I moved to the Gold Coast from Scotland (consider the cultural shock if you will) just as the 1970s tipped into the heady 1980s, and in my childhood witnessed the city reach its zenith as the nation’s hedonistic holiday capital. The Gold Coast that I remember was wonderful: glamorous, relaxed and full of beautiful people. I well remember the Meter Maids in their gold bikinis and sashes strolling through Surfers Paradise. To a young girl, the original Meter Maids were the epitome of glamour, unofficial beauty queens (they wore sashes after all) and ambassadors for the city in their original incarnation before council sold the franchise and two competing operators emerged. Importantly too they were fresh and vibrant, more girl-next-door than stripper-chic, which is what they morphed into once the city sold the rights. They embodied something of the misguided but unassailable exuberance of the Gold Coast. Gold Coasters knew that people down south thought ill of them, but they pressed on no matter, because secretly the Melbourne and Sydney folk all had their holiday homes on the coast. And still do.
I attended St Hilda’s, a private girls’ school where the uniform was to be strictly adhered to, which of course meant that the boundaries were constantly flaunted; hem lines were tinkered with, sleeves rolled up, socks rolled down in a coil around the ankle, as though the rules were there merely as a ‘guide’. My school was also a boarding school made up of a large number of students from outback Queensland cattle farms and often girls would go home to help with the muster or other such farm chores. On school grounds it was all panama hats, blazers, and berets for winter, but after the bell rang the unofficial uniform was just as rigid; mid calf heavy denim skirts, plaited leather belts, gold fob chains (preferably one that had been handed down), pearl earrings and white linen shirts. It was the 1980s, but at my school it was less teased hair and more restrained elegance; country chic via Country Road, the most popular label to wear alongside Stuart Membrey.
The mothers at my school were all impossibly elegant too, as I recall. I remember flowing Diane Freis dresses, suits by George Gross and Harry Who, lithe dresses by Covers (to wear at the Gold Coast’s famous Rolls nightclub at the Sheraton Mirage Resort), pressed white linen shirt-dresses with the collars up for school events, gold jewellery (for everything), big (but chic) hair, and Christian Dior wrap around sunglasses that resembled ski glasses with myriad ‘CD’ logos running as a frieze along the top. It was, after all, the era of the logo and Gold Coast women wore it well. These women were anything but tacky, and they had their pick of designer labels from a few select stores that they wore with aplomb.
Well before they came to Brisbane, the big international luxury brands such as Gucci or Salvatore Ferragamo opened their luxury emporiums in Surfers Paradise. But even prior to this, the Gold Coast boasted several boutiques in the 1980s that brought the best of European fashion to a very appreciative audience, including L’Officiel, Pucci and Tiffany & Co. L’Officiel, owned by Win Schubert, was a high-end store that stocked labels such as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Missoni, Swiss label Basler, Israeli swimwear label Gottex, and Emilio Pucci, alongside much loved Australian labels such as Sally Browne, Prue Acton and Anthea Crawford. The Queensland boutique eventually opened 12 locations across the state.
Win Schubert’s journey from boutique owner to art dealer, collector, benefactor and philanthropist is the worthy subject of a much longer article. But before her career in art Win Schubert was a fashionista. Win, along with L’Officiel buyer Agnes Tatay, would travel to Paris twice a year to buy the best labels for L’Officiel that would be swiftly snapped up by a loyal clientele. Agnes recalls that the store’s customer base was half local and half interstate, with women from Melbourne and Sydney waiting to buy from her while they were on holidays; such was the level of exclusivity. L’Officiel stocked treasures such as beautiful silk shirts and scarves from Gucci, knits from Missoni, and dresses by Diane Freis. L’Officiel was a carefully curated selection of the best of the best for a discerning audience.
Fashion Hall of Fame designer Anthony Leigh Dower was the go-to designer for the Gold Coast’s chicest women for black tie events or weddings. He recalls, “The white shoe brigade in my memory was basically made up of wealthy men who had wives and some mistresses that loved to dress up! In that era there were balls all the time1.” The five-day celebration featuring Frank Sinatra and Whitney Houston for the official opening of Sanctuary Cove (a gated community, in the Gold Coast suburb of Hope Island) in 1988 is one such example, and at the time was the hottest ticket in the country.
You see, everything was bigger and brasher on the coast. After I left school and the Gold Coast in pursuit of higher education I allowed myself to feel ashamed by the place I had grown up in, embarrassed by the white brightness of the linen and the jewellery, the gold heels and bright lights. I was seeing the place of my childhood through the prism of a national cultural stereotype. With the maturity of age, however, I remember the place and the time for its ebullient spirit. I miss my Gold Coast.
Published in Issue 8, on December 3, 2013.