Harrogate man's nostalgic return to site of Harrogate fashion legend's famous shop
A Harrogate property consultant returned to Parliament Street earlier this week in a nostalgic attempt to trace his own family’s leading role in a luxurious part of the town’s elegant past.
These days, the spot where Alex Goldstein was standing as modern traffic flowed past is occupied by Rhodes Wood bespoke tailors.
But 100 years ago another iconic shop was at the heart of Harrogate life in the very same location, in the golden age of fashion.
Number 56 Parliament Street was where Alex Goldstein’s great grandfather Louis Cope ran a luxury fashion emporium, selling bespoke and off-the-peg mink coats, suits, blouses, trousers and more.
In the years after the First World War, this legendary shop became a focal point in Harrogate for haute couture for high society ladies and latterly those nationally and occasionally internationally.
Such was its fame, Queen Mary herself was a customer.
It’s something Alex is proud of to this day, even if all that is left of his family’s heritage in that era are keepsakes and mementoes dusted off occasionally for exhibition at the Royal Pump Room Museums or Mercer Gallery.
Alex said: “It is really inspiring talking to people in Harrogate who remember the Louis Cope brand.
“Seeing the size of the building as it is today shows the sheer scale of the emporium Louis Cope ran.
“Original features still exist in some of the shops now in its place, such as the staircases and mirrors.
“You can easily picture the ladies and gentlemen of the day having their private fittings or watching the fashion shows, then going for afternoon tea in Bettys.
“It must have been a wonderful experience.”
Alex’s great grandfather Louis Cope first opened the doors in Harrogate in 1918, a year before Bettys opened nearby.
The store was famous for having one pane of curved glass across the front façade and operated under Royal Patronage.
The designers and workrooms were upstairs, where all the clothes were made on site and the original staircase still exists in the former Wesley Barrell showroom.
Like Frederick Belmont, the founder of the famous tea rooms, Louis Cope had emigrated to England from the continent.
Born in Poland and named Ulik Beidenkopf - which he later changed to Louis Bidencope and ultimately to Louis Cope - the two neighbouring shops were soon the focus of society life in Harrogate and the surrounding areas at a time when the town was, perhaps, at its most elegant.
Spread across several addresses at the bottom of Parliament Street, Louis Cope tailored for Harrogate’s very wealthy and became something of a local celebrity in the press in the Harrogate Advertiser and across Yorkshire.
As the business grew, fashion shows became a regular society event taking place at the store with ten or 12 ‘mannequins’ or models wearing Louis’s designs and around 1,000 prominent figures attending each show.
Ladies’ servants from around the UK would contact Louis asking for fashionable items that their employers could wear.
Harrogate may still have high standards as a town, though there is debate over whether the days of smartness have gone for good.
But Alex Goldstein retains his family’s commitments to the idea of quality, even in his property work for high-end estate agencies where he offers a unique service to individuals and families across London and Yorkshire.
Mr Goldstein said: “I am very proud of my family heritage and our entrepreneurial spirit, from my great grandfather Louis Cope setting up his own company to my father then doing the same, and now myself based in Harrogate.
“It shows three generations of the same family who have all made their mark on the area in completely different industries and also helped put Harrogate on the map.”
In the inter-war years, Louis Cope started doing in-store fashion shows, putting Harrogate on the same plane as London. Models used to sweep down the main stairwell, impressing all the guests and gentry watching.
Louis’s wife Sarah would do the pearls, sitting behind a long mahogany desk so she could watch everything on the shop floor whilst restringing them with a knot either side.
On one occasion Louis came into the possession of a fine gem nicknamed the ‘Tenant diamond’.
Valued at £10,000 - worth nearly half a million pounds in today’s money - it was reported to be “bigger and better than any in the British crown.
Louis had come a long way from his original arrival in London where he worked as a barber before moving to Harrogate where the purer air was hoped to help his asthma.
Self-taught, he’d begun his rise in fashion by travelling in person to Paris couture houses who had their own shows and he had a small pair of scissors and would cut a bit off the hem of dresses as models walked slowly past to bring back to Harrogate.
In March 1926, Louis was naturalised in Harrogate.
Living with his family at 15 Duchy Road, as he prospered, he became something of a philanthropist and supported many local charities.
Alex’s own links to this titan of Harrogate’s retail heritage begins before the Second World War when Louis and his wife Sarah’s daughter Freda met William, the son of Sam Goldstein.
The latter was an equally illustrious name in the world of fashion, albeit coming to the same sector of the economy from another direction.
Ellis & Goldstein were a big fashion name in London and had links to Leeds through family members Sam and Polly Goldstein.
Rather than haute couture, Sam Goldstein set up for the mass production fashion industry and was more focused on high street fashions.
They were the first company to produce ready-made dresses for the average height lady, which in those days was 5ft 2ins, rather than tailored clothing.
After Louis and Sarah Cope’s daughter Freda was introduced to Sam Goldstein’s son William, the two of them married, joining the two families and fashion powerhouses together, although from different ends of the fashion spectrum.
Following their marriage, Freda and Sam Goldstein had two children, including Richard Goldstein who initially worked for Ellis & Goldstein, but after spotting a niche in the market became a shipping entrepreneur.
His children Alex and Lucy likewise set up their own successful businesses.
Lucy has continued the family fashion line working with exclusive designers and also with major high street brands including Ozwald Boateng, Emanuel Ungaro, Jaeger and Next.
Alex Goldstein has gone his own way with 17 successful years of experience under his belt as a property consultant.
But he is amazed how his family tree encapsulates the whole history of tailoring from bespoke to off-the-peg.
Mr Goldstein said: “While the Louis Cope store created bespoke high-quality fashion for the elite in Harrogate, Louis’s daughter then married into the Goldstein family, who launched the first off-the-peg fashion range.
“Between the two families, it shows how fashion and clothing changed literally within a generation, from unique and hand-made to mass produced.”
The days of Louis Cope selling glittering gowns to the wealthy folk of the north may be long gone, the shop itself closed in the 1970s; though shops such as Rhodes Wood trading on the same spot offer a trace of that tradition.
But it is said that many older ladies in Harrogate still covet their Louis Cope hat boxes.
Many have items from the store in their attics or tucked away as prize possessions in wardrobes or cupboards.
Some even claim that the reason some sons of Harrogate are called Louis goes back to the days when the Louis Cope fashion emporium stood proudly on Parliament Street.
What happened to Louis Cope's treasures?
After first being opened in 1918, Louis Cope’s famous fashionwear store in Harrogate closed its doors for the last time in the 1970s, almost 20 years after the death of founder Mr Cope himself.
As well as examples of the fine clothes and accessories still treasured by former customers in private homes across Harrogate, the importance of Louis Cope can be judged by the decision of the council-owned Mercer Gallery to store some of the shop’s loveliest creations.
The public last got a glimpse of Cope’s treasures from the gallery’s collection in 2014 at an exhibition called A Fashionable Town held at the Royal Pump Room Museum in Harrogate.
A message from the Editor
Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.
In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news on this free-to-read site, I am asking you to also please purchase a copy of our newspaper.
Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.
With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information by buying a copy of our newspaper.