Brisbane

TFA’s People & Places is your road-map to the key sites, figures, and scenes that have shaped fashion in Queensland from the late 19th century onwards. Our region-by-region coverage to starts with the capital, Brisbane.

Night view of Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1959. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 260743John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 260743

The city of Brisbane covers a region of 5,949.9 sq. km in Queensland’s south-east. Settled by Europeans in 1824, it has grown to be Queensland’s largest city with a metropolitan population of 2.2 million. As the state’s capital and centre for business, Brisbane has naturally been an important site for the local fashion industry. It holds the highest concentration of drapers, dress-makers, tailors, boutiques and department stores, and it is the epicentre of fashion in Queensland, servicing the regions through mail-orders and Brisbane-based retail franchises.

Places to Shop

In the period from the late 19th Century to the early 21st century, Brisbane has seen cyclical patterns of centralised and decentralised fashion consumption. Though the CBD, or “the city”, has been reasonably steady as a significant site of Brisbane fashion retail, other prominent fashion districts, such as Fortitude Valley, have seen periods of decline and renewal.

In the late 19th century, fashion was primarily made, bought, and sold in the major urban pockets serviced by train and tram networks. Dressmakers and retailers clustered around Queen, George, and Adelaide Streets in the city; Brunswick and Wickham Streets in Fortitude Valley; and the Five Ways in Woolloongabba. These areas were home to drapers, a variety of small and independent boutiques, arcades, and the major Brisbane department stores.

Popular early CBD and Fortitude Valley department stores included McWhirters, McDonnell & East, Waltons, Allan & Stark, T. C. Beirne & Co., Finney Isles & Co., and Overell & Sons. These stores catered to a wide range of markets and their founders were quite closely interlinked, emerging from an initially small pool of merchants as the city and its markets grew.1

In the mid-20th century Brisbane’s suburbs were ripe for fashion retail as the rise of cars and suburban sprawl shifted focus away from the city and Fortitude Valley. A major turning point for the consumption of fashion in Brisbane was the 1957 opening of Chermside’s new Allan & Stark Drive-In Shopping Centre (later known as Chermside Shopping Centre, now ‘Westfield Chermside’). It was the first of its kind in Australia, and Brisbanites quickly gained a taste for retail-therapy in air-conditioned comfort. Between the late 1960s and early 1980s this successful suburban retail model was replicated with large drive-in shopping centres opening in Toombul (1967), Indooroopilly (1970), Upper Mount Gravatt (1970), Carindale (1979) and Capalaba (1981). The Myer Centre was opened in 1988 in Queen Street. This city location rivalled its suburban retail counterparts in scale, attracting shoppers back to one of Brisbane fashion’s traditional staging posts.

In more recent times, there has been a conscious revival of Brisbane’s forgotten urban fashion districts, with boutique shopping returning to the valley (primarily Ann and James Streets, and ‘Emporium’) and the city, with Elizabeth and Brisbane Arcades, and Edward Street, catering to high-end fashion in particular. The development of upmarket shopping centre Queens Plaza in 2005 saw an influx of international luxury brands reach the Brisbane market. For the first time, Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Tiffany & Co.⎯among other global fashion heavyweights⎯opened up stores in Brisbane, indicating Queensland’s place as a viable segment of the important and growing Asia-Pacific market.

Brisbane has a notably strong independent retail sector for its size, offering respite by way of variety from the dominance of large shopping centres and multinational chains. Online shopping has been a distinct challenge to independent fashion retailers (with many Brisbane consumers taking advantage of their increased access to international fashion brands), however many independent high-fashion retailers, such as Camargue, Blonde Venus and Jean Brown (all in Fortitude Valley) have managed to withstand the pressures of this changing environment.

Design, Manufacture & Production

From the late 19th to the early 20th century Brisbane had a small fashion manufacture industry. Garments, shoes, and accessories were produced in some small to medium sized factories in inner suburbs such as West End and Fortitude Valley. One notable example was Ponds Dress Factory, located on Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley. This mail order fashion firm also housed a small ‘frocks and coats’ retail outlet (the factory premises were taken over during WWII as the American Army Clothing Repair workshop). Available fashions were a combination of locally made or imported, though almost always using imported fabrics from Europe or even Japan.

Interestingly, textiles manufacture was never a prominent industry in Brisbane, even though the capital has been an important site for Queensland’s cotton and wool industries, particularly in the early 20th century.2

From the late 19th to the mid 20th centuries there were a number of successful designers and dressmakers catering to the Brisbane market, including Janet Walker, Miss Scott, Paula Gubar, and Gwen Gillam. As an alternative to available ready-to-wear garments, print press (such as The Queenslander magazine and Queensland Figaro) distributed mail-order patterns of the season’s latest fashions from Paris, Vienna, London, and New York for reproduction by home-sewers, dressmakers, and tailors.

In recent decades, there have been a number of Brisbane-based fashion designers who have managed to open and sustain successful boutiques in Brisbane, primarily in the CBD and Fortitude Valley. These include Easton Pearson, Sass and Bide, Tengdhal, Maiocchi, Dogstar, Keri Craig, and Pia Du Pradal.

Fashion Scenes

Social scenes and events, such as balls, galas and horse races, have been opportunities for Brisbane to dress-up. Brisbane has been home to many of Queensland’s most popular nightspots, with Cloudland⎯built in 1939 and sadly demolished in 1982⎯perhaps its most memorable. Known as the Southern Hemisphere’s Largest Ballroom, it hosted hugely popular social events and major international music acts in its heyday of the 1940s to the 1960s, and was Brisbane’s connection to bourgeoning American youth culture, bringing together the latest in music, dance, and fashion.

Brisbane has recently received attention for hosting some internationally significant fashion exhibitions held at the Queensland Art Gallery/ Gallery of Modern Art: Valentino, Retrospective: Past/Present/Future 2010 (a major touring exhibition from Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris), Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones in 2010 (a collaboration with London’s Victoria and Albert Museum) and Easton Pearson 2009. The establishment of the Mercedes Benz Fashion Festival in 2006 also contributed to raising the national and international profile of Queensland fashion.

As it has been since the late 19th century, Brisbane remains an important focal point and central marketplace for the production, consumption, design and development of Queensland fashion.

Original Finney Isles & Co. store on the corner of Ann and Warner Street, Fortitude Valley, ca.1870
Original Finney Isles & Co. store on the corner of Ann and Warner Street, Fortitude Valley, ca.1870John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 84139
McDonnell & East department store, Brisbane, ca. 1950
McDonnell & East department store, Brisbane, ca. 1950John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 111988
Interior of Allan and Stark Limited, Chermside, ca. 1957
Interior of Allan and Stark Limited, Chermside, ca. 1957John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 119383
Waltons, Fortitude Valley, 1959
Waltons, Fortitude Valley, 1959Lance Degilbo
Haberdashery and glove department at T.C. Beirne Drapery Emporium, Fortitude Valley, 1900
Haberdashery and glove department at T.C. Beirne Drapery Emporium, Fortitude Valley, 1900John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 177770
McWhirters, Fortitude Valley, Christmas 1959
McWhirters, Fortitude Valley, Christmas 1959Lance Degilbo
Shop assistants in the mail order section of T. C. Beirnes shoe department, Fortitude Valley, ca. 1940
Shop assistants in the mail order section of T. C. Beirnes shoe department, Fortitude Valley, ca. 1940John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 64341
Ponds Dress Factory, ca. 1948
Ponds Dress Factory, ca. 1948John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 190360
Display of womens clothing and shoes in the window of Players Sportwear, Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1950
Display of womens clothing and shoes in the window of Players Sportwear, Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1950John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 51422
Swift and Grice's Jewellery Store on the corner of Wickham and Brunswick Streets, Fortitude Valley, ca. 1908
Swift and Grice's Jewellery Store on the corner of Wickham and Brunswick Streets, Fortitude Valley, ca. 1908John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 241073
Publicity for the Chermside Shopping Centre, 1957
Publicity for the Chermside Shopping Centre, 1957John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 106012
View of the Chermside Shopping Centre from South West showing a section of the parking area, ca. 1957
View of the Chermside Shopping Centre from South West showing a section of the parking area, ca. 1957 John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 121784
1 TC Beirne worked with Piggot; McWhirter was manager at TC Bierne before opening his own store; McDonnell initially worked alongside TC Beirne at Gallagher Bros of Ballina, and was an assistant draper at Finney Isles and Co before establishing McDonnell & East in partnership with Hubert East in 1901.
2 Brisbane’s woolstores (Teneriffe) and Wool Exchange (Brisbane CBD) were significant sites for Queensland’s wool industry in the early twentieth century, and cotton was both grown and processed in Brisbane (see http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/20650186). Wool and cotton fashion parades at Brisbane’s Ekka have since the 1980s promoted Queensland’s contemporary textiles industry.
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Published in , on August 27, 2013.