Noeleen King – Melbourne fashion label

Today I’ve been looking into a new outfit, that’s just gone online – this “two piece dress” or top and skirt set by Melbourne designer Noeleen King.

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Noeleen was born in Ireland about 1933 and first learnt her trade under fashion designer Sybill Connolly. After migrating to Australia in the mid ’50s, she worked as a salegirl for five years before setting up her own label in Flinders Lane making “street dresses” with a small workroom and three machinists.

The following year she started making evening and cocktail wear, which sold better. True success came to her after five years, in 1965. With her Vidal Sassoon Eton crop hairstyle and lashings of mascara, her style was very young and hip. She was compared to Norma Tullo in importance for the era.

Noeleen and models Aus Womens Weekly 1965
Noeleen and models, Australian Women’s Weekly 1965.

Noeleen’s label primarily produced clothes she wanted to wear herself, and was described as “Medieval Mod”. Her customers were mostly teenagers and women in their early 20s – the largest size she stocked was SSW (Small, small woman, roughly equivalent to a modern size 8!). You can see the medieval influence in the outfit above, and sure enough, the size is “XXSSW” – equivalent to a modern 4 but don’t worry, we replaced the elastic in the tiny waist (it had deteriorated) now making it a size 8. It’s a very unusual style, with it’s double puffed, Renaissance style sleeves.

Aus Womens Weekly 1966
Jean Shrimpton in Noeleen King, Australian Women’s Weekly 1966.

Mary Quant was a friend and fan of Noeleen’s designs, and authorised Noeleen to produce her designs in Australia, under licence. The Vintage Fashion Guild have a copy of the Mary Quant/Noeleen King label if you’d like to see it.

Noeleen’s skirts came in three lengths: day (just above the knee), cafe (mid calf) and evening (touching the instep) – another way of saying “mini, midi and maxi”. The one above must be “evening length”. The long maxi skirt with a wide ruffle to the hem is quite fashion forward – this style was influenced by the ’40s fashions and became very popular in the mid ’70s.

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Nicole de la Marge in printed cotton dress with tiered collar by Noeleen King, photo by Norman Eales, May 1965 Photo source here.

In 1965 Noeleen was shipping her designs to the US and the UK from her factory of 80 machinists in the basement of 45 Flinders Lane and warehouse at 23 Lincoln Square South, Carlton. She lived in a South Yarra maisonette with her husband Ron (also her production manager).

Aus Womens Weekly 1965
The Australian Women’s Weekly 1965

Aus Womens Weekly 1969

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The Australian Women’s Weekly 1969

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Noeleen King label from the late 1960s.

Noeleen’s old factory in Flinders Lane is now a theatre and earlier this year a production was staged there about Noeleen’s life and label! I’m not sure when the label ceased, but I suspect it was the late ’70s – certainly, I can’t find any references to the company or fashions after then.

Thank you, Noeleen, I’ll be looking out for more of your beautiful fashions from the ’60s and ’70s.

Rob recently sent in this pic of a Noeleen King dress – lovely detailing:

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Photo copyright Rob Anderson. Thanks Rob, great frock.

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9 comments

  1. Hi my loved one! I wish to say that this article is awesome, great written and include approximately all vital infos. I would like to see more posts like this .

  2. I’m glad I stumbled on this article! I have a Noeleen King dress that is probably the coolest mod dress I’ve ever seen. It’s bubblegum pink and looks like something an elf would wear!

    I’ve toyed with selling it, but it’s so unusual I can’t seem to let it go.

  3. This article brought back many memories for me. I worked for Noeleen King for many, many years as a cutter at both places, Flinders Lane and Lincoln Square. As I remember her husbands name was Ken not Ron!! My mother also worked there as a tea lady and she used to clean their South Yarra home. When I was in my 20’s I was the envy of all my friends wearing Noeleen King cloths!

  4. Great info Elaine: thank you. I trust your knowledge on Noeleen’s husband’s name a lot more than what I found online.

    I received an email from Sioban Tuke about a production that’s on this afternoon – I won’t be able to make it as I’ll be working but here are the details:

    Invitation- Play Reading

    What do Harrods of London, Macy’s NY, Mary Quant, Jean Shrimpton, Reg Ansett and ‘fortyfive downstairs’ have in common?

    Noeleen King- Fashion designer

    ‘The House of King’ is new Australian play by Maria Theodorakis and David Tredinnick. It tells the story of a highly successful fashion house based at 45 Flinders Lane Melbourne from the early 1960’s through to the late 1980’s
    Australia was undergoing social revolution and women of all ages were stepping into the public arena to make their mark. Noeleen King was the first Australian designer to have a full window display at Harrods of London and Macy’s New York, paving the way for other Australian designers who followed. Flinders Lane Melbourne was the epicentre of Australia’s fashion industry. Noeleen and husband Ken, like their neighbours up and down the lane, rode the tumultuous wave of highs and lows of life in the cut throat world of the rag trade. Theirs is a story of the coming of age of Australian fashion design.

    You are invited to a public reading of this new Australian work celebrating this unique and exciting chapter in history based on the real life history of fortyfive downstairs

    Tuesday Dec 17, 4.30pm
    fortyfive downstairs
    45 Flinders Lane
    Bookings office@fortyfivedownstairs.com
    PH : 9662-9966.
    Admission free

    Directed By Sioban Tuke
    Designer Marg Horwell

    Cast
    Alison Whyte
    Peter Houghton
    Daniella Farinacci
    Katerina Kotsonis
    Eloise Mignon

  5. The article contains great information about the fashion in 60’s and 70’s. Very exciting and educational for fashion designers.

  6. Hi Nicole I just sold a lovely little rayon mod number by Noeleen King here in Adelaide. The customer was very interested in the label and we looked it up and discovered your informative blog post, thanks for all the info. Interestingly my Noeleen King had SW on the tag? Maybe it was sold via someone else? It is however incredibly short, almost SSW length! The customer was from Victoria and a big fan of your shop too! (sorry I forgot her name). She told me you’re having an upcoming sale so I hope to pop over and hopefully attend this time, I missed out last time, was desperately wanting to check out your mens suits! – Rob from Adelaide. P.S. Would you like to see a photo, can send via Facebook if you’d like?

  7. Hi Rob, yes, we’re having a big auction next week – there are lots of mens vintage suits but they’re being sold in lots. You can see information here.

    Your frock sounds lovely! It wasn’t this little cutie was it? I’m a little confused about what you mean by SW and SSW: they’re sizes, not lengths. If it is super short it may have been shortened as ’60s dresses often are. I’d love to see a photo and add it to the post, if you’re okay with that as the more examples we see of a designer’s work, the closer we get to knowing about them.

  8. Yes that was the one Nicole! Yes I realise SW is just a size, I just meant it was very, very short, so yes probably was shortened! If you want me to email you the photos rather than just use the ones on facebook let me know via my email. Fascinating that she produced Mary Quant’s designs in Australia too, we’ve actually had a few of Mary Quant’s “Ginger” line dresses too, but I didn’t realise there was a Noeleen produced line of Mary Quant dresses too.
    I’m hoping to get to the auction but as usual timing is tricky, I always seem to discover these sales at the last possible moment! Thank you, for your very imformative blog!

  9. Thank you Robert, if you’d like to email to nicole at circavintage.com.au it would be appreciated.

    The auction catalog will be online and you can always lodge an absentee bid if you see something you’d like.

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