VOGUE Australia



Those who think the fashion spoils of the 1960s didn’t reach our shores never stepped into Sydney’s House of Merivale, the concept store run by Merivale Hemmes and her husband John. Together they revolution­ised the local fashion scene and awoke the style hankerings of many a young Australian ingenue as they brought the world to us.

“THE 1960S WAS an exciting time for the House of Merivale. The Beatles were huge and everything was happening in England; everything was new. We were lucky to be able to work at that time.

“In the 1960s Australia was far away from everybody, not like it is now, just a hop, skip and a jump. To go to England was a mission. I used to go twice a year, by plane. So there was a time lag with things reaching here: it took a couple of months, and everything was more for older people. But we were in our late 20s so, you know, we wanted to wear mini-skirts and the trousers-suits, which were in fashion for young girls.

“We were the first to start bringing European fashion to Australia, overseas labels, not big names, but unusual, different labels, disco things, like designer Rosalind Yehuda, who was doing fabulous knits. I think we sold more of those knitted clothes of hers than they sold in America or any other country. We also stocked emerging Australian designers like Prue Acton and Norma Tullo. I was on to everything that was new, so I wanted everything short – this is when the mini came into fashion – because we were selling to the younger disco crowd. John [Hemmes] said: ‘I think we’ll have to start our own manufactur­ing’, so we could make the things that people wanted. And then we ended up with a factory of 250 people. And we were making shoes, handbags, all sorts of dresses, and even wedding dresses in the end. In the late 60s, we went into menswear too because all the guys were coming in and buying the girl’s shirts and fitting into skinny trousers! I remember it was the young Italian and Greek boys, the sons of immigrants. They were wanting the frilly shirts and all the things from Europe.

“The House of Merivale was a destinatio­n, not just a shop. All the big stars who came to Australia to perform would visit, like Cher – and Marlene Dietrich, who bought nine of the same dress, in every colour we had made them in. It was a shift, with pin tucking in the front.

“With the shop, what I wanted to achieve was something homely. I think we were the first people who ever had any kind of greenery or music in store, and no eating or smoking around the clothes. A lot of people didn’t like that. And a lot of people did like it. So, it was a bit of a struggle in the beginning, because people were thinking: ‘Oh, what’s going on here? This is kind of unusual.’ I used to get all the magazines, of course, and I remember Vogue did a story on Helmut Newton. I tore the pages out of that magazine, and put them up in the fitting rooms, and around the walls, to make the shop feel cosmopolit­an. Back then the schoolgirl­s used to come in after school, especially on a Friday. One day, one of the mothers came in with her daughter, and she made a complaint. She said I had pornograph­ic photos up on the walls!”

 ?? ?? From a Merivale collection.
A label featuring John and Merivale Hemmes.
Outside the Angel Hotel where the House of Merivale sold clothes and music.
Merivale and John Hemmes.
From a Merivale collection. A label featuring John and Merivale Hemmes. Outside the Angel Hotel where the House of Merivale sold clothes and music. Merivale and John Hemmes.

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