'Really wild! Really swinging! Open Monday thru to Saturday." So says the poster for the Victoria & Albert Boutique, in the MLC Building at North Sydney. This 1964 poster, slightly torn, is the first reference to an Australian fashion house that was to survive for another 40 years.
That wild and swinging North Sydney boutique lasted only six months before owners Patricia and Terry Burkitt relocated to a small space in Double Bay, where there was a greater demand for clothes in the style of Carnaby Street.
At first they stocked imports from London mainly, but in the late 1960s they had great success with a range of screen-printed T-shirts designed by Terry Burkitt. The best seller was one featuring the logo of the Earls Court Tube station, the preferred destination of young Australian expats.
The V&A boutique eventually moved to larger premises in Bay Street, where Patricia and Terry established their own fashion label in the 1970s, specialising in bespoke tailoring for celebrity clients. These included models Maggie Eckhardt and Bobo Faulkner, television presenter Sue Smith, businesswoman Elizabeth Dangar, even Sammy Davis jnr. He dropped in while on a concert tour, saw a floor-length leather coat they had made for his friend Cindy Leonetti and asked if he could have it. They made another one for her.
Another client was British prima ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn, who ordered a complete summer wardrobe from V&A while on tour in Sydney.
"Our clientele changed from pop to couture," Patricia Burkitt says. "We started making clothes for cocktails, evening wear, the Melbourne Cup Carnival. We were not at all interested in doing a collection for retail. Our business was more like a private club. We designed for people we felt in tune with. Today we would probably be described as 'fashion stylists'." When she closed the business in 2004, she realised she had kept a lot of what she had designed during her career. In a sense, this was an edited history of Australian fashion.
On Sunday, September 15, this collection will be sold through Shapiro Auctioneers. Fashionistas of all ages are expected to be there in force. Bidding is expected to be frantic, perhaps even bitchy.
The sale includes 215 lots ranging from the swinging '60s to the corporate '90s. One of the earliest examples is a canary-yellow pop art minidress by Hanni Wilson, a German designer then based in Sydney. It's included as part of Lot 297, with total estimates of $50 to $100. There are pieces from about 1970, when maxi dresses replaced the mini. Also included are original dresses from the 1920s, collected by the Burkitts as a source of inspiration for their own designs. Accessories include belts, jewellery, collars, hats, buttons and stacks - literally - of assorted fabric, mostly imported. There are also vintage store mannequins, plus prints and furniture from the Bay Street boutique, as decorated by Marion Hall Best.
Auctioneer Andrew Shapiro specialises in what he calls "personality auctions", which double as social events. The previous one was in June, when the estate of Sir Peter Abeles' former wife Claire Dan attracted capacity crowds. Total results of that sale were just short of $200,000. Estimates for this sale are as low as $10 to $20 for a lot of eight glass and plastic bangles. Most dresses are in the $100 to $200 range, with a few in the thousands, such as a floor-length bronze silk and velvet cloak decorated with 1920s tassels and trim - one of Patricia Burkitt's design trademarks. It was worn to the opera by Elizabeth Dangar. Estimates are $2000 to $3000.
Another significant piece is the 1970 fur coat (lamb skin with silver fox sleeves) by English designer Zandra Rhodes. Estimates are $2500 to $3500, the highest in the auction.
The Victoria & Albert Sale is on September 15 at noon at the Woollahra Hotel, Sydney. Viewing is at Shapiro Auctioneers, 162 Queen Street, Woollahra, September 7-14, 11am-5pm.
An online catalogue will be available on the Shapiro Auctioneers website by the end of the week.
To see a photo gallery of items from the Victoria & Albert Sale, go to theage.com.au/money