As I sit talking to Maureen she carefully lines up a small square of silk, some backing material and a shank in the button press. She pulls over the lever firmly like pulling a pint of beer, lets it go and up pops a beautiful covered button. “That one’s for a bridal gown. I make covered buttons and supply to bridal, tailors, couture houses, TV and film dramas, the theatre and even Royalty.” But Maureen is very discreet so she won’t name names.
A succession of customers call into the shop, the girl who has just lost a button off her overcoat, a man who wants to change the look of his jacket by completely changing buttons, a tailor to pick up the covered belt that Maureen made up.
“I couldn’t begin to tell you how many buttons we have in the shop,” she says. I can see there are millions of every shape and size.
“Most of my buttons were bought through the trade over many years but now there are not many wholesalers left. The oldest buttons I stock are some vintage 1930s and 1940s Art Deco silk buttons. I have many belt buckles, and buttons made of leather, horn, silk, mother of pearl, metal, plastic, nylon jet, crystal, and casein which is a by product of milk.”
You can use shanks (the backing part of a covered button) made of metal, cloth or plastic, then the choice of covering is made by the customer. The craft of button making is many hundreds of years old and the Button Makers Guild was formed in 1250. In the button trade the measurement unit is a Ligne which is a French derivation word which roughly equates with one mm.
Maureen’s buttons have appeared in many films including James Bond films Skyfall, and Casino Royale, plus the Harry Potter series. She has produced covered buttons for the Royal Family, Margaret Thatcher’s public appearances, and a host of famous fashion houses including Hartnell, Hardy Aimes, Gieves and Hawkes. Nowadays Maureen serves customers from all over the world on her website which was designed by her son. “I’m a little disappointed that he’s not following me into the trade (he works in IT) because I love the job,” she concludes. “It is constantly changing and interesting. You meet lovely people who are making beautiful clothes.”
This article was originally published 4 December 2012 in the printed edition of Fitzrovia News.