Dressed for suc­cess back in the ship-shape days

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - HE­LEN HUTCHEON

I joined the newly-named P&O-Ori­ent Lines (the Penin­su­lar & Ori­en­tal Steam Nav­i­ga­tion Com­pany had just merged with Ori­ent Line) in Jan­uary, 1961 af­ter com­plet­ing a four-year cadet­ship on a ship­ping mag­a­zine. It was a dream job. I spent the next seven years trav­el­ling around Aus­tralia pro­mot­ing sea hol­i­days on the com­pany’s splen­did ships. Hi­malaya, Arcadia, Ibe­ria, Ori­ana, Can­berra, Orsova, Or­cades and Oron­say were house­hold names.

There was enor­mous com­pe­ti­tion in the in­dus­try. Chan­dris Lines, Flotta Lauro Line, Lloyd Tri­estino, Mat­son Lines, Mes­sageries Mar­itimes and Shaw Sav­ill were all sail­ing in and out of Syd­ney. First class at the time was ex­actly that and go­ing to sea meant hav­ing the right out­fit for ev­ery oc­ca­sion, from smart-ca­sual re­sort wear for lunch­ing on deck to glam­orous long gowns for for­mal nights.

This led me to com­pere fash­ion pa­rades across the coun­try and some of the venues in­cluded the old Farmer’s store in Syd­ney and Boans in Perth. Cat­walks were dec­o­rated with mock ship’s rail­ings and lifebuoys, a ship’s horn an­nounced the start of the pa­rades and ladies in the au­di­ence wore hats and gloves.

I wrote a pam­phlet called A Woman’s World at Sea that was handed out when I spoke to ladies’ clubs, in­clud­ing many branches of the in­es­timable Coun­try Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia. One of my help­ful hints in that pam­phlet would up­set many to­day: “Don’t for­get a lit­tle fur wrap or woollen stole for af­ter-dance deck-strolling.” There was lots of fur then and lots of ro­man­tic deck­strolling.

Wher­ever I went on the job I was in­ter­viewed by lo­cal ra­dio and tele­vi­sion sta­tions. How­ever, fol­low­ing its pol­icy not to name brands, the ABC would only in­tro­duce me as “a lady from a well-known ship­ping line”. Was it Mat­son? Or Shaw Sav­ill? The so­lu­tion was sim­ple.

Hardy Amies, of­fi­cial dressmaker for Queen El­iz­a­beth 11, from her ac­ces­sion to the throne in 1952 un­til his knight­hood in 1989, had de­signed a smart uni­form for P&O FAPS (fe­male as­sis­tant purs­ers). Amies, a mem­ber of the Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Ex­ec­u­tive in World War 11, who was knighted in Bel­gium in 1946 for his work with the Bel­gian re­sis­tance, had his own Bri­tish Army uni­form tai­lored on Sav­ile Row.

P&O is mov­ing away from starched uni­forms for food and bev­er­age staff with the in­tro­duc­tion of The Pantry, an in­ter­na­tional food court re­plac­ing tra­di­tional buf­fets. The big Pantry aprons re­mind me of be­ing in a New York deli. The bureau, or ho­tel, uni­forms re­main the same.

My mea­sure­ments were sent to Amies in Lon­don and back came a navy skirt and blazer and crisp white shirt -all a per­fect fit. Years later when I was editor of Vogue Liv­ing I in­ter­viewed Amies at his el­e­gant four-storey 1880 house in Kens­ing­ton. I men­tioned I was the proud owner of one of his de­signs. He was hor­ri­fied.

“I am so ter­ri­bly sorry,” he apol­o­gised. “I al­ways re­mem­ber my clients.”

He was greatly re­lieved when I told him I was just one of hun­dreds who had his FAPS uni­form.

For me, the most im­por­tant part of that uni­form was the navy and white hat. It had the com­pany’s large and dis­tinc­tive badge on the front.

When I was to be in­ter­viewed by the ABC I wore my Amies cre­ation and when “a lady from a well-known ship­ping line” was in­tro­duced, I would lower my head so that the em­blem was in full view of the cam­era. Then I would peer up from un­der the brim to speak to the pre­sen­ter. The art of dip­ping one’s head and coyly look­ing up was per­fected, much later, by Diana, Princess of Wales.

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