When you love vintage clothing, you sometimes find yourself wishing that every garment came with a date, like tailored menswear does sometimes (look in the inside pocket if you don’t believe me). Ladieswear is a different kind of beast but you can imagine Kate’s surprise one day when she was ironing a new ’50s picnic frock and found a date amongst the printed design of native flora and fauna with koalas and kookaburra.
Not only a date, but some words: Australia and Australiano and Australien – and the print was one of those lovely ’50s ones that looks like it’s been hand painted. We even found a name “Susanne”. Perhaps Susanne was the artist?
We pieced together the story: here was a Melbourne made frock with a 1956 date and Australia in different languages…could it be an Olympic Games souvenir? The Melbourne Museum has a silk scarf in it’s collection, perhaps larger fashion items were made?
The dress is made of nylon plisse, a textured fabric often called seersucker – synthetic fabrics have “memory” and are great for embossed textures. It has a V neckline and extended shoulder sleeves. A diamante buckle ornaments the self-sashed neckline – it was missing a stone and I carried it in my handbag for a year before one day finding myself at Maria George where a replacement was found.
The dress was made by Flinders Lane label Leroy, who have provided many dresses for Circa including two from my own wardrobe (one has polka dots, one has a print of teapots). In 1954 they teamed up with a Hobart textile printer called Alcorso and together they ran an annual textile competition, to encourage better prints with Australian themes for the fashion industry. Each year one of the designs was made into dresses by Leroy.
Was this the winning design for 1956? That was the year that Aboriginal artist Mawalan 1 Marika won so perhaps this is his artwork?
In any case, this beautiful and very special frock is now available at Circa. It’s a small size with a 32 inch bust and 26 inch waist, so I’d call it a size 6 to 8, it could be a little bigger due to the bodice design. I do like a frock with a story.
UPDATE: Thank you to Gillian for your detective work, it would seem that the Alcorso fabric was designed by Susanne Copolov who won the award in 1955. Links in the comments below.