Posted by Nicole in 1800s, Architecture, Circa event, General 1 Comment

I have a complicated relationship with the past.

It’s always there for me: old houses, cars, furniture, music, books and of course – fashion. It’s my whole life and I’ve never known anything different – I appreciate that there are those who love to have new things but for me, old is where it’s at.

At various times I’ve dressed head to toe in a particular era – like the purists do – and I’ve also moved through many sub-cultures including mod, rockabilly and goth – but underneath it all, always were the vintage clothes. Sub-cultures tend to draw heavily on the past for their inspiration, an irony I appreciate as they’re generally the preoccupations of the young – but that’s a topic for another day.

I like to mix it up – and that’s the fortunate position that we are in, as modern women and men. Never have we had so much access to so many things and we can pick and choose what we want from the past and adapt it to our purposes.

I find those adaptations fascinating and love finding the layers in vintage clothing. There’s a temptation to think that a gown was worn once and then put away, for decades, until we discover it and make it our own but the reality is that most vintage clothes have been altered or updated to suit a new purpose or a new wearer – and the older the piece, the more likely it is to have been re-purposed.

So it is with vintage cars, furniture and architecture.

Yesterday I visited Labassa for a photo shoot – it’s always a pleasure to see the Grand Dame, and I was treated to a personal tour of some of the rooms that aren’t open to the public. I love historic mansions and perhaps my favourite in Melbourne is Labassa, built in the French Renaissance style in 1862. Yesterday was overcast and it suited the dark, faded grandeur nicely.

Most National Trust properties spend time in private hands, the homes of well off families and are handed down through inheritance before eventually finding their way to the NT. Labassa, on the other hand spent most of the 20th century neglected. Like many big old houses, it was broken up into flats in the ’20s.

Thankfully the original features and room sizes were retained but left to fall into disrepair. It provided cheap dwellings for those who appreciated its good location and opulent fittings. Many of the tenants were artists, writers and performers and it’s this period that I find the most interesting.

I like to imagine what it would have been like, living in one enormous room of this fabulous house, perhaps with a rough bathroom fashioned out of a maid’s closet or a lean-to attached to the side of the mansion. Perhaps coming out in that fabulous hallway in the middle of the night to bump into another resident. They must have shared a great sense of community, the people who lived in this rather unfashionable old house with its difficult to heat high ceilings and wide corridors.

Originally the mansion probably sat in the midst of large gardens, as Rippon Lea and Como still do – but they were sold off and developed, so the house is now crowded on a small block with houses around it. It could be worse though – the magnificent frontage used to be obscured from the street by a house. Thankfully there was a campaign to buy it and it was duly demolished.

Image Source.

There must have been a lot of cheering when that came down!

I find it remarkable that so much of the original house remains – I’ve lived in a lot of old houses and flats, and it’s common for features to have been removed. My own home (the Deco War Baby, circa 1942) is unrenovated but previous tenants had stripped everything they could, including light fittings and door knobs. Even some of the doors have been replaced. Thankfully it still has the original fireplace, architraves and picture rails (I’ll post pics one day).

Labassa still has the original wallpaper in many rooms – now faded to brown, it was originally bright gold and some portions have been restored revealing the brilliance. In the ’70s some rooms were covered up with contemporary wallpaper but it has been removed. If you look carefully, you can see the lines where the paper joined. The famous trompe l’oeil ceiling over the staircase was also covered with a false ceiling – that must have been wonderful to discover!

You can still see many signs of the previous residents though – one wall is painted silver (!) and another door has the faded remnants of an union jack paint job. Some bathrooms show fittings from the ’50s. An enormous butler’s pantry is half in one room, and half in another. As much as I love the original features, I also love these more modern adaptations, reminding us of the life that this wonderful house has lived – not just as a museum but as a living home.

When I first saw these tiles, the condition suggested they were ’70s additions installed during the nostalgic revival – but no, they’re the original 1860s tiles, presumably restored. I love the soft colours.

I was pleased to see that I have two small personal links to Labassa – both through poets. I met resident Adrian Rawlings through my husband, Tim Hamilton and my father was a friend of Kenneth Slessor’s, who immortalised Labassa resident Joe Lynch in “Five Bells”.

From “Five Bells”:
All without meaning now, except a sign
That someone had been living who now was dead:
“At Labassa. Room 6 x 8
On top of the tower; because of this, very dark
And cold in winter. Everything has been stowed
Into this room – 500 books all shapes
And colours, dealt across the floor
And over sills and on the laps of chairs;
Guns, photoes of many differant things
And differant curioes that I obtained…”

Labassa is currently gracing our TV screens as one of the settings in “Underbelly Squizzy”, and was also used in “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” and many other productions. A social history of Labassa is being compiled and you can see photos of past residents here – if you have any information please contact Vicki Shuttleworth.

I’ll be appraising your vintage fashion items for a small donation for the National Trust on August 18th, if you’d like to come along and support this very worthy cause and see some of the magnificence of Labassa. I hear that there will be a scrummy morning and afternoon tea too.

Here’s where you’ll find me:

Pic courtesy National Trust – all other images my own.

Posted by Nicole in Calendar, Circa event, Exhibitions, Film, Talk

Hi all,

I’ve loved Marilyn since I was a child and now – for the first time – I have an opportunity to present a talk on her costumes and why they’re so fabulous and special. ACMI have invited me to speak as part of their Hollywood Costume exhibition in a one off event.

“The Golden Age of Hollywood” will be hosted by Clementine Ford and include Cinema Fiasco (Geoff & Janet) who will “humorously dissect some film trailers”, plus someone from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mystery will be discussing costuming the ’20s in modern times.

Singer Ilana Charnelle will also be performing songs from the Golden Age (incl a Marilyn song hopefully) and there will be sewing demonstrations by Thread Den and an exhibition bar.

Hope you can make it!

What: Hollywood Costume up late: The Golden Age of Hollywood
When: Thursday 1st August 2013, 6.00 pm – 9.00pm (my talk is at 7.00pm)
Where: Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Federation Square, Melbourne
Cost: National free. Entry cost applies for the exhibition.
More information: at the ACMI website

Miss Monroe in the gown that was too raunchy for “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” so you only see it – briefly – from behind.

Posted by Nicole in Calendar, Circa event, Talk

Hi all,

To accompany the workshops at the Across the Arts festival, I’m presenting a version of my popular talk on historical ladies fashions, illustrated with original garments of the time.

What: Talk on ladies fashions of the ’20s to the ’60s.
When: Saturday May 5th 2pm to 3pm
Where: Wangaratta library, 21 Docker St, Wangaratta VIC 3677
Cost: gold coin donation
Bookings essential: phone 5721 2366

This is one of only a handful of public talks that are scheduled this year – hope to see some familiar faces there!

Posted by Nicole in Calendar, Circa event, How to

Hi all,

I’m presenting a couple of workshops on up-cycling fashion, as part of the “Across the Arts Festival”.

This year’s festival theme is “Conserve, Recycle and Reinvent” and what better things to conserve, recycle and reinvent than your old damaged, unflattering, out of date or stained clothes?

The workshops are all day events and you have your choice of the Friday or the Saturday. Included will be some information about determining fabric types, repairs and basic restorations too, as well as talking about how garments can be changed to fit better or reflect current trends.

If you’ve ever wanted advice on all manner of things you can do to fashion, here’s your chance for demonstrations and practical assistance!

Here’s the blurb:
Nicole Jenkins, costume designer, fashion historian, blogger, Melbourne retailer with her shop “Circa Vintage” and author of the award winning book “Love Vintage”, has over thirty years experience of repairing and restoring vintage and antique fashions – she’s developed a series of techniques that can be used to save or modernise a garment.

Join her as she shares her secrets on how to restyle and recycle fashions by altering sleeves, hems, necklines, shaping and adding detailing. Bring one or more garments to work on: perhaps it’s already damaged or stained and you’d like ideas on how to save it, or perhaps something that you’d like to update or redesign

Here are some details:

What: Upcycling workshops, as part of the Across the Arts Festival
When: Friday May 3rd 10am to 3.30pm or Sunday May 5th 10am to 3.30pm.
Where: GOTAFE Auditorium, Docker Street, Wangaratta
Cost: $70 or $50 concession (lunch included). A subsidised Youth fee of $5 is available for the Friday session, for people aged between 12 and 25. Bargain!
More information and bookings at the website: Across the Arts Festival

Bring some projects to work on and your sewing kit.

Posted by Nicole in 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, Circa event, fashion parade 1 Comment

A little while ago we put on a fashion parade for the Australian Sewing Guild – this one was a little different to our usual formats, for a specialised audience and we combined the parade with my popular talk on ladies fashions of the ’20s to the ’70s.

Instead of me just standing up the front and showing dresses, the dresses were worn by models, who strolled around and let the audience touch the fabrics and see them up close.

It was a great success and I loved the opportunity to focus more on the fabrics, the construction techniques and the detailing than usual – here are some of the frocks as worn by our lovely models Apple, Carolina, Lola and Carley. Esther helped behind the scenes with dressing.

Here are some of the many frocks that were paraded: we took a few liberties with accessories: they’re not all period correct, but I think they’re suitable for each era to help create a look.

Carley looking very chic and summery in 1920s fuji silk day wear.

Apple in 1920s silk crepe with cutouts and embroidered detailing.

Carolina, stunning in 1930s silk evening gown – now available in the salon for purchase.

Carley in my WW2 Red Cross nurses uniform.

Lola in cotton print 1950s sundress – coming soon to the webshop.

Carolina in 1950s silk ballgown – this one is featured in my book “Love Vintage” and I now suspect it was made by Sydney couturier Beril Jents.

Carley in 1960s polyester dress with machine smocking – now available in the salon.

Apple in sheer floral party dress, early 1970s – coming soon to the webshop.

Lola in early 1970s cotton print Laura Ashley – everyone loved this one especially, we all seem to have worn something similar at the time!

A surprise finish was not a dress at all but Carolina in a silk pantsuit! Now available in the salon.

My favourite photo – the happy audience! The parade went really well and the feedback I got was wonderful. Here are some words from the National Newsletter about the event:

“Nicole spoke on the history of fashion and fabric through the 20th century and with four beautiful models paraded clothes from the ’20s to the ’70s…there were a lot of gasps of joy and no one wanted her to leave. As we said our goodbyes the audience were slow to leave, wanting to savour the moment a little longer”.

Thank you to Fay for inviting us to be a part of your event and sharing these great photos, the lovely models, Esther for dressing and Sue, the editor of the Newsletter – it was a lot of fun and a great to meet like-minded people. I hope we can work together again!

Posted by Nicole in art deco, Circa event, Talk 2 Comments

This weekend I’ve been in Albury, as a guest of the Write around the Murray festival and it’s been an experience to treasure.

Albury, near the NSW/Victorian border is a town I’ve often gone through but never spent longer than the time it takes to have a meal. As a child we often caught the train to Albury where my Grandfather would meet us and drive south to Beechworth for short holidays. It was pleasing to see that the train station looks much as I remember it, and I almost expected to see his old car there, alongside the modern coaches.

This time we drove up from Melbourne in time for a book launch at the library museum, a walk around town and the poetry night where Tim read alongside Emilie Zoe Baker, Andy Jackson and others. I’ve been to a lot of poetry events, and this ranked well: a good turn out, pleasant company and accomplished performers. A good start to the festival for us.

Here are some pressed tin ceilings that I admired, they’re from street awnings:

The following day I had a mission: my mother had grown up at a nearby orphanage. She’d told me many awful tales of her years at St John’s but her early death prevented her from writing the book she had hoped for. Thankfully someone else has (I picked up a copy from the library museum).

From her stories, it sounded like it was a big old house on a large, isolated farm – of course, that was in the ’50s and since it closed in 1978 there’s been a lot of development. Thurgoona was probably a small town back then, but it’s now a suburb of Albury. I held my breath as I drove up the hill to find a fully restored building with assorted outbuildings – it looks quite lovely and peaceful now, it’s hard to imagine it hosting the sort of deprivation my mother, and many other children experienced.

I still find it hard to believe that it’s the right place, it looks so nice.

My mum had spoken of milking cows, and tending fields – I think there was a lot of land originally, but most of it has been built on now. Close by is a little school, where I imagine the children had their lessons. There was a local election on Saturday so it was bustling.

The road that the old orphanage sits on is now a small unsealed lane, and if you follow it around it takes you to the little cemetery containing graves of the sisters and a few others. I wished that I could remember the names of the nuns that my mum had mentioned – it’s not that long ago, and some might still be alive. I wondered where the children were buried? Almost a century as a childrens home and there would have been a lot of small lives lost.

Although it was called an orphanage, many of the children had parents alive of course – and there were also child migrants from Britain too. As a child I found it hard to believe but of course, we know now that it’s true.

There was a small statue, I think it dates to the ’50s and when my mum was there, it may have graced the front of the building – now it’s off to one side and bears no memorial although I like to think that it’s a representation of it’s past history as a home for children.

An emotional visit. After, I went to the library museum and found the book on the orphanage. There was much walking around Albury, and admiring Art Deco buildings and time for reflection (I have a complicated relationship with the past and take solace in aesthetics).

Today we went to see a textile exhibition at the Art Gallery featured some amazing creations including an interpretation of a Victorian mourning dress and an organic work made of electrical piping and cable ties – it was like licorice and quite enticing!

This afternoon was the main event: my presentation on ladies fashions, part of the Write around the Murray festival and also part of the NSW History week. I managed to include two of the frocks from the Lisa Ho collection: a beaded ’20s and a silk ’30s, and my latest acquisition, a flocked late ’40s ballgown I bought on the way up to Albury. It was a good turn out.

It’s been quite an intense weekend, but I’m happier for it – and met many lovely people.

Thank you, Albury: Penny who helped me present the talk, Bridget, Caryn, Chris and the other ladies at the library museum and thank you to Ann-maree and the Write around the Murray festival – it’s been a pleasure and a privilege and I hope to come back again soon!

Posted by Nicole in Calendar, Circa event, Vintage Market

We’re also having a sale – despite my best intentions, Circa still has too much stock to fit into the new salon so we’re joining the next Take 2 Market to offer you some bargain priced treasures.

What: Circa Vintage at Take 2 Markets – dresses (1930s to 1980s) from $30!
When: 10am–3pm, Sunday 26th August.
Where: Northcote Town Hall, High St, Northcote.
More information: see the website.

Here’s a pic from the Take 2 website – thanks Rina! I’m looking forward to being a part of Take 2.

Posted by Nicole in 1920s, 1930s, art deco, Calendar, Circa event, Talk 1 Comment

Next month I’m presenting a talk on accessories of the Art Deco era, for the Caulfield Library.

What: Art deco influences in fashion by Nicole Jenkins
When: 7-8pm, Wednesday 8th August
Where: Glen Eira Town Hall — Caulfield Cup Room, level one, corner Glen Eira and Hawthorn Roads, Caulfield
Cost: free, but bookings essential – call 9524 3623 or book at a Glen Eira library.
More information and bookings: see the Glen Eira website.

UPDATE: It looks like this talk might already be booked out, if that’s the case, ask if you can go on a waiting list; it’s a big room and not everyone might turn up.

Image courtesy Glen Eira council.

Posted by Nicole in 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Circa event, Exhibitions 1 Comment

Earlier this week I bumped out the “Fashion through the Decades” exhibition at Australia on Collins: if you missed it, here are some pics.

It was well received and with a bit of luck, hopefully we’ll be able to stage another one some time.

The 1940s lady is dressed head to toe in items from my own wardrobe! I wore the clown print dress to Charlotte Smith’s event at last year’s Writer’s Festival and the art deco style brooch usually graces my ’50s wool boucle jacket. Such a pity there wasn’t a pink wig to complete the ensemble (not very 1940s, I know).

This is the first time Circa has exhibited fashion from the ’90s but don’t get excited: I’m not ready to consider the 1990s as old enough to be “vintage”, just that it helps with the context of this exhibition.

Thank you to Australia on Collins and Kinc Agency for offering Circa this opportunity and Kelley from the Lindy Charm School for Girls for her assistance. Most of all, thank you to everyone who came along and saw the displays.

Posted by Nicole in Calendar, Circa event, Shop talk, Where to buy vintage 7 Comments

I have big news for you today – after eight years in Gertrude Street, Circa will be relocating to a new location that combines the shop and the webshop, creating a salon style space where you can select fashions online and come and try them on.

Whilst the new salon is being readied for our arrival, Circa will go into sale mode – with more than thirty years of collecting, I’ve stashed an awful lot away and (good news for you) we don’t have room for it all.

From today, I’m starting to reduce select styles down to half price or more. New stock will be coming in every day so come in and see us to snaffle a bargain or three.

What: Circa Relocation Sale
When: from now until Saturday July 28th
Trading Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 11am to 5pm
Where: Circa Vintage, 102 Gertrude St, Fitzroy

Here’s the wonderful Strawberry Siren modelling one of the ’50s frocks that will be available. Thanks Strawberry!

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