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 just then dug out my old blue and white striped coat I bought from Mr.John/Sydney way back in 1970-71.Still in great condition tho’ not sure if I would wear it again..
    It makes quite a statement,tho’ was thinking if I should nostalgically keep it or part with it..??..Wished I had kept the receipt :o(
    My favourite shops of that era was of course Mr.John and The In Shop…

  2. I bought a black taffeta dress (size 8) and a great little fluffy jacket with gold flecks through it (not sure whether it’s duck feather) but still in fantastic nick and i still wear it after 32 years.

  3. I bought my x wife a two piece hot pink size 8 short jacket & tight matching skirt (stretchy – rayon I think) in the 80’s for $1000.00. 2 weeks wages for a young 22 y.o. I was in love – big time!! Pitty ee split in 1998 :'( This was from HOM in Melbourne. The attention she got (i.e. Shopping experience) was amazing. HOM staff were well trained in making their customers feel special! I too had bought some pants from Mr John ★★★

  4. Hi, I have kept the most beautiful Merivale dress bought when I was about 18…maybe 1970. It cost me a weeks wages. It is a hankerchief dress made up of delicate squares of black with orange yellow and red flowers attached to main dress on the point of the square. It ties over the bust and has a tiny shoestring for the neck and comes to about the ankle.It still has the original tags with machinist, colour, style, cut ,order no. Its magnificent, but I dont know what to do with it. Regards Susan

  5. Bought a very Merivale dress in Sydney in the early 1970’s. Very bright colours against blue background. Print sailing boats and birds with big skirt. Always loved wearing it and it is the only piece of “old clothing” that I have kept. Wish I could find someone young to wear it again.

  6. Hi, was that The In Shoppe in Parramatta, in the main street? I was always going in there 1967-1968(?) and looking at the clothes, being into the fashion of the day – bell-bottom wool high waisted trousers and the like. My mum went with me one day (I was 15 at the time) and we bought a pair of creme trousers that had a check line pattern on them, high waisted of course. I wore them with a burgundy turtle neck collar jumper and my “Beatle” boots (brown suede with chiselled toe and elastic sides). I still have memories of the clothes hanging everywhere, the smell of the place and the hip music playing!

  7. My mum still has a gorgeous two piece formal dress in white which she wore to her wedding (40years ago this year!) which I am hoping to wear to my wedding next year if a good dry cleaner can remove some stains! Amazed it has survived this long

  8. I am looking to buy a Merivale large leather bag
    I purchased one from the Sydney store in the 70″ s
    It was navy blue with JAM logo and teardrop key ring
    It had label ” especially made “for with my name inside
    I loved my bag until it was taken by a dishonest person
    If anyone ever knows of one for sale please let me know

  9. I have a beautiful house of merivale dress with tags still attached that I brought from an op shop for 2 dollars! I’ve spent the last 3 year’s trying to get some information about it but haven’t found anything. Its a real gem.

  10. Ashley, are you in Melbourne? If you could bring it to me to see I could probably tell you some things about it. Nice op shop score too.

  11. I remember those large leather JAM bags. I wish they were still available. Good luck in trying to find one. Maybe someone could copy them? I would love one now.

  12. Yes, I remember them too: I once saw one on Ebay UK, but it was rather expensive, plus the shipping would be expensive. I’m keeping my eye out though, they were really nice.

  13. I still have the 3 dresses I bought from HOM in Collins Street Melbourne 32 years ago as a very fashionable 20 year old. They are gorgeous flowy numbers which were very expensive back then, around $200 each. I don’t wear them now but wouldn’t part with them, I love them and the memories of the time they have.

  14. I have come across a turkey feathers vest, made in France “Sorbet” is the model name on the tag, it is amazing, if I send a photo are you able to give me an idea on worth?

  15. Hi Kathryn, I’ll probably have to do some research to be able to supply a good valuation for your feathers, due to the unusual and rare nature of the items. If you’d like to email me at nicole at circavintage dot com dot au I can supply my rates and we can arrange a time to discuss. Thank you.

  16. It’s so lovely to read this article. My wedding dress too was a Melbourne purchased House of Merivale & Mr John, long, off-the shoulder antique lace gown. (My second marriage when I was 26 & I was afraid of what people would think of me wearing a formal white wedding dress. (So different now.) It was so special to buy anything from that shop at that time & it made my day & gown very special to me, regardless of being unable to go ‘formal’. I’m sure my girls will be delighted too when they read this article.

  17. I have the navy blue JAM bag! I recently moved house after 30 years and found it at the back of the top of a wardrobe! I saved up for ages to buy that bag.
    I also have a black velvet coat dress from the late ’70s, with the signature arrow head darts in dull bronze coloured thread. It was on special in the Collins St store for $26.

  18. I remember the House of Merrivale and Mr John opening up in Canberra in the 70’s (Canberra House in West Row), which at that stage had pretty much nowhere to buy “different” clothes. Use to travel to Sydney a lot to stock up the wardrobe. I bought a pair of brown trousers from Mr John that had buttons at the front and a “v” shape above that at the top. I think I was the only one in Canberra with that style!!. Felt a million dollars wearing them….shame they don’t make men’s clothes trendy like that any more. Bought other clothes there, but too long ago to remember what.

  19. I am having a clean out & not sure whether to hang onto my bottle green leather coat bought in the early 70s. Merivale Style no. 354 or 854 (hard to read). Very sentimental to me & hard to throw out. Not sure why I have kept it so long. All my other Merivale purchases are long gone. Loved that shop. Maybe one of my grand daughters maybe interested?

  20. Hi All

    My boyfriend in the early 80’s took me to Merivale in Sydney to find a garment for a special occasion, I never forget the experience, a glass of bubbly, personally dressed and styled by them….I ended up with a most beautiful blue leather jacket and tight fitting skirt….very soft and was Two weeks wages for me, but the boyfriend at the time had too much money…..I still have it in mint condition, my daughter has worn it….now it sits at home alone waiting for a new home….

  21. Hi Isabella I had a similar experience but the outfit is long gone. I loved it so much and haven’t had as great and special experience since. They really knew how to pick the pieces and make you feel beautiful. Mine was white pants with a navy long sleeve shirt and a yellow lace hankerchief. Stunning!

  22. Hi I have a Merivale black leather jacket and I would really like to sell it. Where can I go to get it valued?

  23. Hi Betty, they come up often on ebay; if you search closed auctions you can get a good idea of how much they sell for. However, they’re probably worth more than that as things don’t always sell the best price there.

  24. Gee Wezz i was cleaning out my cupboard and find stunning 2 dresses and a satin blue jacket that i brought in 1978 at the House of Merrivale in Melbourne : The label says MandaMathilda . Brand new in perfect condition , but have been worn by me many years ago. Can you tell me does that designer still in the fashion industrial.
    The House of Merrivale and Mr John were the best in those days. So glad i find this website . I keep them for my granddaughter perhaps one day wear them, i guess i am hoping for too much .
    Ciao Maria

  25. Thanks for your comment Maria: lucky you! I bet their amazing. Blue satin was very popular around ’78. I can almost see them. I don’t know the name MandaMathilda but I’ll keep an eye out for it. All the best, Nicole

  26. Hi , I have a black leather Merivale Jacket that I want to sell . Can you advise me what’s the best place to go

  27. I just found a Mr Christian bag! It’s small very 70s purple but Stunning! Am googling the label and came across this.. is it a Merivale brand?

    Ps I did a weeks work experience in the early 80s at HOM. I was young, shy but a great sales person but they put me in the wedding dress section. I didn’t get the job but never mind I will always remember Merivale fondly and blessed for the opportunity. Love all your comments!

  28. Thanks for your comment Patricia: Mr Christian shoes and accessories were often sold and worn alongside HOM but they were a different company as far as I can tell.

  29. Hi Maria, my partner and I back then were the owner/designers of MandaMatilda – we had a large section of the basement in The In Shoppe in Bourke St Melbourne – we also had a shop in Block Pace called Forbidden Fruit. The blue satin jacket you are talking about also came in pink and taupe satin. I owned several dresses from House of Merivale but we were not associated with that shoo at all.

  30. I have a beautiful vintage House of Merivale ladies jacket
    Its a classic double breasted jacket in a gun metal grey
    In excellent condition -I bought it back in the early seventies
    Its a size 8 and I’m willing to sell it to a vintage lover

  31. Does anyone know what labels the designers of the boots that you could get at Mr Christian in the 80s moved to?
    I had a pair of purple and green leather ankle boots that I wore to death. To this day they have been the most comfortable pair of footwear I have had to fit my very wide feet. Sadly they finally wore through on the little toe side after about 5 years of very regular use.
    I would love to be able to get something similar at an affordable price.

  32. I have a gorgeous Leopard print jacket, purchased from HOM Melbourne in the seventies.
    It would be a size 10. Happy to sell to someone who would love it

  33. Hi Nicole,
    I bought my wedding dress from the White Shop at the House of Merivale & Mr John in Collins Street Melbourne in May 1981. At the time, and for many years later, l had NO idea of where l was shopping. I saw the dress jn a bridal magazine & went to the shop. It was the only dress l tried on & l purchased it on the spot. The staff were kind & gracious. I remember they pulled a glorious full multi panelled mirror screen around me so l could admire the dress from every angle. They took measurements for alterations and stored the dress for me until before my wedding date, the January of 1982. They also helped me choose a long veil to compliment the dress as well as a hooped petticoat! The dress has the orignal tag & another label states the material is French. I still LOVE the dress, it hangs in our bedroom on a dressing screen. It continues to be admired by others & is surrounded by beautiful memories.

  34. I had gold skirt from Merivale and Mr John which I wore to a wedding back in 1982. It had a beautiful satin feel, quite long with a few layers to it – the most amazing fashion piece I’ve ever owned. The store itself (Melbourne) was also an experience – quite dark inside but sumptuous-lots of red velvet, feather boas and racks of colourful,unique clothing that were more art than mere fashion. It was quite theatrical and bohemian. It’s long gone now – both the skirt and the store but I still have fond memories!

  35. My fav outfit of all times was a little, black, mini dress, size 10, 1969. It cost me a full week`s wages but I did wear it to death and after minis went “out,” I altered it into a top….I have thought of having a new version of it recreated by a tailor again but it would need to be many sizes larger now, so guess not. :-/

  36. does anyone know whereabouts of David Adams or son Joshua or daughter Jane Adams/Ramsey now. I worked for them at Mr Christians, Bondi Junction and Redfern for many years. I stayed on from Contour Shoes when they moved to Bondi Junction. I would love to get back in touch……..John Cauchi from Bondi Junction in those days……… email me at

  37. I’ve got the most divine Merivale Leopard skin(faux)jacket with padded shoulders from the late 70’s. Cost me a weeks wage but I loved it so much I have never thrown it out. It is timeless and as cool looking today as it was then.

  38. Sharen, I think I know the one you mean and it’s a beauty: I had the same style in the shop one time. Wish I’d kept it! Excellent quality and style that never fades. I bet you still look great in yours too.

  39. I still have my Mr Christian Boots. Tan leather calf high moccasins. $400 back then in 85.

  40. I am clearing out my Mum and Dad’s house and I came across my wedding dress from Merivale and Mr John, it is gorgeous and in pristine condition. I’m going to show it to my 34 year old daughter, and then maybe part with it. I paid $170 for it and it’s still very elegant, free flowing, not at all fussy, quite simple and I still think it was a great choice.

  41. So wonderful to read all these comments about The House of Merivale and Mr John. I was Merivale’s junior designer during the early ’70s and have all my original sketches and photos in my portfolio. I designed the first pair of shoes and many other iconic pieces. Merivale was the greatest teacher and mentor to me and put me on the road to success from the age of 18. The meticulous attention to fabrication, fit and execution was beyond reproach.
    The garments I have kept are still in good condition. I will never part with mine!!

  42. I don’t know much about fashion but do remember a Merivale TV ad from the 80s – woman with buzz-cut red hair, in black dress with large amounts cut away, gets out of a sports car and strides into a grand mansion, which you soon realise is a high class bordello! She pulls a gun on a client (who she clearly knows) and runs off with both his clothes and a pile of women’s clothes (you see the labels of both) that were on the floor. She then speeds off into the sunset with her new lover, both of them having changed into the new clothes.

    I’m sure a red version of the same dress was worn a year or so later by Linda Kozlowski in Crocodile Dundee.

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