In this feature, a selection of guest contributors respond to an image or material artefact (typically a garment or accessory), that represents Queensland fashion. Each item is specifically chosen by The Fashion Archives in collaboration with collections and with a particular contemporary practitioner in mind. As a result, each Remember of Revive is a bespoke response and can take many formats and styles.
With so little recorded about the retail and manufacturing of fashion in Queensland, sometimes a little historical excavation is required. For this Remember or Revive, the designer and web developer of The Fashion Archives, Patrick King, was paired up with a mysterious abandoned suit factory in Brisbane’s CBD.
Many locals would be familiar with the building, or rather, what remains of it: its facade and signage. Others may recall the man behind this forgotten menswear business, George Symons.
Through his own research, Patrick was excited to learn about the legacy of this tailor and his impact on the local community. He reports that “George Symons was probably best recognised in social history as the sponsor for Brisbane Rugby League’s ‘Player of the match’ prize which consisted of a new fitted suit; many players between 1972 and 2001 were awarded the prize. The company also created fine work garments for a number of large organisations such as Queensland Rail and the Queensland Fire-fighters, as well as blazers for many schools and colleges.”
As a graphic designer, Patrick was drawn to the charming logo in yellow and black that can be seen on the signage that still stands on the building facade. Patrick’s resulting work, a richly illustrated narrative, pays homage to the logo’s typeface and needle-and-thread motif.
Quoting Brisbane Rugby League Player, David Wright, who was the first to win a George Symons’ Suit Prize in 1972, Patrick explores the experience of visiting the tailor in his once-thriving Elizabeth St premises. He also illuminates the surprising relationship between local sports and fashion businesses in the time before high-profile corporate sponsorships.
Patrick told us more of the fascinating story of the George Symons factory:
“George Symons arrived in Melbourne in the 1920s as a Greek migrant and established a menswear tailoring business there with his father Sim (Simeon) Symons. They moved from Melbourne to Queensland in the early 1950s, initially setting up shop in Ipswich but soon moving to Charlotte Street, Brisbane. The George Symons business name comes from Sim Symons’ father, George, who also was a tailor. However, it was his son, who also carried the George Symons name, who took on the Elizabeth Street factory. The family bought the property at the existing Elizabeth Street facade in the 1960s.
The Elizabeth Street building was originally connected to ‘St Francis House’ and ‘Treasury Chambers’, and shared the ornate features of the 1880s complex, which fronted both George and Elizabeth Streets and was connected by a series of passageways. A fire in 1947 destroyed parts of the ‘Symons Building’ extension, which prompted the later styled facade and an extension to the factory at the back of the building, designed by Richard Galley, which housed Brisbane’s first dedicated ballet theatre, the ‘Academy Theatre’ . The ballet company that used the space was run by Charles Lisner and would eventually become home to the then newly formed Queensland Ballet Company.
George Symons factory ran out of the building until a fire in 1985 caused $100,000 damage. The company kept trading long after, but George eventually retired from the business in 1997. It was bought by renowned Austrian immigrant tailor Otto Ponweiser over a decade ago when Ponweiser himself was in his 70s. He is quoted as saying “My wife asked me why I would want to begin a new business when I was 70… I reminded her that Sim’s 84, and that she was sick of having me around the house anyway; and that was the end of that” 1. The company still apparently trades under the name ‘Symons Quality Clothing’ at 15 Manning Street, South Brisbane. The internal structure of ‘Treasury Chambers & St Francis House & Symons Building’ was demolished in 1993 leaving only facades.”
Original work and written response by Patrick King, 2014.
Published in Issue 9, on February 25, 2014.