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VM Choice: Mrs B's birthday at Browns

In celebration of the 90th birthday of Browns’ founder Mrs Joan Burstein, the windows of the South Molton Street fashion store reflect the huge impact that Mrs B has had on British fashion. Like Joyce Ma, who founded the Joyce boutique in Hong Kong, Mrs B and her late husband Sidney could see that London in 1970 was a city that possessed only one international premium brand store - Yves Saint Laurent - leaving an untapped market.

Mrs B has always thought of her team as a family, so it is doubly appropriate that her portrait is a mosaic of images composed of the Browns’ staff. And, of course, the faces are memories in themselves.

At No. 27, a framed dress from London-based designer Erdem, mounted like a revolving Polaroid image, balances the image of Mrs B with a single photograph in the centre. This is captioned with an observation that it is no coincidence that both the Queen and Mrs B are 90 this year.

Polariods played a seminal role in fashion buying before the days of smart phones, when there was no other means of instantly capturing an image from which to then confirm an order. Throughout her career Mrs B must have taken millions of Polariods. The back of the revolving Polariod has Erdem’s image and a signature. A smart pair of strappy shoes nicely balances the colour in the dress.

Browns persuaded premium retailers to export to them, often for the first time, developing UK customers for these new international brands. Adding up-coming UK-designers the store created a one-stop source of fashion ‘must-haves’ that has now grown into an entire row of stores.

At No. 26 a Warhol-inspired larger version of Mrs B’s multi-image fills the back of the window, with a zig-zag of neutral-coloured shelves in the foreground, each dressed with accessories. Mrs B’s signature flamboyantly fills the space at the bottom of the window.

In the narrow window to the left, more accessories fill the glass shelves with captions explaining Mrs B’s choices and favourite comments. The panel at the front of the left window explains the theme, surmounted by a stylized graphic image of Mrs B as a fashion icon with a perforated postage-stamp edge.

Inevitably, when a brand feels established, it goes on to develop its own store. It is a huge credit to Mrs B’s expert eye that Browns has continued to successfully discover and buy from emerging talent over the years, including some of today’s best-known international names including Armani, Ralph Lauren, John Galliano (whose entire graduation collection, Les Incroyables, Browns purchased), and Alexander McQueen as a new graduate.

The Browns’ Men’s store stars an inspiring mosaic image of Mrs B, together with two more images: this time of a James Long jacket encased in a Polariod-like frame, and a Polaroid portrait of the Royal College of Art-trained designer.

The monochrome image on the left is of Henry Holland of House of Holland fame. A specially captioned T-shirt – the merchandise category for which he was originally famed - hangs in the foreground printed: ‘We all bow down to Mrs Brown.’

White balloons tied prettily with white ribbon complete the window.

The graphic on the door shares a Mrs B motto: ‘The search for creativity, innovation and originality makes up the Brown’s spirit.’

Brown’s has succinctly and successfully celebrated Mrs B’s birthday, explained her vision, and showcased British designers’ work all on a few seemly simple windows.

Photographs: Joanna Galanis