Credited as Australia’s ‘Grand Dame of Vintage’, the 86-year old Mary Lipshut has sparked a fashion flashback by relaunching her exclusive assortment of high-end designer goodies form the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. With an extensive background in buying, a celebrity filled client book, and a fashion obsessed lifestyle dating back to 1962, her life is one giant “Look Book”.
Mary’s keen eye for international fashion saw her fortunate enough to travel to Europe twice a year for 30 years and Hong Kong four times a year for 35 years, enjoying front row seats at the highly coveted runway shows for the likes of Missoni and Versace and often enjoying dinner with the designers.
One of the first international buyers for the Australian fashion industry, Mary Lipshut boasts the largest collection of vintage Missoni, Callaghan, Krizia and Courreges in the world.
Mary Lipshut Vintage is a high-end boutique that offers unprecedented access to European designers from the 60s, 70s and 80s. It is a unique retail outlet, showcasing an exquisite collection of more than 4,000 carefully preserved garments and accessories of the finest quality – the garments have never been worn before and the original labels and tags are still attached
For the 2012 L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival ( LMFF) Cultural project “ Windows by Design” – dedece melbourne collaborated with Alex Zabotto-Bentley ( AZB Creative ) to dress up its Russell Street windows with a spectacular selection of Mary’s vintage garments which will remain on display throughout the month of March.
(above ) Mary in 1971 on Collins Street, Melbourne.
As Mary had difficulty selling her first collection of Missoni, because it was so different and ahead of its time, Mary opened her own boutiques realising she had to get to the consumer. Following this George’s opened a Sportswear boutique for Mary called ‘Innovation’ then Myers followed with a boutique called the ‘Internationals’. This was followed by a boutique in Myer Adelaide. Mary sold to all the best boutiques throughout Australia.
In 1972 Mary landed a very large Courreges collection one week after France tested the bomb ( on bikini atoll ) in the South Pacific. Australia black banned everything French for two years.
Mary asked her friend Anna Piaggi what should she do with a two year old collection of Courreges. It was from Anna that Mary first heard the words “Vintage” applied to Fashion. Anna told Mary in 1973 that all over the world Museums were opening Fashion galleries and Vintage Fashion would one day come into its own. She followed Anna’s advice and packed away all the Courreges and lots of her other labels, including Pucci, Roberta Di Camerino and Versace.
She enthuses that the 70’s was outstandingly the best era for fashion. To say her collection of un-worn vintage garments is impressive is an understatement and today, she shares her incredible fashion collection with the modern day woman by appointment only at her showroom in Melbourne’s South Yarra.
Mary reflects how fortunate she was to have the best of both worlds- her life in Melbourne, with her family and friends and her enviable jet setting international fashion lifestyle.
Sex up your wardrobe 70s style
by Marj Lefroy
SMH / December 20, 2011
Sitting in her showroom on the day she has agreed to will her extensive archives to Melbourne’s RMIT university, 87-year-old fashion merchandising legend Mary Lipshut is feeling wistful.
“There’s a lot of nostalgia here,” she says, gesturing to the walls covered in photographs of old friends like Gianni Versace, Tai Missoni and Frank Sinatra.
Versace was a friend from the early 1970s right up until his murder in 1997. “Gianni always appreciated the fact that I bought his things before he was known. His first collection for Callaghan was brilliant.”
Now, pieces from that collection are available for purchase from Lipshut’s new online store, ML Vintage. The store showcases her collection of unsold stock from the 60s, 70s and 80s, when she was a pioneering fashion buyer for Myer and Georges.
Lipshut was the first to bring labels like Callaghan, Pucci, Missoni and Courreges into Australia, but she didn’t always get a warm reception from department stores. “[They] were too frightened to buy … they didn’t want to take a risk.
“I was forced to open my own boutiques because the first collection I ever bought from Missoni, you know what they said to me? ‘Mary, you really don’t know what you’re doing, dear. You can never put emerald and lime together. They don’t go.’ ….. “That garment is now in the National Gallery of Victoria.”
Other pieces from Lipshut’s collection have been purchased by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Smithsonian.
The collection began when one of Lipshut’s consignments for Myer was redirected to her warehouse after a disagreement with Myer’s merchandising director. Another shipment, from Courreges in Paris, was pronounced unsellable on arrival when the French began testing nuclear bombs in the Pacific and Australia slapped a ban on all French imports.
Add a few uncollected laybys from her pioneering boutiques Tempo and Sportempo, and some advice from Italian Vogue commentator Anna Piaggi to preserve her growing inventory for when the world began clamouring for true vintage fashion, and ML Vintage was born.
The collection of 4000 garments and accessories is now thought to be worth many hundreds of thousands of dollars, and potentially the only one of its kind in the world.
A trip around the showroom – and the website – is a journey through several fashion cycles, and proof that everything old is always new again, eventually. Courreges was clearly a master of colour blocking, and Missoni’s original maxi dresses and iconic stripes are just as popular today as they ever were.
With one-shoulder Versace swimsuits listed at $500 a pop, and Pucci skirt sets selling for thousands, it’s not for the faint of wallet.
Lipshut has outfitted Dannii Minogue, Megan Gale and fashion insiders like stylist Polly Kerdel, and is excited to see her new online venture go live.
“We’re launching www.mlvintage.com to see Mary’s life work find their rightful homes,” says grandson and business partner Mark Lipshut. “When the last piece sells, the lights go off and we go home!”
As for RMIT, they’ll be the recipients of a cache of newspaper clippings, hand-written stock orders, vintage colour charts, diary notes, and drawings by some of the 20th century’s most successful designers.
It’s an archive that represents a fashion life well lived.
“I never had time to throw anything out,” says Lipshut. “It was the most elegant era … I’ve really had this most wonderful life.”
ML Vintage’s founder and owner, Mary Lipshut, has been collecting designer vintage fashion since the 60s.
In 1962, Melbourne-based Mary accompanied her husband Phillip on a trip to Hong Kong. While she was there, Mary discovered exquisite beaded and embroidered knit tops unlike anything she could buy in Australia. Due to her keen eye and longstanding interest in fashion – her father was Morris Plotkin, the elastic fabric tycoon of the pre-lycra days – she spotted an opportunity.
Displaying the same foresight and initiative that would see her become a successful businesswoman for decades to come, Mary began importing, then manufacturing, clothing from Hong Kong.
By 1965, Mary and her sister Edith had set up a company called Meredith Imports (combining their two names), which sold their Hong Kong knitted suits, dresses and sweaters to Australian department store Myer. Mary and Edith also made a popular range of stretch pants called pantastics, using their father’s fabric.
By the time Mary and her husband embarked on a world tour in 1966, Myer, David Jones (Sydney), Mark Foys and numerous other outlets were stocking Meredith imports, and recognised Mary’s potential as a buyer. Myer asked her to bring them knitwear from every country she visited on her trip. She sent back ponchos from Mexico, pantsuits from Los Angeles, and a wealth of pieces from European designers that had never before been available in Australia.
But many of the pieces she brought in from Europe were too daring for the department stores. ‘I couldn’t convince them that fashion was changing, so I opened two adjoining boutiques of my own in South Yarra – Tempo, for the dressier European labels like Genny, Callaghan and Complice (all designed by Gianni Versace) and Missoni, and Sportempo, for Courreges, Italian knitwear and the sportier lines like Gaston Jaunet. The response was unbelievable and not only from customers. Every fashion editor in town was on my doorstep.’
After opening her own stores to great success, Mary was invited to open boutiques within both Georges (Innovation) and Myer, to offer to their customers the best of European prêt-a-porter. The Myer boutique – The Internationals – met with immediate positive reaction, and, despite the store moving the boutique from one spot to another, clients sought it out.
Mary recalls: ‘We opened The Internationals in Myer on a Monday when the whole basement of the store was flooded due to terrible storms. They put us at the top of the escalator, on a patch with bare floors and wire coathangers. Within the first few days we took the month’s budget. The Myer staff couldn’t believe that girls were coming into the store in thongs and t-shirts and walking out with expensive Missoni outfits. But we knew people would love those clothes.’
Even as a newcomer, Mary was incredibly insightful about what was happening in the fashion world, picking up on a shift in the way trends were occurring. In the Hong Kong Star, 28 May 1971, she noted: ‘This is the first time in history that fashion is dictated by the young. Hitherto, girls looked up to their mothers as their fashion models, but the times have changed. This is the era in which mothers copy fashions from their daughters… the fashion scene is dictated by young designers who crystallised the fashion whims of the younger set.’
Throughout the late Sixties and Seventies, Meredith was the only Australian importer of many of Europe’s leading fashion designers. It was never Mary’s intention, however, to establish a vintage fashion collection but rather a chance turn of fate.
Thanks to historical events, many of the garments Mary imported were destined straight for her warehouse, never to see the shopfloor. One shipment came in a week after the French tested their bomb in the Pacific and, as a result, Australia initiated a black ban on anything French. When the shipment was eventually allowed to dock, the clothes were out of date and were locked in a warehouse and all but forgotten. Not long after Mary diverted another shipment of clothes to the same warehouse due to a disagreement with the then fashion director at Myer about payments.
On one of her regular trips to Milan, Mary asked her friend, Italian fashion commentator Anna Piaggi what she should do with all these clothes! Piaggi said to put them away. She said people would start collecting fashion and that fashion museums would be established – even all that time ago she could see the vintage trend was coming.
Years later, in 2002, Mary decided to offer her unique collection to Melbourne’s fashion scene by opening an appointment only boutique in South Yarra. And with this decision, Mary Lipshut Vintage was born, offering unique garments and accessories that add a touch of old world charm and individuality to the modern woman’s wardrobe.
Now this incredible fashion venture is embarking on its next chapter, with an online retail outlet to offer the ML Vintage collection to fashionistas across the globe. When the last piece sells, the Mary Lipshut Vintage story will finally reach the happily ever after of ‘The End’.
During the 1970s Meredith Imports was the sole Australian distributor for many of Europe’s leading Fashion Houses. Now, some 40 years later, the ML Vintage collection is recognised as unique for its diversity and, most significantly, all of the garments now offered for sale are brand new, having never been worn with their tags and labels still attached.
The size of the treasure trove came to light only after Mary Lipshut moved her company, Meredith, to spacious new premises in Richmond.
‘Our old warehouse was on land owned by a property developer who needed our site immediately – and we had to move fast,’ the Melbourne fashion veteran recalls.
‘It was chaos. Boxes were mislabelled or not labelled at all. I didn’t have a clue what was in some of them until I finally started unpacking.
The boxes filled with two seasons’ worth of Courreges recalled an earlier trauma. Ah, yes: the ill-fated collections hit by the wharfies’ 1972 ban on French goods after the first atomic tests in the Pacific.
Then there was the rest – unsold stock, showroom samples, forgotten lay-bys – which had accumulated since the late 60s: Missoni, Versace, Pucci, Krizia, Callaghan and more. A cache of luxury garments, all in mint condition.
‘I first learned about the worldwide demand for vintage garments from Anna Piaggi and Vern Lambert in the mid-70s. On one of his trips to his hometown of Melbourne, Vern came to see me because he wanted a Pucci for Anna. Then he saw a 1966 Missoni and said, “Put these clothes away. They’ll be worth a fortune.” Vern was going to sell my collection for me in Europe, but then I stopped hearing from him. Anna told me why when I saw her in Milan soon after,– Vern had suddenly died.’ Piaggi, of course, is the Milanese fashion writer whose eccentricities and vintage couture collection are legendary.
Mary’s vintage ventures
For more than 30 years, the world’s fashion capitals have been the stamping grounds of Mary Lipshut –a shrewd entrepreneur who has made her indelible mark on the ragtrade. ‘It all started in the early 60s when Hall Ludlow (the late Australian couturier) made me a white sharkskin pantsuit. The bottoms were stretch stirrup pants and the top was trimmed with guipure lace – just fabulous,’ Mary said.
The daughter of Morris Plotkin, the elastic fabric tycoon of the pre-lycra days, she went into business with elder sister, Edith. They combined their names to form Meredith and used their father’s fabrics for stretch pants, which they called “pantastics”.
‘At first, we operated from my rumpus room at home,’ Mary said. Her next move was to import, then manufacture, beaded evening tops from Hong Kong.
Major department stores were clients by the time she accompanied her businessman husband, Phillip, on a world trip in the 1960s. The Myer Emporium decided to capitalise on it. ‘They asked me to bring back an international knitwear collection – something from every country I visited. Florence stopped her in her tracks. It was the hub of Italian fashion before the exodus to Milan and she was captivated.
Back home, reality set in. The reaction to a stunning halter-top with matching flares in emerald and lime lurex, which Emmanuelle Khan had designed for Missoni, was typical, Mary says. ‘I bought that outfit from Tai Missoni himself, but in Melbourne I was told, “You can’t mix these greens. You can’t have a top cut away from the arms like that”.’
Vindication finally came in 1996 when the two-tone dazzler starred in the National Gallery of Victoria’s tribute to 20th-century fashion, Couture to Chaos. The Missoni is one of several French and Italian numbers the NGV has acquired from Mary over the years.
‘I couldn’t convince the stores that fashion was changing, so I opened two adjoining boutiques in South Yarra – Tempo, for the dressier European labels like Genny, Callaghan and Complice, and Sportempo, for Courreges, Italian knitwear and the sportier lines like Gaston Jaunet.
‘The response was unbelievable and not only from customers. Every fashion editor in town was on my doorstep.’ By the mid-70s, she had bought out Edith – ‘she found the fashion industry too demanding’ – though her late husband and, increasingly, her sons, Alan, Peter and David, pitched in.
Now, Mary has gone into business with her eldest Grandson Mark, who is helping her share her incredible fashion collection with the world providing the modern day woman with a treasure trove of elegance and old world charm of years gone by.
LMFF – Windows by Design
A dozen of the city’s most iconic window displays received dramatic makeovers last week as part of L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival.
Curator Alex Zabotto-Bentley, of event design company AZB Creative, has corralled some of Melbourne’s hottest artists and designers who have taken over the windows of major retailers including David Jones, Bettina Liano and Husk. Windows by Design, sponsored by L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival’s official beer Peroni Nastro Azzurro, is a huge undertaking that aims to temporarily transform shop frontages into art spaces.
“It’s not a window display at all, it’s an ephemeral gallery,” says Alex “We’re showing their work in an entirely new way.” “We wanted to take on artists that we could amplify their work within the space to stop people in their tracks,” Zabotto-Bentley says. “That was part of the prerequisite. We want to bring people into the city by creating these galleries that you don’t have to walk into; you just experience in the street.”
The blue ribbon of excellence, taken from the label design on the Peroni bottle, will run through each of the window displays, binding them together visually and creating a pathway for spectators. “You can follow this ribbon on a secret tour of the city. You don’t even have to love fashion,” says Zabotto-Bentley.
The blue ribbon is inherently the mark and statement of excellence. Alex said … “with the Nastro Azzurro from Peroni I felt that I had to animate this statement by turning it into the thread that ties all of the Windows by Design installations. The rich blue is seen within all windows as a subtext. We, at AZB Creative pride ourselves on incredible attention to detail. It is this detail partnered with the wonderful art from all of the collaborators that have brought this blue ribbon to life.”
Windows by Design is about celebrating the great artists in Australia, from sculptors, painters, street artists to collectors, giving them an opportunity to show their work/collections within galleries which are actually large retail windows. Curating such a large exhibition that embraces the wonderful culture of walking and window shopping in Melbourne, I was able to demonstrate that fashion/interior stores are perfect vehicles to show case wonderful creativity.
Stores and Collaborators
Alice Euphemia + Blue Bottle
Bettina Liano + Mark Denver
David Jones + AZBCreative
Dedece + Mary Lipshut Vintage
Euroluce + Emma Coulter
Gorman + Dion Horstman
Harrolds + Lucas Grogan
Honor Among Thieves + Aaron Kinnane
HUSK + Kaff-eine
Scanlan & Theodore + Bernadette Trela
Swensk + Mark Douglass
Zambesi + Marcos Davidson