas Woodward
The London Stage 1920-1929 by JP Wearing