New Book tells story of this Shropshire based company available in all good bookshops now.
160 pages over 100 Illustrations
The backgound to the story of Silhouette
This first week of October 2006 I met Mrs Margaret Lobbenberg of Shrewsbury who told me the story of the Shrewsbury based family business she became part of. Later in November 2006 I received additional information from Peter Lobbenberg son of Hans and this has been incorporated into the story of Silhouette. Mr David Cookson provided the picture of the Keep-fit club.Mrs Pamela Turner also provided some photo images and the long service pins.
The Origins in Cologne
The original company was founded in 1887 in Cologne when Max Lobbenberg and Emil Blumenau teamed up to make corsets and initially, dressing gowns. Eventually Ski-Mieder was adopted as the corporate name and the company flourished in spite of the first World War and the depression in the 1930s. The Nazis made trading difficult for Jewish owned companies by restrictions on salesmen and buying materials, so the company developed an international business with operations in London, Paris and the USA, thanks mainly to the second generation of Hans and Otto Lobbenberg and Hans Blumenau.
In 1937 Otto from the Paris office had obtained the manufacturing rights for a new and revolutionary garment ‘a radio active corset’: ‘with a stimulating and rejuvenating influence on the cells of the human body it would aid fatigue, warm the body and help rheumatic pain’ A patent had been issued in France including a certificate from the Marie Curie Institute confirming its radio activity. Silhouette the London arm, took up the rights naming it the ‘Silhouette Radiante’ and it was an immediate sales success.
However by 1938 life for Jews in Germany had become intolerable. The anti-Semitic climate under the Nazis led to a forced sale of the business in Cologne and the Lobbenberg family was compelled, like many others to leave Germany.
Hans and his wife Annemarie came over to Islington London, with the support and sponsorship of Hans Blumenau, who had been the main person behind setting up the London manufacturing operation a couple of years earlier. Here the business was established as Corset Silhouette. In the same year with great foresight Otto who had moved to France, sold up and left for the USA where he remained.
When the War started the company was obliged to suspend operations in Islington and to relocate elsewhere. According to family legend the directors were given the option of moving to Shrewsbury or Coventry: later Coventry was heavily bombed, so the choice was a happy one both for the families and the town.
Corset in Shrewsbury
The first centre of operations from 1941 onwards, was the tiny Tankerville St Church Hall here orders were received from the Military and Silhouette made bras and suspender belts for WAFS ATS and WRENS.
Hans Llobenberg 1896-1955 (pictured giving a film show at a works party) was a popular employer and an enthusiastic intelligent man. His skills with people were matched by a sharp intellect which he used to become Shrewsbury Chess Champion in 1946 and Shropshire Open Chess Champion in 1948. Although involved with the planning of the new factory Hans did not survive and so the next phase in the life of the business proceeded without him.
The larger premises in Coton Hill the company moved to were still too small, so the company moved again in 1956, to a purpose-built factory in Harlescott on the north side of Shrewsbury. The factory won more than one architectural award and later the architect designed other buildings for the company in Market Drayton and introduced the concept of an open space with a central support known as a Hyperbolic Paraboloid.
Shortly after the move to Harlescott, Annemarie, as the company`s chief designer, was inspired to invent a revolutionary new girdle.(An undergarment used holding up stockings). Named the little X this proved a huge and an instant success: as a result of which Silhouette grew to be one of the towns largest employers and with other locations within Shropshire at Market Drayton, Whitchurch and the new town of Telford. In Chirk, the Company took possession of a former Co-op and some of the Co -op employees became machinists for Silhouette.
The company had over 3,500 workers at the peak, and was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1959
The company had an excellent social side and a very successful keep-fit club that was run by Mrs Sylvia Brown who was an international gymnast.
The company sold product to the major high street retailers including Marks and Spencer and Littlewoods and Great Universal stores and to the Catalogue companies including Kays. The company expanded its range of products to include swimwear and again sold well into the high street with its own brands.
The problems came as the own labels volumes increased and prices were pushed lower by the buyers.
Later Pippa Dee the party plan organisers ordered substantial quantities for their parties and the company devoted a huge quantity of resources to this customer and when the customer ran into difficulties it left a big hole in the production which added to Silhouette`s problems.
In 1979 Silhouette was taken over by another public company, W.L.Pawson & Son Ltd. Sadly within a couple of years Pawsons collapsed and the Shropshire factories were closed down and the brand name was sold on.
The brand Silhouette continues today and details can be found on www.silhouettelingerie.co.uk
Silhouette Coffee Morning and Reunion – January 2009!