Saturday, January 23, 2010

Designer Profile: Prue Acton

I've decided to launch a new regular feature called Designer Profile which will look back at fashion designers past. This is to educate myself just as much as it is to inform my readers. And considering that Tuesday is Australia Day (or Invasion Day as I prefer to call it, although the powers that be seem to have moved away from "celebrating" the British invasion of Australia and its indigenous people over the last couple of decades, thank goodness), I thought I'd pick an Aussie designer.

Prue Acton was called Australia's Mary Quant and was the first Australian designer to show in New York in the mid 1960s. At 19 years-old Prue was studying to be an artist, but her frustration at the lack of clothing available in her native Melbourne for young women like her, led her in a different direction. With the financial backing of her parents she opened her own clothing business and within three years her designs - heavily influenced by the youth quake counter culture of the time - were widely available in stores.


Her early designs - like this black mini dress and baby blue play suit - were quintessentially 60s, hence the Australian Mary Quant tag. It does well to remember that in those days there were very few international fashion labels available in Australian cities.

As the 60s gave way to the 70s, Prue's empire began to extend even further. She started to add swimwear, lingerie and other accessories in her collections which were now being sold through retailers in the Northern Hemisphere. Her 70s designs embraced more of a hippie aesthetic and seemed to draw influence from her painterly background. These hand painted silk and crepe gowns from the mid 70s are delicately beautiful.

In the 1980s Prue returned to her first love of painting while she continued to run her fashion empire. Below are a couple of designs from that era which demonstrate an artist in full flight. They are also unashamedly Aussie in inspiration. The first dress looks like a gumtree and the second is called The Great Barrier Reef ensemble.


At the end of the decade Prue retired and in 1992 she donated a raft of her creations to Museum Victoria. Her designs are now highly collectible and I rue the day I had the opportunity to buy an Acton dress. It was a black midi dress with red and yellow trim and a fabulous keyhole design around the bust, and it fit me like a glove. Totally perfect for a backyard BBQ, but alas I walked away because it was a little out of my price range. And her designs are hardly a dime a dozen at your local thrift store.

This fabulously original dress just sold on Ebay.


And this cute little 1980s cocktail frock is available on NZ website Trade Me.

Or lastly you can check out this smashing wool jacket at Aussie online shop Ma Bel Ailie Vintage. Or maybe not, as I quite fancy it. Lovely with a pair of jeans for winter.

You can read more about Prue Acton here.

Photo credits: 1st image c/- In Vogue: 50 Years of Australian Style (HarperCollins), Dieter Muller, September 1975; Images 2 - 9 C/- Museum Victoria.

2 comments:

Greer said...

beautiful clothing!! x

My Passport to Style said...

Hi there,I'm new here,just came across your blog, so glad I did!I love frocks too and what a lovely round up on your post, particulary loove the maxi!If you love frocks you must pop over to my Tea Dance over on My Passport to Style, look forward to seeing you there!I will be back! Sharon (UK) xx