Preparing for my talk tomorrow, on ’50s fashions, I decided to see if I could find an answer to a question I’d had for many years: one of my favourite frocks was made by a company that I couldn’t find any information on.
This isn’t unusual: there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of fashion manufacturers and designers over the past century and many are not well documented, especially online. Some are significant enough to be collected by major museums, some are documented by historical societies or written about in books but many are short lived and pass through our cultural landscape like shooting stars. Julius Pollack the fashion label appears to be one of these, although it looks like Julius Pollack the man left his mark on Melbourne.
Here’s my dress: you may have seen it in my book ‘Love Vintage’ or during one of the many talks or fashion parades I’ve used it in over the past fifteen years.
Circa 1950: late ’40s to early ’50s day dress featuring a great ‘atomic’ style print on polished cotton. Side metal zipper and lovely big deep side pockets, piped in black cotton trim. Labelled ‘Julius Pollack Original’.
One of the reasons I use this dress a lot is because of it’s adaptation: a previous wearer unpicked the bib-style front and centre seam, adding hooks and press studs so that it can be easily removed, perhaps for breast-feeding? I love these little personal touches, they’re evidence of wear and how women made their clothing suit their changing lives. It’s a dress with a secret.
This time around, the only thing I found out about Julius Pollack the fashion label was that in 1948, Julius Pollack registered the business name ‘Julius Pollack Creations’. Later he also registered ‘Fashion Weavers’, but the lack of material available, both in actual garments and in archival traces, suggests that he soon found that the rag trade wasn’t for him and he developed his career in other directions.
But thanks to Lesley Sharon Rosenthal and her wonderful book ‘Schmattes’ about the Jewish rag trade in Flinders Lane, I discovered he previously ran a fashion label called ‘Peter Pan Frocks’, which was based at 27 Flinders Lane. They shared a workroom with another company. I found adverts for staff and dresses in the press from 1938 to 1948, including some donations the company made for good causes: the Jewish Welfare Society and the Police Boys Club. So perhaps at that stage he created the new label under his own name. Perhaps it was at the same address?
Here’s what I found out about Julius Pollack the man: he was born in 1904 in Belarus (perhaps Poland or Lithuania), migrated to Australia and married Fay Frieze. They had two children: Norman and Bruce.
Fay and Julius were migrant success stories and very community minded: During WW2, Fay became the Hon. Secretary of the Jewish Women’s Guild, and organised donations of “good and appropriate garments of such excellent quality” for the Red Cross to send to English air-raid victims, and later became the president of the Frances Bourke Houses, which took in Jewish child migrants from Austria and Germany, including Holocaust survivors. In 1966 FB House introduced an annual memorial scholarship in her name to support tertiary education for one of its refugees. The organisation closed in 1992.
Julius became the president of the Australian Amateur Fencing Federation and in 1963 was awarded an MBE: Member of the British Empire for his service to the fencing community. He stood for Malvern council and was elected in 1966, serving as mayor from 1970 to 1972. There’s a pavilion in his name in a Toorak park, perhaps as recognition of his work.
In 1991 he was recognised again for his community work, through the awarding of an Order of Australia medal and he passed away two years later.
So I may not have found out anything about the fashion label but I did find a great story about a family dedicated to their community and making life better for others, achievements I admire. And they’ve left a small number of nice garments, which I also appreciate.
One dress somehow ended up in the US and one of my colleagues sold it a few years ago. I share this photo with her permission, it also looks circa 1950 and so was likely produced around the same time as my dress. Both show a nice appreciation of line and quality fabric and have been well-loved.
If you do know more about this label, please let me know: I’d love to fill in the gaps.
UPDATE: Suzanne wrote to let me know about an advert for machinists for ‘J.C. Pollack’ of 27 Flinders Lane in The Age newspaper 7/9/54 so it seems the label might have still been operating at that time. The same advert also mentioned ‘Fay’s Fashions’ of 1225 High St, Malvern: a retail outlet operated by Fay Pollack perhaps?
Suzanne also found a manuscript on file at the State Library of Victoria called ‘Autobiographical Reminiscences‘: here’s a summary, which contains some good information too, which answers a few questions:
Autobiographical reminiscences describing: his childhood in Russia during the 1917 revolution; escape to Rumania in 1921 and life there, in Germany and in Canada; arrival in Australia c. 1936, and subsequent life in Melbourne, where he set up his own dressmaking factory and textile printing business; and was a Malvern City Councillor from 1966 and Mayor from 1970 to 1972; and was involved with the sport of fencing, including arranging the fencing events and being a member of the organizing committee of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, the 1962 Perth Empire Games and the 1966 World Modern Pentathlon Championships held in Victoria. Also includes descriptions of various overseas trips.
Lesley Sharon Rosenthal also got back to advise that Mr Pollack was interred at the Melbourne Cemetery.
Thanks Suzanne and Lesley: great information. Fascinating man and life.
Now I’m wondering if his company printed the dress fabric as well as designing and making it?