Percy Anderson (1851-1928).
Costume design for Chu Chin Chow, 1916.
Norman Williams as Abdullah.
For each production, this index includes the name of the costume designer credited in the program, as well as the names of other artists whose signature or mark appears on renderings in this exhibition. Employees of Simmons often copied a set of designs for use in Simmons' studios, and much of the Simmons archive consists of what are referred to as costumier's copies. This practice allowed the designer of record to retain the originals. While some costumier's copies are obviously traced, most were freely drawn by what was clearly a talented staff. The best of these house artists could transfer the credited designer's ideas to paper with every detail in place, while at the same time adding notes about costume construction, even incorporating features of the actor's face for a realistic touch. It is unclear how quickly this process took place; probably the renderings took shape over a period of weeks leading up to dress rehearsals.
The encyclopedic knowledge of theater required for this type of work speaks volumes about the unique position that Simmons occupied in London theater. This knowledge was partly codified in the firm's voluminous costume design portfolios and in meticulously maintained scrapbooks which recorded much of their output, but much of this expertise vanished forever around 1920, the end of Simmons' peak period of quality and productivity. A remarkable body of work was created by the staff who worked at Simmons from 1890 to 1920, and by designers such as Percy Anderson and Attilio Comelli who were frequently associated with the firm during this period. Later employees were unable to match the stylishness and correctness of these artists, even with the assistance of the resources mentioned above, supplemented by a large in-house research library and a geographically arranged index to world fashion, not to mention a warehouse full of the actual costumes which were rented out to amateurs after their initial use on the professional stage. Probably, the death or retirement of key designers and/or staff in the 1920s sparked Simmons' slow decline. The firm closed in 1964, having operated for more than 100 years since opening as a family-run outfit in 1857.