Adel Rootstein was born in 1930 in Warmbaths, South Africa. Adel moved to London at the age of 21 to work as a visual merchandiser for the fashion retailer Aquascutum, setting the scene not only for the enduring relationship with the man who would become her husband, industrial designer Richard Hopkins, but also for her lifelong love affair with fashion – specifically the visual theatre which underpins its presence in every showroom, store and studio.
Adel’s journey began in the late 1950s early 1960s, at the time that the global fashion industry was turning its ravenous focus directly on London, whose new crop of rebellious young stars were influencing every area of the creative spectrum, the swinging city oozing an infectious, omnipotent creative charisma that was ripe for translation. The previously insurmountable dominance of couture was being challenged by the energy of new designers such as Mary Quant and Jean Muir and with it the strict conventions of fashions elite were traded for a new set of rules based on the dynamism and energy of youth over the austere precision of the ateliers.
Sensing an opportunity lurking within the void between what was happening inside the increasingly thrilling, media charged world of high fashion and the stilted, unrepresentative window displays that had become the mainstay of the retail industry, Adel who had started the business by creating experimental visual merchandising props in the kitchen of her Earls Court home, turned her attention with the help of accomplished sculptor John Taylor to mannequins.
For Adel, their promise lay in their inherent quality as the ideal conduits to channel fashion’s hunger for all things new into an artistic statement that could be communicated on a vast commercial scale, thereby (unlike private art) commanding a huge audience for her specific brand of theatres. It was an intoxicating combination that would take Adel’s vision to stratospheric heights.
With music, film and fashion now inextricably linked, the cult of personality was key and it was those faces (and figures) which epitomised the spirit of the times towards whom she gravitated, and indeed some of whom she would in fact be responsible for creating.
The first model to pose for Adel & John was ‘Imogen’; a slender, exotic model, whose mannequin projected a host of almost unnervingly life-like characteristics, which clearly set Rootstein apart from its competitors. Imogen was followed shortly by mannequins based on the (as yet) unknown models ‘Jill Kennington’, ‘Patti Boyd’ and singer ‘Sandie Shaw’ – and most famously ‘Twiggy’ – all of whom defined her skill for spotting talent while still in its fledgling stages.
Twiggy was in fact so successful she gave rise to the very first solo female collection. Another key character in the early female creations was the wildly beautiful and highly dramatic ‘Donyale Luna’, a self-styled goddess of almost mythical proportions – the first black African American supermodel to be internationally revered and a muse to the film directors Warhol and Fellini.
As the 1970s dawned Rootstein was thriving under Adel’s passionate direction and undiminished appetite for casting models that possessed a unique, magnetic allure and whose looks had a cultural significance. In the decade of liberation when ‘the look’ ranged from the nature-loving hippy to the renewed seductive sophistication of the Rive Gauche, to the glitzy glamour the Studio 54 disco socialite her muses no longer had to come from a conventional modelling background and consequently the possibilities were infinite.
An unprecedented state of cultural schizophrenia meant that they simply had to serve as an ambassador for the era to which they belonged in some way and consequently collections such as ‘The Aristocrats’, ‘Today’s Men’ (which included photographer Lord Patrick Lichfield) and ‘The Actors’ collections became a cultural barometer, both a reflection of and a comment on the changing landscape of popular culture and taste. Then girlfriend of fashion photographer David Bailey, Marie Helvin, pioneering Japanese model Sayoko and the now legendary Pat Cleveland were some of the stand out Rootstein figures of the period. All hugely successful models, the common factor was their exoticism, which Adel at that time recognised early on would become valuable currency in an industry with a voracious appetite for the new but also the different.
The 1980’s saw the thirst for glamour and the desire for empowerment swell across both genders as a form of escapism from economic downturn and consequently produced mannequins defined by their healthy, sculpted figures, perfect for the new body conscious fashion. The club scene and its hedonistic attitude provided much inspiration and consequently subtlety was rejected in favour of an ostentatious defiance of recessionary gloom.
This was epitomised by Rootstein’s launch of glamorous figures modelled on actress Joan Collins and the curvaceous society hostess and Thierry Mugler house model Dianne Brill, while many of the male figures came from men street-cast for their accessibility yet muscular, toned physiques. As the economy shifted to a more settled position in the early1990’s fashion witnessed a swerve away from the previously obvious decadence and overt exhibitionism into a more neutral resting, yet similarly abandoned resting place with androgyny and sexual ambiguity taking precedence.
Cultural diversity was the most influential factor informing Adel’s work and while models such as Yasmin Le Bon, Susie Bick and Dianne de Witt still created key lynch pins as fashion titans, collections such as ‘Rave’, ‘Nomads’ and ‘Partners’ (an East meets West street style collection which channelled the spirit of the new grunge aesthetic), continued to speak of liberation for a new, younger generation.
On 20th September 1992, Adel Rootstein passed away. Adel Rootstein Obituary (Independent). Adel’s distinctive charisma, uncanny forecasting and her ability to making the impossible possible is a legacy that continues throughout our business today.
Under the direction of Adel’s long-time collaborators Michael Southgate & Kevin Arpino until 2013, Rootstein continued to produce collections equally attuned to the nuances of fashions mutable tastes, with collections such as Girl Thing, Drama Divas and Positions (all of which were deliberately keyed into the editorial attitudes of the era) and with modern icons such as Erin O’Connor, Agyness Deyn, Jade Parfitt & Coco Rocha all enjoying the same fame as the early superstars of the modelling dynasty courtesy of their immortalisation as Rootstein mannequins.
Today in 2019 Rootstein is perfectly in sync with the perpetual movement and flux of the fashion industry. Rootstein continues not only to reflect the creative landscape but courtesy of its global reach within the mass market, to wield influence and inspiration of its own.