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(see The Times Online obituary - 2004)
Elfrieda (nee Richter) FLUSS - Milliner, whose hats turned heads and who made a distinctive contribution to royal ceremonial.
As Milliner to the Queen from the early 1940s to the 1980s, Elfrieda Fluss was responsible for the distinctive tricorn hat worn every year by the Queen for Trooping the Colour. It guarantees her place in the royal fashion history books.
Latterly as an antiques expert, Fluss continued to enchant all who met her with her genteel charm, quick wit and impeccable sense of style.
Born in Botenwald, Moravia, in 1914, Elfrieda Fluss, nee Richter, trained as a milliner in her teens, working at the highly regarded ladies’ and children’s hat factory in Pribor.
Her special talents in hat design were recognised when, aged 24, she became director of the company. Just as her hats turned heads, so too did she: by 1939 the young Elfrieda had married the factory owner Eric Fluss.
In April 1939, after the Germans invaded her homeland, Fluss fled the country with her Jewish husband. The young couple were forced to forgo their honeymoon in Yugoslavia and were safely smuggled on locomotives carrying goods and livestock to England, arriving in London on April 29, 1939.
Through family connections the couple landed jobs at the Woolley Saunders hat factory in Luton. Learning English and showing her singular talent for millinery, it was not long before Elfrieda was discovered by a visiting milliner named Aage Tharup. After the war she moved to London and set up her own hat boutique, Robertell, in South Molton Street in 1947.
Tharup, a powerful and royally appointed Danish-born milliner, bought almost all of Fluss’s collections, and showed them to the Queen and to his other clients. When he became ill and was no longer able to make visits to Buckingham Palace, she was invited to visit the Queen in his place and from that time enjoyed regular contact with Her Majesty, often collaborating with Norman Hartnell, the designer of the Queen’s wedding dress and coronation gown.
By 1953, the year of the Queen’s Coronation, the Central European émigrée had made her unique mark on British pomp and circumstance with her elegant feathered tricorn headpiece designed for the young Queen.
No society wedding took place without a prior visit to Fluss’s salon. Clients at her fashionable Mayfair premises included Lady Charteris, wife of Lord Charteris, Private Secretary to the Queen; Violet Countess of Ellesmere; and the daughter of Field Marshall Earl Alexander of Tunis, for whom she made a stunning bridal headdress and train.
If convention was the measure of her professional life, her private life offered a bold alternative for the time. Tireless and exhilarating work — sometimes round the clock — meant that Eric and Elfrieda Fluss were unwilling to start a family. As the Sixties drew to an end, and with them the era in which hats such as hers were routinely worn, Fluss struck up an extraordinary working friendship with a young entrepreneur called John Charlesworth.
In 1973, Charlesworth, encouraged by Violet Wood (nee Bowes-Lyon), herself an authority on Victoriana, set up an antiques dealership in West London, on the premises of which Fluss continued to make hats for private clients until her interest in antiques became a full-time concern.
The following year Charlesworth invited Elfrieda and Eric to join him at his home in Suffolk because he had an antiques gallery in Lavenham, and the three lived together there until Eric Fluss died in 1985.
Throughout the 1990s, when most people of her age would have retired, she continued to attend antiques auctions, bidding knowledgeably, and played a full part in the Fluss and Charlesworth antiques business from their London home in Little Venice.
Looking like a retouched black and white photograph of a 1940s movies starlet, even in her late eighties, Elfrieda Fluss had a dignified presence and old-fashioned glamour. She exuded the sense of being someone who had lived well by her own achievements. Her curly sunset-warm hair — which she cut and coloured herself — her dresses, her hats, her cooking; all won her compliments which she accepted with good grace.
“Most things seem to come easy to me,” she once said in an interview in this newspaper. “It has given me a sense of complete confidence throughout my life and I’ve always seen myself on an equal footing with my men friends.”
In 2002, the year of the Golden Jubilee, Fluss was thrilled to learn that the Victoria & Albert Museum had included in its collection "the original tricorn hat", which she had designed for the Queen.
Elfrieda Fluss is survived by her companion, John Charlesworth. *see Fluss & Charlesworth Ltd.
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