The House of Merivale and a dress with history.

At the recent vintage fair at Williamstown I chanced upon a remarkable frock – a Merivale from the early ’70s constructed patchwork-style from a large collection of original vintage fabrics from the ’30s and ’40s.

Not especially attractive or flattering (the dress is empire style and rather like a maxi-length smock with long blouson sleeves), I could not pass it up. It’s a piece of history, from a rare time.

During the late ’60s and early ’70s, fashion went backwards as much as it went forwards. Inspired by the ’20s to the ’50s, vintage came into vogue for the first time as beautiful (and original) clothing could still be found in the op shops for a pittance. Oh, how the story of these glory days are told often at Circa! Can you imagine finding beaded flapper gowns for a dollar or two?

The House of Merivale was to Australia what Biba and Ossie Clark was to the UK: stylish and sophisticated clothing, now highly collectable. This from The Powerhouse’s site:

Established by John and Merivale Hemmes, the landmark House of Merivale and clothing designed by Merivale revolutionised the Australian fashion scene. John and Merivale Hemmes were mavericks in Australian fashion. Modelled on London’s famous concept boutiques and catering to 18-25 year olds, the House of Merivale was the first specialty fashion boutique in Australia.

The House of Merivale was not just a shop; it was a phenomenon that significantly influenced a generation of young Australian’s attitude to shopping and the fashion experience. The House of Merivale was the place to go to for the latest trends in music, fashion and make-up and was the first store in Australia to sell the mini. The popularity of the boutique was such that teenagers would be lined up outside the door.

If you find a Merivale for a good price, consider picking it up as they’re getting harder to find these days and going up in value. Meanwhile – what of my patchwork dress? It’s a mystery. It was found in a country op shop by a traveller, who brought it to Diamond Dog of Seddon, where the lovely Mellita brought it to the Fair whereupon it caught my eye.

How can I be sure that it’s made of vintage fabrics? Rayons of the sort it uses are fragile creatures when wet and do not stand up to machine washing (I recommend hand washing for most, but dry clean only for crepes) so during the 1950s a new type of rayon was invented that could withstand modern rigours. The fabrics in my dress could only be old because the versions made in the ’60s and ’70s are very different. Not surprisingly, it comes with a “dry clean only” label but all the same, I’m surprised that it has survived. Crepes shrink if washed, as vintage lovers often find out to our detriment.

Here is a sample of the fabrics comprising this incredible frock. In the sixth row you’ll find one of the dress in full – then I’ve added pics of more House of Merivale pieces including a box from The White Shop. Hover your mouse over the images after the fabric swatches, to learn more about it.

Update: I’ve added more HOM.

In 1955 Merivale Hemmes started with making hats, later branching out into other aspects of ladies fashions with her business partner, husband John. The first House of Merivale shop opened in Sydney in 1959 and expanded into a six level Victorian building on Pitt Street in 1970, incorporating a Thai tea cafe. During the ’60s and ’70s, the HOM was the place to be seen and buy the latest in fashions including Prue Acton, Norma Tullo and Merivale’s own designs.

From the Powerhouse Museum’s site: “The House of Merivale promoted fashion that was inspired by London’s boutique culture featuring a fusion of fashion, pop music and art in an atmosphere that was dynamic and fun. The House of Merivale was committed to designing ‘modern clothes for people with a zest for life.’ The House of Merivale revolutionised young people’s fashion and shopping experience.”

At their height, the House of Merivale had three shops in Sydney’s Pitt Street including the White Shop, that specialised in bridal wear, two in Melbourne and one in Canberra.

Over time, the focus of the business moved to hospitality, with a restaurant opening in Potts Point in the early ’90s. The last HOM fashion shop closed in 1996. A large number of establishments currently make up the Merivale stable, run by Justin Hemmes, the son of John and Merivale.

Readers are encouraged to submit photos of HOM garments – all rights remain with the original photographer. Please email for inclusion.

Sources: Merivale and the Powerhouse Museum.

140 Responses to The House of Merivale and a dress with history.

  1. soxyfleming says:

    I remember the Mr Christian shoe shop in Brisbane…where mum wouldn’t let me buy pair of very high heels in about 1979… I did buy myself a wonderful pair of boots there in probably 1982 or 1983. I think I wore them to death.
    My mother was one of those who picked up the beaded flapper dresses in the op shops…I still have some of her finds

  2. Glenda Quinn says:

    Faye, I know this is a late reply, but the Inn Shoppe was in Bourke Street opposite Myer in the vicinity of Royal Arcade. It was quite a large store and I THINK went right through to Little Collins, I have vague memories of two entrances. The decor was very trendy but not as classy as HOM and the shop was very dark, hip and cool as hell! It started in the late 60’s I think as I remember first discovering it as a young teenage schoolgirl on a Saturday shopping expedition to the city… I was in awe and totally seduced by the wicked decadence of the place… VERY different shopping experience to the shops my Mum took me to for my clothes! I shopped there right through the 70’s, lots of satin shirts, flares, jackets and I still have a black velvet dress hanging in my closet, very early goth/bondage look, but quite classic and I could still wear it today. I think it may have closed down in the late 70’s but I’m guessing… what I wouldn’t give to live through thoses days again :)

  3. Faye says:

    Thank you Glenda! I cannot picture the shop(pe) but recall signage in pschydelic writing (???) around that time. Sasha shoes – wow I had forgotten about those. I had bright green flat ones which my mum bought me from Pinky’s Capitol Arcade, Swanston St. My dad threatened to give one to the dog so I couldn’t wear them! And satin flares I had in cream. My daughters 22 & 17 are wearing cork platforms these days, I don’t know how I ever did when I try them on now but I had forgotten about Sasha. I still have a classic sterling silver watch that I am wearing this very instant. I bought it from Gallery Sterling Myer Arcade in 1978. I still love it even though it is now quartz operative.
    It is so great to be reminded of these times of past. Here we are now in 2012 with the worries of the world upon us – menopause & superannuation! Thanks again for your reply – I enjoyed reading your previous post too. Happy Days to you!

  4. Nicole says:

    Ladies, thank you for your patience – I’ve started a gallery for the HOM, you can see it here. If you’d like to email me images, I can add them: pics of you wearing them or just by themselves, labels, packaging etc – the more the merrier. All rights to the images will remain with the original photographer.

    I have lots more HOM and I’ll add it as I get photos of it – and my collection will grow too. I’m also going to add galleries of other Aussie designers like Prue Acton and Norma Tullo.

    I hope you enjoy it and thank you to everyone for their contributions.

  5. Trudy. says:

    I have a little gold jumper from the HOM bought in 1968 from the Burke Street Store. I wore it with a pair of olive green baggy leg velvet pants with a high waist. The jumper didnt quite meet the pants but I thought it was great. I had the curly perm, black eye liner and pale makeup. We all went to the Thumping Tum Disco till 3 a.m. most Saturday nights.
    HOM was a hip experience just like its clothes.

  6. […] getting their true recognition in Australian Fashion History. The Aztecs have been presenting the Merivale, Dr John, Prue Acton, Jenny Kee era hipster record collection, but my guess is they will be continue with our […]

  7. Susan Sterling says:

    I still have my Gasworks velvet tapestry coat (1969) and Prue Acton halterneck. The Gasworks coat is now on ebay
    http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/320896275871?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1555.l2649
    at what may seem to be a high price, but to be honest, it is such a beautiful coat with the quality of another time, that I am ambivalent about selling. But I will still have the Prue Acton, my last hurrah!? I’d love to live it all again, but reality really really bites:(

  8. Nicole says:

    Beautiful coat, Susan – I hope you find a nice home for it.

  9. gudrun.weiss says:

    I still have a pair of leather shorts with lace up front and a leopard print coat . I have had them for 35years . They are both back in fashion now . I did have other Merivale items but i gave them to Vinnies a long time ago. I have chamois items that I used to wear also that I havent been able to dispose of. If anyone would like to purchase these , please e mail me.

  10. Cheryl-Leigh says:

    I have been following this post since I found it back in 2009. I was searching for a red dress for my sister-in-laws 40th – needed a cocktail style dress. Low and behold I found a size 12 red Merivale calf length crepe dress as new at the Salvos’ yesterday!! Only needs a slight adjustment at the neck to be a perfect fit :) I figure it is from the 70’s so it is an absolutely perfect gown for the occasion. I am now trying to think of what to wear around my shoulders to keep a bit warmer as this is a halter style …and I do feel a bit exposed at 53…. any suggestions of what would work well – I think back in the 70’s I didn’t feel the cold so that’s why I can’t remember!
    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated…I have 2 weeks to sort it out.

  11. Jo Dennis says:

    Wow Cheryl-Leigh what a find! I used to wear a waist length rabbit fur stole in the 70’s which was inherited from an aunt… definitely before I became anti-animal fur! I would suggest just wearing a nice pashmina over the dress to keep your shoulders covered, and keep warm. Other than that show that Merivale off to its full advantage – lucky girl!

  12. Kim Achdiat says:

    I was married in 1975. I wore a Merivale dress and my husband wore a white pin stripped suit from Mr John. In the pocket of his suit was a photo of a wedding with the groom wearing the same suit. We found the photo after the wedding. Still wearing vintage.

  13. Nicole says:

    Great story Kim – thank you for sharing! I hope you still have your Merivale and Mr John wedding outfits?

  14. Moira says:

    Just found this by accident when my daughter asked about the shop I worked in in the late 60’s and 70’s.
    I worked at the Inn Shoppe and shopped at Merivale.
    I remember bus loads of people arriving from the country who peered in through the front doors too intimidated to enter. I was on the front counter, in command of the stereo and the albums.
    The two guys who started te business modelled the decor on the House of Biba in London and they were really strict about our behavior.
    All the bands of the time shopped in both stores and most of us, who worked there had a boyfriend in a band. Molly Meldrum wrote for Go Set, and we often had a mention in his column.
    It was a sensational time and I am still in touch with girls who worked there and friends I made through that store.

  15. Debra says:

    Hi, I have a “designed by merivale” burgundy leather jacket with stitching and zips. it is size 12 and it is in excellent condition.

  16. Karen Stuart says:

    Does anybody know what happened to Mr. Christain shoe shops? I used to work in their Centrepoint shop in 1976. The owners were Barbara and David Addams. They seemed to become very successful over the years and opened shops in Brisbane and Melbourne I remember. I no longer live in Australia but was surprised to find that Mr. Christain has “disappeared” and there is nothing on any internet site that I can find to explain why they closed down or what became of Barbara and David.

  17. Shell says:

    This morning I found a Merivale and Hemmes wedding dress with a hoop skirt in white lace at my local op shop. I’m using it for a photo shoot. It’s soooo dreamy! And in pretty good condition. I’ll send a picture!

  18. Nicole says:

    Please do Shell – I’m sure we’d all love to see it!

  19. Madonna Chappell says:

    I have a pair of Mr Christian shoes I brought them in1978,they are leather and tapestry upper with a wood platform bottom.they are still in good condition ,they were so comfortable,i never got rid of them because they were so expensive,I have the matching bag to go with them.

  20. Madonna Chappell says:

    i brought them in a store in sydney

  21. lara says:

    This is a fab site.Sasha shoes were made in Melbourne,and were very well made stunning shoes that were sold through Suchi shoes Shoe Bizz and possibly Mollini, back in the 80’S. The house of Merivale is where we went for gorgeous clothing that was special, not run of the mill in every shop in town.Not even Chaple street is great any more for a stunning figure flattering dress anymore ,buy it in Chaple street find it in Target half price.Where do we go to look amazing? What happened to fashion?

  22. anna callas says:

    Thanks girls for bringing back so many wonderfull memories. The eighties were the best when fashion and music complimented each other.When we had shops to buy clothes (merivalle, Digbys, Prue Acton, Shoe Bizz)Todays girls do not how to dress. We had imagination inspiration from the music. I am so blessed and lucky I lived through a wonderfull decade. Long live the eighties

  23. Vikki Wensley says:

    Hello, can you please tell me the Melbourne address of The House of Merivale & Mr John back in the 70s? Thanks.

  24. Nicole says:

    Hi Vikki,

    I’ve just figured it out: I think it was 243 Collins Street Melbourne – between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets, it’s a lovely Art Nouveau building with green tiling – you can see an old photo (from 2011) here. Vodaphone is no longer there, but I think Sires still is.

  25. faye says:

    Regarding the Melbourne location, In the same building as Merivale was John Morrey Hairdressers. I think he was upstairs after you entered the main entrance of Merivale.
    I got a bob hairstyle there and the cut lasted for months. I am told by my current hairdresser that the stylists there were Vidal Sassoon trained in precision cutting, like my hairdressers was as well.

  26. Moira says:

    The original Merivale was at the top end of Bourke St, on the opposite side to the Inn Shoppe, I can’t recall the exact location. I don’t remember when it moved to Collins St, but that store was much larger than the original.

  27. Moira says:

    Interesting documentary on the Hemmes family on Foxtel
    25th November 2013.
    Bio 117 Family confidential.
    Will likely be repeated over the next few days.

  28. Nicole says:

    Thanks Moira! I missed it last night, but I’ll keep an eye out for it.

  29. Lee McKinnon says:

    I volunteer at a country Salvos and have just come across a pair of leather pants with red stitching with House of Merivale label. Well had to buy them without even trying them on, fabulous piece of history. Loved the shop in Pitt Street always went in and dreamed then went to the op shop and still do 30 yrs later and finally have a piece of history.

  30. Alan Cullen says:

    I was just prompted by my lady about memories of our gear from the 70’s and turned my memory inside out to recall my adored burgundy Merivale & Mr John suit from Sydney City. I still remember and LOVE that suit to this day, even though it has obviously long gone. I am 62yo now, but thankfully have retained my sense of style and size.

  31. Jane says:

    My mom once told me about Merivale where there’s a vintage fabric and clothing collection. My mom is a huge fan vintage looking dresses fabric.

  32. vicki says:

    wow. i bought my white lace, tea length wedding dress at HOM in 1981 while in melbourne on business. gorgeous shop, lots of dark wood, red velvet draping and a staircase maybe? it was the first and last dress i tried on for a spring wedding in yosemite. will post an image. too bad it was stolen a year later. staying hitched!

  33. Nicole says:

    Sorry to hear your gown was stolen, Vicki: hope you got lots of pics on your day!

  34. Patricia says:

    I still have my year 10 Formal Merivale dress in the wardrobe (1980) bought in the Sydney store, I just can’t bare to part with it even though it doesn’t fit me any more. It is just gorgeous

  35. Merivale was a fabulous place. I always remember those places when I’m at Melbourne.

  36. Chris Deans says:

    During the 70s and 80s I worked for John and Merivale as well as Mr Christian. (Karen Stuart Facebook me)
    It was a unique and exciting time for the Australian fashion industry. The decor, music and smells, all played a part. People would queue to get into the shops or stand outside gazing in awe. I still have items from both that I just can’t part with. Wonderful memories.

  37. Karen says:

    Hi Chris, Good to hear from you, hope we meet up.

  38. Karen says:

    The Inn shop was the coolest – apart from HOM of course. I walked into Forever. New today in Bourke St pop Myer and had the strangest déjà vu. Was suddenly transported back to the wonderful days of the early70’s.

  39. Lilly says:

    Hi all,
    I have a merivale hemmes sequin boob tube that was my grandmothers. I have had it for years and never worn it. It fits but litterally only covers your breast area. I have thought about getting a Taylor to turn it into a long dress. Would this be sacralidge? Would live to wear it and enjoy it but also see it’s beauty and history!
    I would love your advice. I have a formal function for a work conference and could be the perfect outfit.

  40. Nicole says:

    Hi Lilly, congrats on your lovely piece, although the news that it was your grandmothers makes me feel old!

    Converting it into a dress by adding a skirt is one thing you could do with it, but you’re reducing its value and perhaps preventing someone from restoring it in future, so my recommendation would be to make a matching skirt (or get a seamstress/tailor to do one for you) that you could wear with it. If it’s too small to wear with a skirt, you could construct a garment that goes underneath, like a slip dress.

    Personally, I think it would look great under a man’s style tux jacket and skinny cigarette pants with high heels.

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