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There is something special about family heirlooms that has nothing to do with monetary value. Somehow in knowing that one of your forbearers wore and valued an item of jewellery it gives you a connection to the past that is quite special. Jewellery is an especially personal item and pearls have been a valued commodity in fashion for many decades. My family were not wealthy and so Great Grandma’s pearls are quality faux pearls not real. Despite their faux status they are actually quite lovely as each pearl has an irregularity to its shape rather than being perfectly round. The pearls also have a creamy lustre with some depth not like modern fake pearls. They may be glass as they are quite heavy and tinkle loudly when dropped into a ceramic bowl.
When they were passed on to me by mother they were as she received them, broken, tied up in knots and fairly soiled. It’s hard to imagine how they came to be in this state. I know that she will have received them when her father died many, many years after the premature death of her mother. I can only imagine that he saw no value in them and they were in the back of a drawer or cupboard for many years since my Great Grandmothers death or at least Nanna’s death. I spent some time gently unraveling the strings before taking this first photo. You can see that the clasp and French wire are corroded and strings broken.
I had to work out the balance of the pearl numbers on each string to achieve the correct design and then restring with silk thread and French wire. Whilst these pearls were not originally individually knotted, as they are quite lovely and to improve their aesthetic I have chosen to restring them in the traditional manner with individual knots between each pearl.
Now I just have to have a think about how to rock three string pearls without actually looking like a Nanna!
I was really hoping my Aunt who is the keeper of old photographs in our family might be able to find a photo of Great Grandma in her pearls to accompany this post. Alas, none is to be found. Perhaps I should add a photo of one of my daughters wearing them in time. That would be fitting.
I am ashamed to admit I bought this sweet little purse ages ago. No I really mean ages… I am pretty sure it was in the late 80’s early 90’s. It was in this state at the time and I bought it intending to refurbish its vintage goodness. Ah well, time has ticked on and it has never quite made it to the top of my priority list, until now. I am sooooooooo pleased though that I have finally had an excuse to put aside the time to attend to it. Finding beads wasn’t too difficult although I did have to compromise. I feel fairly certain the original bead was a size 10 and the closest I could get was size 11. The shape is also slightly different. The original bead is more like a doughnut where as the replacement is a bit fuller. I think it is ok though. It can now be used!
You can see that the old thread is slowly rotting away and this job required securing loose beads as well as rebuilding the original design as closely as I could ascertain from the barely visible stitching marks in the satin. It took a little time but I think well worth it.
After the beading and cleaning is finished, a very gentle manipulation and some steam to restore its original shape and voila, time to get out into society again.
“Really?…. A corset! Well yes, but candy pink satin?…Are you sure?”
“Trust me!” I say…
and trust me she did.
My dear friend Juliet had very kindly agreed to collaborate with me on a passion project that has been formulating in the back of my head for some time now. She was the perfect collaborator: enthusiastic, highly imaginative with a great sense of fun. Now I can’t reveal the project at the moment, its still under wraps but I can and wanted to share a small part of it which I like to call “Building Boudicea”.
For this project Juliet and I needed to develop a costume for her to wear, this costume (for reasons I shan’t as yet go into) would be a deeply personal take on the British Celtic heroine Boudicea*. I’d like to emphasise here that this costume was never intended to be historically accurate, it is intended to be a physical representation of psychological notions.
The main constraint I had with this costume was time, closely followed by budget. I needed to come up with an outfit that deeply resonated with Juliet as well as communicating ‘modern day Boudicea’ to others in a couple of days. Our starting point was a beautiful velvet blue, black and grey animal print dress that Juliet had purchased many years ago, absolutely adored yet had never found opportunity to wear. Juliet also owned a short cape that was just perfect, a very traditional style of wool in burgundy and rust as well as a belt that we had purchased together during a personal styling session that has become a fast favourite. We talked about Celtic tattoos, arm bands, armour, spines and wild tribal hair.
As I went off to contemplate our discussion, the notion of armour really stuck with me. It’s likely of course that Boudicea did not wear armour, although in some imaginings of her she is pictured with armour. Her adversaries, the Romans, would have worn upper body armour with helmets and shields. Boudicea, is more likely to have been wearing a simple tunic, and cloak.
However, the notion of our Boudicea taking an item of clothing which has one particular set of social connotations and converting into something totally different, more wild, wilful and empowered, rather appealed to me. Somehow in the conversion from one to the other the item is imbued with greater power and the wearer ownership of the. Off I went to a local charity store and as luck would have it, exactly the item I was looking for was there loitering, just waiting for me to find it.
A cheaply made, candy pink satin corset. In my experience there is likely to be two main types of responses to this kind of an item. Those that see corsetry as a tool for the suppression and control of women: restrictive, unhealthy, painful, sexualised and controlled. The other group (which includes women), see modern day corsetry as empowering: Women embracing their history, owning their femininity and sexual appeal. In truth, I probably have a foot in both camps, but in cheap, candy pink satin I feel this corset sits in the first camp.
So the idea of taking this item, that to me is symbolic of women being sexualised and objectified to suit the whims of men, into an item that appears to provide protection and preparation for a woman going into battle to protect her people, provides a psychological meaning that has deep satisfaction. A notion too that is perfect for our modern day Boudicea – Juliet.
So the conversion began:
The finished Boudicea body armour front and back. No longer apt to call it a corset.
So here is a teensy weeny sneak peek of some of the elements together. I’d love to show you the whole thing, but best not. For now anyway.
We were both so pleased with how it came out. We had enormous fun creating it and the project was a really fascinating, emotionally empowering experience for both of us. Please keep your fingers crossed that all works out and I get more opportunities to produce work of this nature.
*Boudicea has many versions of her name by which she is known including Boudica, Boudicca, Boadicea and Buddug.
Boudicea, who died in cAD6, was a queen of the British Celtic Iceni tribe. Legend has it that she rallied her people to fight the Roman conquerors in retaliation for suppression and abuse. She is believed to have been mercenary and blood thirsty in her treatment of the enemy, yet is upheld as a heroine, protector and defender of her people.
This is a job I did recently with one of my favourite clients and friends. We all change as we mature, some more than others and we recently noted that she was changing and potentially from one season to another. We tested it, and she is still in her original season but it won’t be long. She has always been a Soft Summer and is moving towards Cool Summer. The low contrast colours in her original palette are getting harder to wear, but she still looks best in the stronger richer colours of her palette. Some of the deeper Cool Summer colours are starting to wear well on her but the gelatoish colours are too much.
Its interesting don’t you think?
Following are some pictures and her testimonial about her recent wardrobe renovation, the assistance I gave her and the end result.
Organisation makes a massive difference to getting dressed in the morning! And making better more creative choices!
Thank you beautiful lady, it was a pleasure working with you!
Unfortunately by the time you are reading this, the exhibition will be over! Ah well. Due to other commitments both professional and personal I have not managed to get this post published in a timely manner. Never mind.
It was a lovely little exhibition held by the City of Glen Eira as part of their Story Telling Festival and I believe they were very happy with its patronage. The exhibition featured items from the collections of Nicole Jenkins of Circa Vintage, the National Gallery of Victoria, Diane Masters, Di Riedie of Brighton Historical Society and the Brighton Historical Society amongst others. I was very pleased to contribute to facilitating this arrangement on behalf of the Brighton Historical Society.
Diane Masters, a popular mannequin (model) of the day gave a lovely floor talk where she shared some of her very fond memories of the time. I was particularly struck by the stories she told of her good friend Hall Ludlow and the journey his life took from abandonment in an orphanage, through menial service jobs to creating his own fantastic career as a couturier. Over here you can read more from Diane Masters on Hall Ludlow.
Nicole Jenkins also spoke which reports tell me was also fascinating. Sadly I could not attend that event as I believe that Nicole is a veritable fountain of knowledge.
The following pieces were selected by the Glen Eira curator, Diane Soumilas, from the BHS collection for inclusion in the exhibition. With each piece I have included some notes and links that I have recently sourced, just the beginnings of research that might help anyone looking to learn more information about these labels.This collection is important to me as I am fascinated by the snapshot it provides of one particular community, as well as contributing to our broader social history in exhibitions such as this. It holds some interesting pieces which I hope to illustrate to you here. Further research is definitely required for full histories of items and makers.
A Colman Hat
A rather smart black raffia and diamante hat. Whilst the hat appears to be of Irish origin, as with all of our non provenanced items its presence in the collection suggests that it was owned and worn by a resident of the Brighton area.
With no real maker information to go on and judging purely by style I estimate this piece to have been made in the early 1950’s.
UPDATE: July 18th
I have been in at the society today putting away returns and in the process discovered two hats that have put a different perspective on things.
The way this hat is labelled indicates to me that potentially Colman hats may have been made especially for David Jones, Sydney for the local market. The first Colman hat may have similar provenance. Some unknown person has written 1960 and V. Vetra on the label which I suspect may have happened when it was initially donated to the society.
This hat has been labelled in a similar fashion. The only Horne I have found thus far is an American brand from the 1930’s in Pittsburg. I remain curious as to why this hat is labelled this way. Would love to hear from anyone who can fill me in further!
Harbig: Melbourne, New York, Paris
This sweet little floral piece is believed to have been made by Harbig Products of Melbourne. I have not yet unearthed any information to explain the use of the words New York and Paris on the label and would be fascinated to hear if more! Although I did find this news report
News of next winter hat fashions was brought back by Melbourne manufacturers, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Harbig, when they returned by B.C.P.A. DC6 last night after four months in America and the Continent studying materials that will be needed for next season’s hats. They predicted: Shapes: Head-hugging cloches to suit short hair, cut away at the back to clear high collars, and built up and out at the front to give height. Materials! Felts, velours, velvets, and a new long-haired fur fabric, flamond. Colours: Muted pastels, few jewel shades, and no vivid colours. Trimmings: Little veiling, hut feathers and feathers and feathers.
that at least indicates that the Harbig’s were spending substantial amounts of time abroad. It is both head hugging and muted pastel and I therefore I feel we can safely date it to c1950.
I also found these job advertisements for positions at Harbigs, which I find interesting. These professions exist these days in such a completely different manner. In the past you could make a career in a millinery factory in Melbourne. Today most milliners in Australia are skilled artisans working alone or in very small companies, often working across a variety of fields including teaching, fashion, and costume industries. My maternal grand mother was a milliner, finding these job advertisements has had me thinking about finding out more about her professional experiences.
This ad from The Age July 5th 1961 advertisers for urgently required experienced milliners to do work from home.
In The Age Melbourne, Saturday June 22nd 1963 in the ‘millinery packing room’ at 1 Drill Street Hawthorn and Wednesday August 19th 1964 for “experienced, part experienced or learners, woman wanted for modern millinery department…an interesting and well paid trade’
Hicks Atkinson Melbourne
This dashing black silk velvet and straw hat is by Hicks Atkinson and Sons, Pty Ltd, Collins St, Melbourne. Hicks Atkinson Department Store operated from 1911 until 1963 and both retailed the designs of others as well as commissioning exclusive product. This store was in operation at the time when department stores were at the height of their popularity and this part of Melbourne was a shopping hub with a substantial number of luxury stores.
Judging by its style this piece is most likely to have been made in the early to mid 1950’s.
Mary H Thomas: Wattletree Rd East Malvern. Phone 505347
A silk velvet and net leaf hat. Unfortunately I have not been able thus far to find any further information regarding this milliner. My assumption is that she may have been a small artisan or couturier milliner, with a smaller less established business. I would love to hear from anyone who could offer me any information regarding her.
A frothy concoction of net, wire and paper featured above is a hat bearing the label Nance Bannon.
In my investigations online I have found a number of references to a society lady Miss Nance Bannon with dates in the mid 1930’s. One of these was on Trove, The National Library of Australia’s digital resource. Trove has a number of newspaper articles featuring promotions of Nance Bannon’s millinery from the newspapers similar to the ones I have linked to below. As yet I am not sure if this society lady in the mid 1930’s is the same Nance Bannon as the 1950’s and on milliner but it seems likely. Miss Nance Bannon is third from the left in the central photograph.
Trove has numerous 1950’s digitised newspapers featuring ‘advertorial’ for Nance Bannon and her millinery. Articles from both South Australian and Victorian newspapers are featured. It would appear that whilst she was based in Melbourne she may have regularly travelled to Adelaide to show her wares.
Over here you can find two ads from The Age Melbourne Saturday Jan 14 1956 in which Nance Bannon advertises millinery positions: .
Milliner, exp.. model work. Nance Bannon, 174 Collins sc.
“TVfILLINERY, ‘improvers and AP-iTX prentee, Nance Bannon, 174 UQ1IUU bl
This second job description seems quite baffling! I suspect the ad is supposed to read “millinery improvers and apprentice”?
These ads indicate that in 1956 Nance Bannon appears to have been located at 174 Collins St Melbourne.
In this Age newspaper story in 1961 featuring three Autumn / Winter collection hats and again in this story in 1966, in The Age newspaper that features from August 3rd 1966 of four hats from Nance Bannon’s spring collection indicates that she is now located in South Yarra .
In this Age newspaper story from August 9th 1967 we see Nance Bannon featured again (my, she was popular).
From looking at the styles of these hats, the dates of her work, and her business address I estimate this hat to be c 1956 – 1961.
An aqua blue rayon wrapped ribbon turban from the late 1950’s. However, it is of note that the label on the hat looks more modern than the label on the dress. Hence the hat even date into the early 60’s. Please note the colour in the label image is more accurate.
The fashion label Misses Mooney was operated by two sisters from the premises at 189 Collins Street Melbourne. The label was established in 1932 and closed in 1972. It is unclear if it operated from this address for the entire time. There is little information available regarding this label, although at that time this part of Collins Street held a thriving industry of dressmakers and associated trades. The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney holds a Misses Mooney ensemble with some useful contextual information here.
The Brighton Historical Society has a former volunteer who once worked for Misses Mooney who provided an oral history she called ‘Memories of Another Era’. This oral history can be accessed by contacting Brighton Historical Society.
The following are some points of interest from her history from her time working for the Mooney’s c1944 – 46.
Brighton also holds a beautiful 1950’s Misses Mooney dress not featured in this exhibition
Raoul Couture Dress
A stunning cream silk and lace creation of pleating, ruching and delicate construction this Raoul couture dress is just lovely, and rather tiny. Raoul couture was a highly respected fashion house based in Flinders Lane, Melbourne from c 1955 until 1963. Head designer Leonard Legge later worked for another prominent Australian designer Prue Acton.
Till next time….