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.

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

Featured in my book “Love Vintage”.

Early 1970s menswear (Mr John) – 1920s cricket style, imported silk handknit.

Early 1970s (c1940 style), photo courtesy Michele Wright.

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.

Early 1970s dress with appliqued butterfly. Photo courtesy Mandy Hurst. Mandy’s dad was a HOM cutter and this dress may have been a sample.

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

1970s strapless rose print dress with matching self-covered belt. Gail bought from the Melbourne shop for a special occasion, along with a pink fabric rose ornament for the waist, and pink strappy shoes. “It was an unforgettable experience” Gail writes: “fantastic shop!”.

c1974, photo courtesy Colette Cattell, who wore it to the Surfers Ball at the Round House in Sydney – and her granddaughter, who wore it to her high school formal last year!

c1974 suit: single breasted jacket, flared skirt and flared trousers (not seen) plus floral blouse. Photo courtesy Kerryn Goding.

1974 wedding dress, with ruffled neckline and platform shoes. Photo courtesy Kerryn Goding.

Mid 1970s tweed jacket, photo courtesy Janet Flowers who purchased from the Melbourne store.

c1976 Ladies suit and blouse. Deborah writes: ‘This was my favourite outfit: I think it cost me around two months wages!’ Photo courtesy Deborah Johnson.

Late 1970s mens style tuxedo jacket of silk jacquard. Photo courtesy Brooke Davis.

Late 1970s chocolate brown duster coat with similar notched shawl collar and padded shoulders, with matching sash-style belt.

1977 wedding dress with medieval-inspired open and frilled wide sleeves. Photo courtesy Vicki Doherty.

1977 wedding dress with floral chiffon, plunging neckline and smocked waistline. Photo courtesy Joan Garvan, who was married on the ‘Radar’ ferry on Sydney Harbour.

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

1983, photo courtesy Sylvia Dickson.

1983/4 skirt suit with piped dagger hem, photo courtesy Lee Wizzie Scott.

1970s leather JAM handbag. Note branded tag and lining. Photo courtesy Judy.

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.


  1. I was married in 1982 at the age of 20 and purchased my wedding dress and a pink dress for my going away outfit ( looks like something Alice in Wonderland would wear! they don’t do that anymore? do they? on Collins street Melbourne -House of Merivale and Mr John ,still in the original box and all receipts intact.
    I have kept them hoping to pass them onto granddaughter, I have two grandsons! have no idea of their worth? would be good to know.

  2. Hi Martine, how wonderful to have kept your dress with all the documentation! I’m sure it’s lovely, and I hope your granddaughter appreciates them as much as we do. I’m sure that there are museums who would be interested as well, if you needed a back up option.

  3. I have a Merivale large overnight/shopper (adjustable)navy leather bag in excellent condition. Purchased December 1977, would it be worth anything ?

  4. Very likely Katrine. If you’d like to email me photos I might like to add it to my collection. Nicole @ circavintage dot com au (delete spaces). Thank you.

  5. I have had a HOM mid 70’s (I’m guessing) in my collection for several years. Found in a local oppie!! I have it for sale on my website for interested collectors. But I don’t mind if it ever sells – I’m torn whether to keep it as part of my private collection! lol
    Pictures can be found on my website.

  6. I have two outfits I purchased from Merrivale and Mr John. I was working at 275 George Street, Sydney and I’m sure one of the items was bought from a small shop they had down either on the Cnr George and Hunter or one door entrance up from the corner. I cannot find any references to this store in background history. Any help please

  7. I have a pretty linen/cotton floral print Merivale dress with distinctive white daisy-shaped buttons from 1976. It’s in good nick and I’ve wondered if any museum or tv production house/vintage shop would be interested. Not sure what to do with it but I’ve kept it this long -I’d love to see it live on 🙂

  8. I have a Merivale dark green leather jacket (fully lined) purchased from Merivale Bourke Street store in Melbourne in 1971/1972
    I remember the store had a rack of sample styles to try and then one would choose from color samples to order
    It has lots of detail with the really wide lapels which were the height of fashion then,
    still in my wardrobe zipped up in a suit pack.
    I wonder what this jacket would be worth please Nicole??

  9. What a wonderful memory and collectable, Penny! Hard to comment on value without seeing but you can always search for closed auctions on ebay to get an idea. Merivale pieces usually sell quite well.

  10. Mr Christian shoes were fantastic. That’s all I wore between 1983 through to 1987 to go out dancing. High stiletto heels in beautiful leather creative designs and comfortable. Wish I had kept them, no comparison the the shoes available now and they were Australian made. I wonder if someone from the business has kept samples of every shoe made to display at a museum? Mr Christian shoes were a work of art. I’m a size 39 if there are any out there!! Would gladly buy.

  11. Hi my name is Edwina and I live in Sydney and bought many dresses and suits from Merivale and Mr John. Mostly I had to have them specially made as I was only about a size 6 for many years weight 4kg in 1983 and if you didn’t get an answer if there was a Merivale and Mr John shop near Hunter St yes there was and they had a restaurant above in the Angel Arcade. Because I had spent so much in thir shop I was given a free lunch for 2 ar their restaurant. Many of their fashions were French imports and they would add their label to this stating that it was a French import mostly in the 80’s from Yvan and Marxian. Their lay-bys used to be for 2 weeks but somehow I convinced them to extend mine and was granted this, and was promptly called up when a new arrival came in from France. I do recall one sales assistant saying to a potential customer “can you afford that dress? Which I didn’t think was good customer service!! She appeared well dressed. I was extremely sad when they closed down, was already buying some Covers fashion label, they shut down too and purchase some items from Wheels and Dollbaby and they shut down their store in Crown St Melanie and her husband moved to Perth but she still sells online from there. If you know any sites i could purchase any Merivale or Covers clothing i would greatly appreciate it. ?

  12. Hi Edwina, thank you for your memories! You can find quite a bit of Merivale available in online marketplaces: ebay, etsy etc and also pops up in Australian vintage webshops. There are some great styles available out there.

  13. Hi Nicole,
    I have been holding on to a long, dark green leather jacket by MR John designed by Meridale for many years now and am wondering what you think it might be worth? The lining is in good condition with a few mended tears but otherwise the leather is in great condition and the press studs all work well. Can I send you a photo? Thanks!

  14. To Michael Oram and Tom Augustine
    Do you remember the shoe and handbag designer for Mr Christian until about the late 1970’s, Wendy, and the designer Ted Kidd, who came with the Contour factory. A true marvel. The unsung hero of Mr Christian.
    David Adams ran the Factories. Surry Hills, Bondi and Gosford and Barbara managed the shops.
    One of th earlier platform designs from the 70’s called “The Cutouts”was copied and mass produced in China.
    A compliment ??? but it backfired on us.
    The only 2 shoe designs copied by the Chinese at that time were “The Cutouts” and “Jesus Sandals”, the speciality of all the leatherworkers of that era.

  15. Hi I have a black Covers dress that I have never been able to throw away but can’t fit anymore lol! I was just about to put it up on a website to sell but came across this webpage – is there any interest in these items still? I can send photos of it if that helps – its in perfect condition really.

  16. I have had my mother’s beautiful blouse & skirt set since I was very young would like to know what year it was made

  17. Hi Tracey, Covers is a great brand and I should think there would be interest, yes. I’m not currently buying but if you check ebay for similar to your dress, you should be able to guage interest.

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