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.
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.
'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.
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.
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!