Mag­gie Tab­berer, 79

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Legends Of The Catwalk - In­ter­view by Annette Sharp Pho­tog­ra­phy by The Hel­mut New­ton Es­tate/ Ma­conochie Pho­tog­ra­phy

DIS­COV­ERED AT AGE 14 at a fam­ily wedding, Mar­garet May Tab­berer was work­ing as a de­part­ment-store model in Ade­laide in the ’50s when the great­est cre­ative in­flu­ence of her life, pho­tog­ra­pher Hel­mut New­ton, in­ter­vened.

Tall, broad-shoul­dered and in pos­ses­sion of a so­phis­ti­cated look and re­mark­able al­mond eyes, Tab­berer, then 23 and mar­ried to first hus­band Charles, would move to Mel­bourne and be­come a fix­ture at New­ton’s stu­dio af­ter the pho­tog­ra­pher per­suaded Charles that his much-younger wife could make a lot of money mod­el­ling.

New­ton, a Ger­man-born Jew who had been in­terned in Aus­tralia by the Bri­tish Army in 1940, would go on to be­come one of the world’s great­est fashion pho­tog­ra­phers – and Mar­garet May Tab­berer, for­merly Tri­gar, would, along the way, be­come New­ton’s lover and a house­hold name: “Mag­gie T”.

“I was very gifted be­cause Hel­mut met me and said, ‘Come to the stu­dio ev­ery morn­ing.’ And of course that’s what I did – I didn’t have an agent, I just went there,” said Tab­berer. “What­ever he was shoot­ing, I was shoot­ing. It was a very great in­tro­duc­tion be­cause he knew so much. He’d worked in Europe and he was a Vogue dar­ling and had all the big ac­counts of the day.

“I just soaked it all up. Not just how to stand to please him, or how to look – but how to con­trib­ute and have a say about what I thought and grad­u­ally, grad­u­ally, grad­u­ally he taught me. I have to give him a lot of credit. He was very pa­tient with me.”

When New­ton quit Aus­tralia for Europe to rein­vent fashion pho­tog­ra­phy at French Vogue in the early ’60s, he in­vited Tab­berer to go with him – but, “I couldn’t go to Paris! I had two lit­tle girls, two ba­bies. I couldn’t just go,” says Tab­berer. “And I never won­der what could have been if I had – I didn’t do too badly here af­ter all.”

In truth, Tab­berer did in­cred­i­bly well and would pioneer a new pro­fes­sional call­ing – that of Aus­tralian celebrity model.

Within four years of be­ing dubbed 1960’s Model of the Year, Tab­berer was show­ing the na­tion she was as bright and plucky as she was beau­ti­ful, on tele­vi­sion’s Beauty And The Beast.

Newly sep­a­rated from Charles, there would soon be no stop­ping her.

Be­fore the decade was out, she had her own daily tele­vi­sion chat show, Mag­gie, for which she won Gold Lo­gies in 1970 and 1971.

Along with New­ton, other fashion con­tem­po­raries of her day in­cluded New Zealand-born cou­turier Clarence Hall Lud­low, who be­came a dear friend; Mel­bourne salon owner Lil Wight­man, of Le Lou­vre; model Mar­garet Hib­ble, an­other favourite of New­ton’s with whom Tab­berer was of­ten pho­tographed; and catwalk queen Diane Masters.

Tab­berer can’t re­call her first pay cheque as a ’50s model but says, “In my mind it was an ab­so­lute for­tune.

“I was the sole bread­win­ner then – with two lit­tle girls to sup­port and a hus­band to feed,” she says. “He [her hus­band] sort of black­mailed me that way, be­cause he knew it would be too dif­fi­cult to work and look af­ter the chil­dren. He fig­ured I’d have to put an end to the mod­el­ling… so I just got a very good nanny.”

Me­dia op­por­tu­ni­ties fol­lowed – most no­tably with The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly, where Tab­berer be­came fashion edi­tor in 1981. That same year, she launched her own fashion la­bel, Mag­gie T, with which she is still associated, al­though no longer, at 79, en­gaged in the day-to-day busi­ness.

Tab­berer is con­cerned for the young mod­els of to­day – some of whom, she once re­marked, are so painfully ema­ci­ated, they look as if they should go di­rectly from the catwalk to the hos­pi­tal. Had she been born later, a mod­el­ling ca­reer would have held less ap­peal.

“There have been too many sad cases in re­cent times, and I was never a waif,” she says. “My shape – big boobs, long gams and no waist af­ter my ba­bies came along – would not have suited th­ese times. Th­ese girls have to be su­per-slim, and that, frankly, doesn’t much ap­peal to me. I’ve never been much of an im­i­ta­tor.”

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