INSIDE A FLINDERS LANE FASHION HOUSE
These galleries present a small fraction of the coats, gowns and frocks made by E.H. Wade Pty Ltd, and have been restored by Colin's middle son from photographs gathered rather haphazardly in a scrapbook put together by his daughter while working for him during her school holidays. The firm originally just had the Van Roth label, with ‘Colwade’ being added about 1950. However that fell by the wayside as Colin concentrated on Van Roth, adding an extra label ‘Casa Vanessa’ in 1974. Colin's eldest son joined the firm in 1958 and later developed his own labels – ‘Willi’ and ‘Bliss’. They made four ranges each year – one for each season, with up to 200 designs in each. Colin never came to the end of his ideas; they just kept flowing. Despite the ranges being too large commercially towards the end he couldn’t reign in his creativity. Over his fifty year career the number of his designs must have been prodigious!
Some of the gowns shown here were from the ranges, some were ‘flag wavers’ for the apparel industry. A few were made for the annual ‘Gown of the Year’ competition and were very expensive one-off designs, quite beyond the affordability of most Australians. The industry was tariff protected and served a very small market compared with the European and American fashion houses. The day-to-day work of the Flinders Lane fashion houses was the dressing of ordinary women of all sizes. The firm’s ‘bread and butter’ was the middle income market, with the focus on everyday wear, theatre wear (people dressed for concerts then), race wear, mother of the bride, and gowns for parties, balls and receptions. They sold all over Australia, with agents in the major Capital cities. Boutiques in places like Broken Hill and Port Pirie even took Van Roth frocks and gowns into the Outback.
Colin was not interested in the fashionista scene but enjoyed the making and selling of garments. Those represented here must have meant something to him as he kept the photos - most without dates or information. Colin also kept many newspaper and magazine cuttings that featured his work, but the quality is too poor for restoration.
Where dates, mannequins and photographers are known, they are recorded, otherwise we have made a more or less educated guess. Where a date is given as 'circa' we hope it is within a few years, but welcome additional information and corrections. It would be nice to put names to all the mannequins, and provide a professional description of all the garments - or 'rig-outs' as our mother called them. For further reading about the Australian fashion industry, see the State Library of Victoria resources listed at:-
The photographs may be downloaded for personal use, but any re-posting to other non-commercial blogs or sites like Pinterest, or Facebook should include a link back to this site. For commercial reproduction please contact us. Clicking on an image will show it full screen with caption.
This site has been built with the help of Colin's grand-daughter, who's blog 'Melburnienne' contains her appreciation:– https://www.melburnienne.com/post/in-a-familiar-fashion
Click the buttons above to go the desired decade. For better viewing, press F11 on your keyboard to show them full screen. This hides the command and menu bars at the top of the screen - press F11 again to restore them.
Pert model by R.W. Rowell’s poster ‘Put your weight firmly behind the War Effort’ – photo by Athol Shmith
Photographed by Athol Shmith at the Shrine of Remembrance
Photographed by Athol Shmith at the Shrine of Remembrance
Camouflage netting as a fashion prop
Coats were essential before the widespread heating of transport and buildings - modelled by Valerie Venn
Modelled by Colin’s sister-in-law Valerie Venn
Fashion promoting War Bonds
Tobruk fell to the Australians on 22nd January 1941
Coats were good business for E.H. Wade Pty Ltd
The Van Roth 'Glamour Mode' - with a copy of Marie Claire on the chair
Photographed by Harry Jay
Petrol rationing continued after the War - an MTT Leyland-GEC electric trolleybus promoting Elegance and Style
Setup for a window display
Modelled by Ronnie Goodlet - her portrait by Ambrose Griffin was a 1947 Archibald prize entrant
“’The Peacock,’ a light-hearted evening gown in peacock blue shot taffeta, featuring the new cutaway-in-front look, a stemmed skirt with an over-dress of deep, gathered ruffles.” Made for the Australian Fashion Fair it was photographed in the showroom by Norman Dewhurst, and appeared in the 'The Argus' Fashion Supplement February 1950.
“Avocado green satin, dramatically trimmed with black net and braid are the main features of this classic evening gown.” Made for the Australian Fashion Fair and modelled by Paule Paulus, it was photographed in the showroom by Norman Dewhurst, and appeared in the 'The Argus' Fashion Supplement February 1950.
Featured in 'Woman's Day' magazine, this magnificent coat is modelled by Paule Paulus and photographed by Harry Jay
Modelled by Paule Paulus and photographed by Collin Ballentine. Featured in the wool exhibit at Royal Melbourne Show
“The Beetle Gown” was made from “tan and green shot silk taffeta over tan and gold net. The gown has a plain bodice, set off by an inverted petal top, trimmed in the front and back with clusters of artificial flowers” said 'The Argus' Fashion Supplement February 1950. Norman Dewhurst photographed Paule Paulus modelling it in the showroom.
Another view of “The Beetle Gown” worn by Paule Paulus in the Australian Fashion Fair. She was one of the French models flown out to Australian by QANTAS Constellation in June 1948 for the Women's Weekly Paris Fashion Parades, and stayed here. Like no other this voluminous gown marked the end of post-war austerity - Mr. Menzies had just been elected and petrol rationing ended
Van Roth stylist Colin Venn in the E.H. Wade Pty Ltd showroom, in the basement of Yoffa House, 187 Flinders Lane about 1948.
E.H. Wade Pty Ltd had been on part Army contract since 1940, but severe government restrictions dictated styles and fabric shortages put further limitations on their production. Another prolem was the scarcity of skilled manpower. Added to the firm's woes, Wadie fell seriously ill in 1944 and his wife struggled to carry the business on her own. E.H.Wade Pty. Ltd. needed Colin more than the Air Force, and he was granted leave in January 1945 to help keep the business afloat. Conditions took some years to improve as rationing continued for some years after the war and the nation was dogged by rolling strikes in all essential services. But the Dior ‘New Look’ caused a sensation when French mannequins were flown out to model it in 1946 and subsequent years. With very full skirts, loads of fabric and heaps of style and colour, it captivated Australian women. It was a reaction to the restrictions of war, and by then Colin was stylist, fabric buyer and salesman. At last he had scope to express his creativity.
A bold attention getter at the beginning of the Menzies era
Fuller figures were well catered for by Van Roth
Jeane Rabey models fashion for older women - an important part of business
“A green moire taffeta evening coat with jewelled and embroidered Cardinal collar, worn over a classic white crepe gown with halter neckline, jewelled and embroidered to match collar”, made for the Australian Fashion Fair and modelled by Paule Paulus for this photograph which appeared in 'The Argus' Fashion Supplement February 1950.
A white crinoline gown in the romantic tradition with a skirt of ribbon-trimmed net worn over hooped white taffeta petticoat modelled by Ronnie Goodlet, Miss Victoria 1947, and subsequently one of the models in the first Australian Fashion Fair held in the Exhibition. Photographed for 'The Argus' Fashion Supplement February 1950.
A short skirted black net gala evening dress of pale blue net with white cornelli work sold for £15/15/-. Photographed by Helmut Newton, a colour print appeared in the Australian Women's Weekly Wednesday 8th August 1951
This gown photographed by Athol Shmith was a favourite of Colin's. The smiling colour version was framed and hung in his office for decades
Phil Purvis models a Grecian gow for fashion and society photographer Athol Shmith.
Athol Shmith photograph of a full length woollen cape to be worn over a Grecian gown modelled by Phil Purvis.
A window display for the 'Spring Look' featuring Van Roth gowns on the covers of ‘Woman’ and ‘Women’s Weekly’ in 1953 – 44 guineas has a 2017 value of about $1,600
Phil Purvis models frocks for the Makower’s Print Collection - photographs by John Warlow 1953.
Phil Purves models a dress and coat for photographer Alan Lambert in the E.H. Wade showroom c1953. Behind the curtains was the new season’s range which was modelled for buyers by the house model.
Perth’s population was only 300,000 in 1954 but Boans pulled out all the stops for The Royal Visit, the biggest social occasion in Australian history. At least 75 percent of the population saw her at least once, and there were numerous Royal balls at which ladies were dressed to the nines!
Phil Purvis models a stylish frock with fur collar in the early Fifties in the E.H. Wade showroom.
Wealthy matrons had to look their best for the Royal Visit and the fashion houses obliged.
The chaise lounge in the E.H. Wade showroom was a comfortable place for buyers and a prop for photographers. This gown of Colin’s was featured in 'The Argus' newspaper.
This dress and fur stole modelled by Phil Purvis in the showroom was photographed by 'The Argus' for a Royal Tour fashion feature in 1954.
Fashionable day wear worn by a nicely balanced model in the showroom for a Royal Tour fashion feature in 'The Argus' 1954.
This gown and fur stole modelled in the showroom would have turned a few heads! Photographed for a Royal Tour fashion feature in 'The Argus' 1954.
Phil Purvis models a Van Roth number for the 'Burlington Crepe Parade’ of 1955. Photograph by Helmut Newton.
Embroidered spot on white crepe jacket modelled by Phil Purvis for the 'Burleigh Crepe Parade' of 1955. Photograph by Helmut Newton.
Phil Purvis models a very chic little black dress, circa 1955.
Phil Purvis modelling a dress of Collin’s for the 'Silken Touch' piece goods promotion 1955. The bolts of fabric have Invicta labels.
'The Argus' ran a 16 page Fashion Supplement on 16th February 1950, announcing that "tonight the Australian fashion industry officially enters the spotlight of world recognition. As Sir Dallas Brooks, Governor of Victoria, opens the Australian Fashion Fair at Melbourne's Exhibition Building, he will bring to a climax the planning, the building, the designing, the dressmaking the hopes and fears of many months...it was organised by the Australian Guild of Fashion Designers, a go-ahead organisation which dares to believe that dress designers and manufacturers in this country can equal the best in the world". Colin was one of them, and six of his gowns featured in the Fashion Supplement (second only to Hartnell of Melbourne's seven). A few days earlier 'The Argus' ran the following teaser.
"HYPSOPHOBIA - an overwhelming fear of high places - is one of life's greatest worries for Paule Paulus, former Christian Dior model. Normally, she keeps away from high places. But Paule has been chosen to model gowns in the mannequin parade at the Australian Fashion Fair...She will have to walk along a "flying avenue," 40ft. long and 30ft. above the ground, and then descend a 28-step spiral staircase every time she models a gown. And as Paule will have to model twice a day for the 15 days of the fair she will have to overcome her phobia at least 450 times in the next few weeks. After "trial runs" yesterday on the avenue and the stairs, she admitted: "C'est difficile. But," she said, breaking into English with a faint American accent, "It will either kill me or cure me".
The Fifies has arrived! There has never been a decade of high fashion like it. In the basement of Yoffa House, clients entered the showroom via a red leather buttoned door. The location of many of these photographs, behind the curtained hanging space was the current seasons range and change room for the mannequin - most often Phil Purvis.
“One hundred hours of beading went into this gown by the fashion house of Van Roth in the Gown of the Year competition. The lace skirt is high at the front for a tunic effect over the satin sheath beneath, and falls to a fan-shaped train at the back. The seven yards of lace, fashioned so that not one seam or dart is visible, is heavily encrusted with crystals, and small green, brown and ecru pearls. Inspiration for the style of the gown came from the formal evening gowns of the Edwardian era.”
The Sidney Myer Music Bowl opened in 1959 and is the location of this quirky publicity shot.
“It's Yours - for £525. The Melbourne fashion house which created the gown used hand-made Swiss-loomed guipure lace-at £40 a yard - and beaded the bodice and hem. The price of the gown? 500 guineas.” - Adelaide Advertiser 15th November 1961. $15,000 in 2017 values.
A stunning cocktail dress for the party season.
Legacy helped the families of deceased soldiers, and like many returned servicemen, Colin supported the ‘Gown of the Year’ parades as Legacy was the beneficiary. It was more than an Industry show. Gown modelled by Carol Triplett for photographs by Reeder & Williams.
Carol Triplett on the catwalk at Menzies Hotel with Colin’s Gown of the Year entry in the mid 1960’s. Perhaps the finest of Melbourne’s grand hotels, Menzies was demolished in 1969 to make way for another office tower.
"Striking and yet simple is this gown of mustard Bruck crepe, embroidered with bronze and gold beads on its cape-back; designed by Van Roth, it's worn by Rhonda Christenson; an Ectacel fabric." 1964.
“Dramatic caftan dinner gown in black and white striped ‘Crimplene’ that might have been designed for an early 30's film featuring Norma Shearer. Fabric knitted by Trendknit.” Photographed by Maurice Mead at Montsalvat, June 1968.
In November 1965 Jean Shrimpton wore a mini dress to the Melbourne Cup and scandalised Melbourne society. The mini era had arrived, and like it or not, the fashion houses had to follow.
A mini gown and cape on printed terylene for formal wear. April 1968.
Van Roth dress with fur collar photographed by Helmut Newton c1968.
Carol Triplett shows the Van Roth entry in the 1966 Gown of the Year; a jewel-green pure silk chiffon overlaid with pure silk shantung and intricate beading on the hem and on the neck and wrists of the overlay.
Next morning, 16th August, the ‘Sun’ headlined “The winner was asleep” quoting Colin as saying “I didn’t think I had much hope of winning.”
Published in Fashion Pictorial April 1968.
This 'Madam X' gown is made with fabric from Fibremakers circa 1969. Textile companies were keen to show off their products in up-market applications, but sometimes the fabric was difficult to work with.
“A superb thirties style ensemble interpreted from a Lana Knit fabric by Van Roth in the joint Australian Broadcasting Commission and Australian Wool Board television programme." Photographed by Lloyd Buchanan circa 1969.
Two piece suit photographed by Helmut Newton circa 1969.
Times were changing. Colin’s 1969 entry for the ‘Gown of Year’ was this wool grye in purple plum, with Arctic Fox fur dyed to tone. Phil Purvis, still working after nearly 20 years, modelled it for a newspaper photographer in a prosaic street setting.
The iconic Parkes Radio Telescope "The Dish" opened in 1961 - the latest in technology to complement the latest in fashion!
The Sixties saw a gradual moving away from high fashion. The two major blows were Jean Shrimpton's wearing of a mini skirt to the 1965 Derby - no hat, gloves or stockings either - and then the last straw when the 1969 Gown of the Year was awarded to a simple patio dress. Evan Wade gradually retired, with Colin taking over as Managing Director. He was joined by his eldest son Chris, who began much as his father had done, taking the new seasons range to distant Agencies. Chris developed as a stylist himself, with his 'Willi' and 'Bliss' labels aimed more at the younger set.
Photo shoot for an article about Melbourne milliner William Beale, featuring his hats and Van Roth garments, photographed by Maurice Mead June 1973.
Nearing retirement, Colin Venn at work with a new design as Mona Lisa looks on. June 1981.
In 1973 Colin took over the company, which was renamed C.D. Venn and Associates. With the gradual lifting of tariff protections on imports the business felt the squeeze, and moved premises to Maling Road, Canterbury in the early 1980’s. Some years later the decision was taken to wind it up. Colin's career in fashion had lasted 50 years!