A fancy angola, the Counts Stroganov and Prince Galitzine - Vitale Barberis Canonico
A fancy angola, the Counts Stroganov and Prince Galitzine

According to the authoritative “Fashion Dictionary” by Mary Brooks Picken (Funk & Wagnall’s, New York, 1957) angola was a “Yarn spun of a mixture of cotton and wool. Used in England for the filling of a fabric with a cotton warp, called Angola. Similar yarn used for mending hose, also called Angola mendings.” According to other sources, angola was first produced in England around 1815, but there are other indications which place it in the 18th century, and still others which agree with neither version. In the “Dictionary of Textiles” published in 1915 (in New York, at the Fairchild Publishing Company, by Louis Harmuth, “fashion editor” at “Women’s Wear”, angola was without doubt a blended wool/cotton yarn, but also a “twilled, red cotton cloth”, or “a thick, soft twilled, napped woollen overcoating”, when it wasn’t “English yarn of mixed wool and cotton used for darning stockings”.

Different dictionaries, different definitions, like the one in the renowned “Dictionary of Fashion History” by C. W. and P. E. Cunnington, in various editions with slightly varying titles since 1960, where “angola” should be understood to be “angora”, or “the new lama cloth”, made from the hair of the llama goat, from the neighbourhood of Angora in Asia Minor originally imported as mohair. In 1850 it was woven with a warp of coloured silk under the name ofpoil de chèvre’. But the African country, a former Portuguese colony: does it have anything to do with it? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. There are those who talk of imitations of cashmere shawls, those who talk of herringbone or diagonal patterns, those who talk of rabbit fur and others of silk. So what should we think? This all makes it hard to understand …

What is certain, or at least, seems to be so, is that, during the Great Exhibition in London of 1851, and in the following one of 1862, angola, more or less fancy, was appreciated by many curious visitors, but also by many experts who had come to London to get an idea of how and where fashion was going. It should be noted that, in spite of the (presumed) English origins of the yarn and the cloth, the majority of those exhibiting such products were Germans …

In the samples from London preserved in the Vitale Barberis historical archives from the mid-1800s, fancy angola is one of the fabrics to occur most often, meaning one of the most requested. The usual unknown tailor, (who seems increasingly to have been Henry Poole…), creator of the “tomes”, stuck onto the pages different cuts of that coarse, although still elegant fabric, in three colours (dark, grey, white) and in diagonals, which was certainly optimal for the creation of robust walking or outdoor jackets.

The historical fabric of the archive.
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The fabric of the Vitale Barberis Canonico collection.

On the other hand, there is no denying that this sporty fabric was chosen by customers of high regard. In the summer of 1860, to be exact, between 11th August and 5th September of that year, Counts Alexander (1818-1864), Pavel (1823-1911) and Gregory (1829-1910), the Stroganov or Stroganoff (but also Strogonov) brothers, made some notable purchases.

The sons of Count Sergeyevich, they belonged to the famous noble Russian family, where the legendary beef dish originated, but also extraordinary collections of books and works of art, housed in a magnificent 17th-century palace in Rome.

During that London summer, they were all men in their prime and wanting to dress with sober elegance and informal comfort. And Prince Boris Galitzine must have had the same idea, but which of the three Borises of the same surname, all of them princes, was the one who was in London in the same month of August 1860? Between 1821 and 1833, three members of this illustrious Russian dynasty were born and given the same first name. Of that Boris, (almost 30 years old, or almost 40?), we can imagine his tastes in terms of fabrics and clothing, which were perhaps refined during confidential exchanges and advice with his Stroganov countrymen, who also were of “blue blood”. We like to think that this Prince Galitzine, who was perhaps the father of the homonymous Boris (one of the founders of the science of seismology as well as being the inventor of the first electric seismometer), could be an ancestor of the “Princess of Fashion”, namely the inimitable Irene Galitzine (1916-2006).

Amongst the connoisseurs of fancy angola, in the same “tomes”, there is also a certain “Count Tolstoy” who is not further identified. His name is registered alongside the Strogranovs, he bought the same fabric, and commissioned the same suit. Could it have been “the” Tolstoy? Perhaps we’ll see in the future…

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