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.
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, 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.
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.
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).
The Australian Women’s Weekly 1965
The Australian Women’s Weekly 1969
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:
Photo copyright Rob Anderson. Thanks Rob, great frock.
April has also written in with an update: she writes ‘ I did work for her company in Flinders Lane approx. 1979. After reading your blog on the company, you seem to have lost another part of her business label. This label was â€œKetchâ€, it started around 1978 and I think she had a partnership with a Jewish guy working with her and Ken called Peter Strover.’
Thanks April, great info. I remember a Perth shop called ‘Ketch’ in the Piccadilly Arcade in the late ’70s-early ’80s. I wonder if they were connected? Seems like quite a coincidence. My memory says that the Perth Ketch sold UK imports and turned into iconic streetwear shop ‘Orphans’, which sold UK sub-culture clothes, accessories, make up and stuff. They made great ’60s style stovepipes that I had in several colours. More research needed, I think.