Arts & culture,
Creative arts & culture,
Fifty Years of Gold Coast Fashion
Monique Butterworth | March 25, 2022
Synonymous with a progressive, entrepreneurial culture, the Gold Coast has long embraced innovation and new ideas.
Whilst pioneers of tourism and property industries are often celebrated, it is the Gold Coast’s ground-breaking fashion businesses that paved their way in a global fashion landscape to help create the iconic lifestyle the city is known for today.
It might’ve been Frenchman Louis Réard who invented the bikini in 1946 but it was Paula Stafford who introduced the ‘two-piece’ to Australia. Paula, who is 101 and still residing on the Gold Coast, caused international headlines in 1952 when model Ann Ferguson was asked to leave the beach for wearing one of Paula’s two-piece designs.
When Paula discovered what happened, she sent another five models to the beach wearing her bikini designs.
“Paula was very lucky. She literally fell into the fashion industry,” smiles Donyale Stafford, Paula’s granddaughter. “Paula’s amazing gift was marketing. She was before her time. She just knew how to market herself and her business.”
“Paula really knew how to network. She was extremely entrepreneurial and driven. She would do trunk shows and she really put herself out there,” adds Donyale.
“She used the media and travelled extensively. She found her niche and worked her butt off. She has always been an advocate for progress.”
Manufacturing locally in Surfers Paradise, Paula offered a 24-hour-turnaround on her fully reversible swimsuits, as well as offering add-ons such as a matching wraps, sundresses and bags.
“She used beautiful fabrics. We had the shop, factory and apartments in Cavill Avenue. The whole warehouse and factory was behind the shop,” explains Donyale.
“We had a lot of workers and machinery. If you tell someone we had a factory in the middle of Surfers Paradise, their reaction is always ‘what, the?’”
Paula and husband Beverley Stafford would travel with former Gold Coast Mayor Bruce Small, telling the world about the Gold Coast.
“Paula would take her fashion parades all over the world and tell people to come to the Gold Coast. “Back then travel was expensive and often my grandparents paid for themselves or were subsidised,” explains Donyale.
“They weren’t paid to be ambassadors, they did it because they loved the Gold Coast.”
“I feel a lot of the work done by people like my grandparents in the early days was not appreciated or honoured as much as it should have been. I don’t think people understand how much work was put in to get the Gold Coast ‘out there’. They were like travelling salesmen for the Gold Coast!”
Ironically, Donyale doesn’t remember Paula ever donning a swimsuit.
“I don’t remember Paula ever taking me for a swim. She grew up in Melbourne and always wore pant suits and hats. She still wears them with her pearls today yet she loves the Gold Coast,” smiles Donyale. “My grandparents saw the Gold Coast in its glory, they knew it would reach its full potential decades before it happened. That was an amazing thing to see.”
Aviatrix and fashion designer Ivy Hassard may not have considered herself a feminist in her lifetime but according to daughter Laurene she was all that and more.
Born in Ipswich in 1914, Ivy took her first flying lesson at 16 after her father bought her a Tiger Moth plane when she left school. Two years later, Ivy had her pilot’s licence and was one of Australia’s first aerobatic pilots during the 1930s.
In 1934, Ivy was runner up in the Courier-Mail Flying Scholarship and in December 1936 she made national headlines as the youngest entrant in the Brisbane to Adelaide air race. She recorded the fastest time of any woman pilot, heavily handicapped and just two seconds behind the eventual winner.
Ivy married fellow pilot Captain Ernest Hassard in 1937 and had three children. Following the end of their marriage, Ivy relocated to the Gold Coast and would open the first fashion boutique ‘The Exclusive Frock Salon’ – in Surfers Paradise in 1947.
“Initially Ivy was buying the latest women’s fashion to stock in her shop but she recruited a dressmaker. Ivy had a talent for design and she would make her own designs. As soon as she would put it in the window, it would walk out,” remembers Laurene Hassard, Ivy’s daughter. “Mum’s designs began outselling everything else. She ended up with 16 dressmakers making frocks and bikinis.”
Ivy would partner in business with fellow Queensland designer John Dolby and would stage the first fashion parade on the Gold Coast in August 1954.
“One thousand people crowded the ballroom of the Surfers Paradise Hotel. Model June Dally-Watkins was flown in from Sydney to wear this fabulous, jewelled gown that took three months to embroider and hand bead,” says Laurene. “The show was called ‘1954 Vacation Fashions’ and attracted media attention from all over Australia.”
“Mum flew tiger moth planes as a teenager, raised three children as a single mother and ran several successful businesses, all at a time when these things were thoroughly frowned upon for women,” says Laurene. “Mum was taken very seriously in business and was tremendously admired and respected right from the word go. Probably because she was a perfectionist in the way she presented and finished off garments.”
Laurene remembers attending fabulous parties as a small child.
“I was always in awe of the beautiful dresses all the women wore. They did not wear trousers at all in the ‘50s. They always wore these wonderful frocks and a lot of them were designed and made by Mum,” says Laurene. “If a woman did not have the perfect figure, Mum would design a dress to somehow still compliment her. Mum was very much into that feminine look.”
Laurene travelled with her mother internationally to showcase designs in Beirut, Washington, Hong Kong, Honolulu and Kuwait as part of the Australian Trade Fair.
In the late 60s and early 70s, Laurene modelled Ivy’s designs at the Concours d’Elegance held at the Chevron Hotel.
Prestigious, luxury cars were displayed and matched with designer fashion, competing for the title of Supreme Award winner. Ivy won the title twice, as well as five other awards during that time.
“The event aimed to build up the association of the Gold Coast as a high fashion, glamorous destination during the 1960s and 1970s, so where else would Ivy be except right in the middle of the action?” smiles Laurene. “Those fabulous creations of hers were really extraordinary and need to be remembered. I always hear my mother was the epitome of a lady, and that is exactly what she was.”
In 1958 Helene Walder – along with her husband Robert – opened ‘Helene’s Boutique’ in the original Black Dolphin Arcade. Specialising in leisure wear and screen-printing their own fabrics, the business was incredibly successful, exporting their designs to Canada, Hawaii and Harrod’s department store in London.
“Mum was originally from Albury and learnt a lot about fashion from her mother who was a milliner, ladies tailor and dressmaker,” explains Robyn Walder, Helene’s daughter. “She moved to Sydney and was a cabaret singer with a big band for Abe Saffron. She was 17 and didn’t know anything about him. She used to go to Abe’s house for Sunday lunches with him and his wife. That job put her through design school.”
“Mum married my Dad and they came to the Gold Coast for a holiday and fell in love with the place. They saw the opportunity for fashion – particularly resort wear – so they bought Ivy Hassard’s shop,” explains Robyn. “That was her first shop and her second shop ‘Helene’s of Surfers Paradise’ was in the Black Dolphin Arcade.”
With a workroom of sewers, cutters and patternmakers, Helene was a textile artist and fashion designer, helping many women who were abandoned by their husbands or were single mothers.
“We used to drop off the piece work for them to do with instructions once a day and collect what they had made,” explains Robyn. “She helped a lot of women who were doing it tough.”
Helene, now 94, imported beautiful fabrics from overseas as well as screen printing her own.
“Everything was made to measure,” says Robyn. “Mum had lots of Melbourne and Sydney clients who would come to her to design and make their entire resort wear wardrobe. They would come here on holidays and get a whole new wardrobe. Mum also had a shop in the Cosmopolitan Arcade in Double Bay, Sydney.”
Robyn says her mum travelled extensively on buying trips and has been an inspiration to anyone who knows her.
“After my parents divorced, Mum worked in fashion in Hawaii and later lived in South Korea for seven years with my stepfather,” says Robyn. “She returned to the Gold Coast and worked for Liz Clift for over 20 years. She would help people get their entire racewear look together. She is incredibly good at pulling a wardrobe together.”
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