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.

Here’s a little history: 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.

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 are some more House of Merivales that I’ve found on my travels – some have now found new homes and some are from my private collection. Some are from the collections of others – if you have any HOM you’re welcome to forward images and with your permission (and credit) I will add them to this post.

Here is the earliest one: a set of culottes from Lynn Flannery. They date to 1966.
Photos courtesy Lynn Flannery.

Early 1970s (with ’30s influence and lace up back).

Featured in my book “Love Vintage”.

And these are all from the mid ’70s.

This one had a ’30s style matching maxi dress originally.

This wedding dress is from 1974, and shows influence from the ’30s and ’40s, Little House on the Prairie and Laura Ashley.

1970s knitted acrylic set – Photo courtesy Wendy Simpson.

Mid ’70s jumpsuit with shirred bodice – Photo courtesy Wendy Simpson.

Late 1970s to early 1980s – Photo courtesy Kathryn Maxwell.

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. Thank you to all the contributors and models Becky Lou, St Clare, Kelly Ann Doll, Lux and Nicole.

Sources: Merivale and the Powerhouse Museum.

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190 comments

  1. I also loved The House of Merivale garments. I was married in one and I also had the actual “long black empire one with the blousy sleeves and the patchwork” – I loved that dress and I wore it to a wedding in Williamstown. It’s probably mine. I was a perfect size then in those days, and the styles suited me, even the clingy ones.

  2. Hi Guys, am wondering if anyone is interested in me writing about my five year stint working in Merivale from 1974 – 1980?

    Am interested in your comments and feedback or perhaps any leads.
    Yes, Merivale, what a fabulous Australian fashion house, like no other.
    Boy, the stories I could tell.

    Ta, Anne.

  3. Pls do write more about Australian labels. Talking to our daughter who has just got back from London after five years at Ldn Coll of Fashion and Uni of the Arts then working with bespoke designers about various labels and the one I remember most clearly is The House of Merivale and Mr John. Its a long name but just rolls nicely and is easily remembered.

  4. I bought my wedding dress at the house of Merivale in Pitt Street in 1975 – I still have it and still love it! It’s a satin dress with shoe string straps, empire line and a long sleeved matching jacket bolero – I wore a bit white hat and platform shoes, very 70’s!

  5. I was lucky to stumble across a mint condition House of Merivale suit last year tucked away in the back corner of a dusty old vintage clothing store in Melbourne…. It fitted like a glove and I fell in love with it enough to pay $200 without knowing anything about the label/brand. The lady who owns the store was adamant that it was ‘the’ hip label of the 60’s-70’s in Australia, so I went away and researched it after my purchase… and you have no idea how delighted I was to discover the rich and rebellious history of this fashion house!

    Since then I have taken to collecting Merivale, and now have a beautiful cotton blouse with billowing big sleeves, and silk/rayon floral shrug, and a 1950’s inspired floral print ball gown…. and I can only feel my addiction growing!If anyone has any pieces they would like to sell, please feel free to contact me at: themerivaleproject@gmail.com

    I also work part-time as a freelance journalist and have a number of contacts in the Australian film industry – and as such I am very interested in taking on the Merivale story as a side project… whether a book or documentary – this is a story that NEEDS to be told! If you are interested in taking part in the project, have any stories/pictures you’d like to share, or would be interested in being interviewed then please drop me a line!!

    themerivaleproject@gmail.com

    (My own research led me to discover that my father actually got married in a Merivale suit!)

    Thanks for your help,
    Eleanor

  6. Lucked out today in my local opppie! A Mr John mint condition – I sweat it’s never been worn – mens size 4 – 38″ black double breasted leather jacket with clip front and waist belt. They are still there. Very fond memories of all the unusually tall staff that swaned around the Collins St store in amazing clothes with afros etc. Keep hunting – they are still there.

  7. This brings back great memories – I had just started work and bought a long leather coat from Merivale & Mr John and have only recently parted with it – I had to lay by it and I remember it took me a long time to pay it off.

  8. there should be a photo gallery opportunity here …. to show off all the clothes !!!
    can you set one up on this site ???

  9. I spent a fortune on Merivale clothes. I just loved them. I bought absolutely esquisite top of the range and/or ‘special items’, e.g. tapestry pants – flairs of course, whole season wardrobes and “batches” of essentials, e.g. silk blouse in several colours over the years. I still have the cutest little ‘punk’ leather jacket bought in 1979 – one of the last items I purchased. Another favourite and similar type shop with ‘divine’ clothes was called (I think ? – a lifetime ago now ! ) Daily Planet. Wonderful times and clothes. Thanks for the memory jog.

  10. Hi,
    I stumbled across your site and posted a comment And Only Then realised it was an archived blog! I bought All my clothes from Merivale – spent an absolute fortune there over the years. ( Some times i bought whole seasons clothing during the seventies! ) I still have a great little punk leather jacket from 1979 – one of the last items I bought as Life took me far away from Merivale shops. I’ve bestowed treasured items on many a grateful young thing over the years and will give the jacket to my grandaughter now you’ve jogged my memory, she’ll love it. Thanks for a blog that triggered delicious memories. I didn’t realise they had been gone for twenty years !?! Does anyone recall a simlar – even more expensive shop – called Daily Planet ? The clothes were on a par with the best of Merivale….both sold positively exquisite items.

  11. Jan, I remember the store Daily Planet, my girlfriend and I were taken there by her “big” sister when we were on school holidays,I was in awe as a young teenager, I too loved the house of Merivale, also do you remember the In Shoppe.

  12. Sorry Jan – the first post to my blog is always a moderated one. Your posts from here will go straight on.

    Miarina, I like your idea of the gallery. I’ve bought a couple of Merivale ’70s dresses lately so I’ll take some photos and set up a post – then anyone who’d like a photo of their garment included just has to send me a photo and I’ll upload it (will full credits of course). Stay tuned 🙂

  13. I was married (1978) in a House of Merivale wedding dress (very flower child) which I still have along with the original invoice.

    I wore lots of Merivale clothes which were mostly bought by my mother because when I left home and started to work I realised just how expensive they were and could not afford as many!

    I loved those clothes and especially the matching leather bags she also bought me. Looking back I think she spoilt me but I’m sure she loved those clothes as much as I did!

  14. Wow, what memories. I purchased a charcoal grey pant-suit and cerise shirt with silver buttons. Also an olive pant-suit with a brown velvet colour and stitching, worn with a mint green shirt and gold buttons. Had a pair of woollen flares in striped brown and dark green up to about 10yrs ago. Don’t know what I did with them but regret no keeping them for old times sake. The Collins St shop was great to browse around in. Have enjoyed reading everyone’s story.

  15. I first went to House of Merivale in Pitt St when I was 13, what a place, I bought THE black leather bag with the pockets outside and a bomber jacket in dark green tartan, my friends bought the red and the blue jackets, does anyone remember that smell when you walked in would love to smell that wonderful scent again and know I would just be transported back to that gorgeous shop.

  16. In response the comment from Kathy about the ‘smell’ as you walked in the door of ‘House of Merivale’….I remember the beautiful decor….it was something else. The only thing I have left from my personally made ‘Merivale’ bag was the solid tear drop shaped keyring that was attached to the bag. What happy memories from days gone by….

  17. Ah yes, the smell of the Merivale stores. Magnificent.

    I miss the innovation and inspiration of Merivale designs of the 70’s. My Mum couldn’t believe I spent so much money on clothes from there. I just loved strutting my Merivale stuff.

    I still have my 3/4 blue leather coat and a lovely Merivale shawl. Cue came second and The Inn Shoppe came third. I still retain a couple of Inn Shoppe tops, packed away. My shoes always came from Mr Christian and I still have a few pairs of those, clogging up the top shelf of my wardrobe.

    I still have my grey Merivale shopping bag and anther handbag with my name embroidered on the tag.

    I’m a saddo, I know, holding onto these items. Probably says a lot about someone who doesn’t realise they are still living in the past. *blushing*

  18. Hey Pat – it would be wonderful if you could actually post some photos of your Mr Christian shoes – is that possible Nicole??
    My friend has an obsession with shoe pictures and Mr Christian just came into my head tonight and googled it and came across this 🙂 Thks Kirsty

  19. Kirsty, I think that’s a great idea – I have a three Merivale dresses now, I’ll post about them and then anyone can send me photos and I’ll add them to the post with details. I also have some brand new Mr Christian shoes from the mid ’70s so perhaps I should include them too?

    In the meantime, I included a Merivale dress in my recent fashion parade – you can see it here –

    http://circavintageclothing.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/29-Love-Vintage-Fair-Parade-Lux-3.jpg

  20. I used to work at Westpac when it was Bank of New South Wales, George St across from Martin Place in Sydney during the seventies. Many a lunch hour was spent looking at all the beautiful clothes in the nearby House of Merivale. Was there ever a HOM on George St? I can remember one near Martin Place on Pitt St but was there ever one on George St near Martin Place/cnr Wynyard Lane and George St? There was a bar upstairs that sold tropical style drinks. I remember a few dress shops and one that really stood out which may have been HOM.

  21. Just wondering if anyone remembers the winebar that opened in Pitt St under the Merivale store – owned by John & Merival mid to late 70s – it had 30’s gangster theme with picture of Al Capone etc. I have a vague recollection that it was called ‘Speakeasy’ but not 100%. Does anyone else remember this? A friend and I are going nuts trying to remember the name.

  22. I have just received a notification from Debbie McMillian…..Hi Debbie I too used to work in the Bank of NSW (now Westpac) in the 70’s and would loved to have owned more ‘House of Merivale’ things. I used to go to the ‘HOM’ store in Pitt Street, the décor was just gorgeous.

  23. I knew a girl who worked in the Pitt St. Store in 1967, Jyl Cooper, she had a boyfriend named Trevor kyle, they were great fun!

  24. I bought my wedding dress from House of Merivale in 1978.At the time I was after something different to the chiffon dresses that were available.I still have my dress made from broid anglais,don’t think that I will ever part with it.

  25. I purchased a really trendy dress (and many others) from Merivale. Still have it. It is a sort of halter neck but with a kind of draw string. The skirt (above knee) is like the wider part of men’s ties so it is split all around. It is burgundy with black slashes and gold. Would still be fashionable today if you could find one like it. I still love it but of course, since I purchased it in the mid 1970’s I am a touch “vintaged” and “larger” myself to wear it. Anybody know what it would be worth. Mint condition size 10.

  26. I am writing further to a comment from Debbie McMillan from August 1st 2011. I would love to establish if I knew Debbie from our days working in the Bank of NSW on George Street opposite Martin Place.
    I worked in that branch from 1974 to 1984.
    I would love to hear from Debbie…and yes we can talk about HOM too.

  27. a friend of mine picked up an original HOM at market for $1o.oo …. the vendor had NO idea that the brand was in demand …
    collectoors would pay heaps ..
    BTW … i am still waiting for someone to set up a pic gallery of some the more original beautiful garments … i personally have a beautiful retro dress that i still can wear at the age of 58 … without looking urghhh..[ MDAL ]..oe of the HOM designs are timeless..

  28. Such memories this brought back. In the mid-70s I bought a beautiful long white dress with a black art-deco style woman print from Merivale and Mr John. I wore it to my brother-in-law’s wedding. So beautiful and I’m sad that I no longer have it. I loved spending hours in that store.

  29. i have a dress from the house of merivale and I was wondering how much it would be worth. Where can i get a trustworthy calculation as to what it’s worth may be

  30. Sharon, you might like to search for similar items online to get an idea..what it’s worth will depend on age, style, condition and size. You could also try a professional valuer, an auction house should be able to put you in touch with someone.

  31. Hi All you Merrivale Lovers,

    Have been a bit of a horder of vintage and textiles.

    Time to move on am listing a beautiful White Merrivale wedding dress complete with the box(top only)…on ebay tonight.

    Very lacy,very white and to die for.

    It s label states “an imported model”House of Merrivale Hemmes”

    Love the memories clothes inspire and and quality of time past.

    Sue

  32. I am reading all these blogs and having a blast in the past – i wore mostly daily planet, but spent my money in te=he Mr. Christian shoe shop…i still have a pair of Mr. Christian high heels – i couldn’t wear them in the end, but still have them – must be nearly 40 years old. I bought a ”carpet bag” there and wore it until it fell apart. It was the done thing then to buy every friday a pair of shoes from Mr. Christian or clothes from Merivale and hang around in that area.

  33. I amcurrently wearing a pair of Mr.Christian shoes that are about 22 years old. They are so comfortable and have not dated. That is the beauty of Mr.Christian shoes…..where are they now?

  34. Debbie
    I have an original box from Merivale. The three Sydney addresses are 125 Pitt St, 194 Pitt St and 156 Pitt St. No George St

  35. I just bought a Mr Christian pink leather handbag for $6 from an op shop in Melbourne and it looks like new. I was just wondering when they stopped producing? It’s very hard to figure out when this was made as it’s a pretty classic style but the condition is immaculate but does have that aged smell about it.

  36. Jo, if you email me a photo (or better still, pop into the shop with the bag), I’ll have a go at dating it for you. I don’t know when Mr Christian stopped, but all the items I’ve seen were mid to late ’70s, but I think the business operated for longer than that.

  37. I remember Mr Christian shoes and also the John and Merivale shops in Pitt St & George St, they were wonderful. I coulnd’t afford to buy anything there but I loved to look. I remember the wonderful decor, and in 1978 at the height of the Rio look inspired by the hit songs of Peter Allen and Mike Nesmith, the John & Merivale store in Pitt St had a big bird cage full of beautiful macaw parrots out the front. We all had those tops and dresses with the flounces and frills at the hem and off the shoulder neckline in bright tropical colours.

  38. I was very pleased to be able to get Nicole’s book from my local library last week, as well as two of Charlotte Smith’s books, and a couple of books on how to do vintage style makeup and hair! great library

  39. From Debbie McMillan. In reply to Louise who also worked at Westpac. So sorry it took me so long to reply. I’ve only just looked up this website again.
    I started off working in the mail room, then spent a short time in the banks printing office, then Periodical Payments Dept, then Ledger Dept on the ground floor. (I was a teller’s clerk for a while) After that I worked in another section of Ledger Dept which was upstairs somewhere. Finally my last years at Westpac were spent in the Telex Room on the 8th floor.
    I did work with a Louise in Ledger Dept ground floor.
    Others there at that time were Dennis, Kerry, Malcolm, Julie (I think there were 2) and Joslyn. Ive forgotten names of others.

  40. Hi Debbie,

    I worked in the Ledger Department….on the Statement Counter and later on as a Trading Bank Examiner. My surname then was ‘Alamangos’…..I have since married and it is now Reynolds.

    If you are the Debbie that I remember…..you had thick hair….and lovely skin. I still have a little ‘Coalport’ container that you gave me as a present.

    Those names you mentioned I do remember….Dennis was married to Kerry.I remember Julie, Joslyn, and Phil too.

    I will give you my e-mail address so we can talk direct…it is limwood@live.com.au

    I look forward to hearing from you again…..
    Regards
    Louise

  41. Ha ha all this talk of working in banks. We must have been the ones to afford to buy lovely clothes or at least realistically dream about them.I worked in Melbourne with the National Bank of Australasia Limited (as it was then known) on relieving staff – Toorak was my home base. (Transferred from Burnie Tasmania because my husband was “called up” and ended up working in Victoria Barracks.I did my timeon noisy ledgers/adding machines with handles/teller- counting and rolling coins- making up pays in little bags to the cent.
    The first large spread sheets and sheets of daily figures used to arrive at the bank branches from the central computer room in the city!

  42. Hmmm..nostalgia – must be that we are all “of an age”. I remember the boutiques, had my share of Inn Shoppe clothes, Mr Christian shoes – and – to add to the list – does anyone remember GASWORKS? I still have, in brilliant condition(that’s quality:)a Gasworks tapestry coat – 3/4 length velvet tapesty – size 10. Back when size 10 was somewhat smaller than today’s “10”. Can still wear it, if I breathe in to button it! And I remember my crepe (shrunken:( two-piece skirt/top from Inn Shoppe. Oh, and I still have a Prue Acton halter dress – still a classic, very pretty number. Can we have another go at living that life~!

  43. Hi Louise

    I do remember you and thanks for your email address.
    It will be fun to catch up and remember.

  44. INN SHOPPE – rings a bell but I can’t ‘name the tune’??? Can someone kindly fill me in with the details of this shoppe. Where in Melbourne was it? I worked for National Bank of Australasia Ltd in Melbourne 1976 so no doubt spent my wages ($73pw!!) at this shoppe.

  45. Faye… I started at the National Bank of Australasia Ltd in 1967-the year after the ledgers all had to be ruled off and converted to decimal currency AND balanced- as well as the new currency notes and coins mastered- my salary was $42 (my friend who worked in a local jewellers shop earned exactly half my wage).I left in 1976!I digress I know but this is all relevant to how much (or little) we had to spend at these fabulous places.
    Sandy my wedding dress (made by my friend a dressmaker) in 1971 was chiffon.It’s now shrunken chiffon and I haven’t shrunk along with it!!! I envy your dress even without seeing it. 🙂

  46. Thanks for your reply Jenny, shows what fabulous taste us ‘bankies’ had I think !!! This is a great chat site if that is what it can be called – I love all the stories about Merivale & Mr John.

  47. Oh what fantastic memories evoked from reading all the above… much of my meagre secretary’s salary was spent with relish at the beautiful House of Merivale in Collins Street Melbourne in the early-mid 70’s. I worked in Flinders Lane and so every lunch time was spent exploring what was the mecca of fashion in that era. I had several pairs of Mr Christian shoes and still wear an amazing pair of stilletos from mid 70’s that have never dated and are the sexiest pair of shoes I’ve ever owned – and I’ve owned a few!!! I still have a long cream crepe and satin dress from HOM and a cool one-shoulder top with JAM (John And Merivale) emblazoned across the front. Also a gorgeous leather bag with the label “Especially made for (my name) by the House of Merivale & Mr John.” Still in mint condition and I’ll never part with it. The Inn Shoppe was another favourite haunt… remember those Chinese style satin embroidered jackets in jewel colours, mid 70’s… I had a gold one which I teamed with black satin flairs and Sasha platforms… really wish I had held onto some of those, I had about 6 pairs of the cork ones and 3 or 4 pairs of multi-coloured leather sky-high statement pieces! I would be happy to post some photos of my bits and pieces… Thx so much for the fabulous trip down memory lane. x

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