Hanging on a wall in my dressing room for all to see, and more importantly for me as I walk in to get dressed every day, is a gorgeous white night dress by Ballarat’s own link to the high end world of fashion, House of Lucas. As a mum of three boys, there it hangs as daily inspiration when choosing my outfit, a reminder of all things feminine and pretty!
So when i heard that there was to be an exhibition held in Ballarat showcasing The House of Lucas, I was rather excited!
The Lucas fashion house was born out of necessity when its founder, Eleanor Lucas, was widowed for the second time, starting off as a small sewing room in her family home to provide for her family. Believing in providing her clients with high quality goods, the Fashion House grew steadily and by 1908 employed over 200 people.
I must admit, my interest in seeing the exhibition stemmed from the fact that I am lucky enough to have that night dress, an original Lucas design with tags attached, and was keen to see more by this Ballarat old world fashion icon. I have since developed a deeper appreciation for the House of Lucas, its community work and continuous innovation.
The House of Lucas remained in the Lucas family for over 4 generations, and was more than just a Fashion House. From being the first to use electrical power in Ballarat, having Australia’s first female commercial traveller in saleswoman Tilly Thompson, who later became one of the firms directors, to building commercial relationships with American lingerie label Vanity Fair and the French couture house of Pierre Cardin. The House of Lucas led the way and soon became a brand of exclusivity! Eleanor Lucas was a true entrepreneur of her time.
By the 1930’s the fashion house had expanded to open showrooms in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, stocking Lucas garments in a number of boutiques.
The House of Lucas couture wedding dress of Rosalie Price in 1959, marrying great-grandson of Eleanor Lucas, Bruce.
But it was the fashion house’s employees, known affectionately as the ‘Lucas Girls’, dedication to community that moved me. From welcoming home soldiers from the First World War with serenades, to the enormous task of raising funds to build the Arch of Victory, now the gateway to Ballarat’s Avenue of Honour. Over £10,000 was raised for the project, and at one critical point the supply of bricks was threatened when the local brickworks owner assigned all remaining bricks to another project ordering “no man was to remove a single brick from his factory”. The Lucas Girls rallied, they were not men and therefore not disobeying his orders, and moved the bricks themselves.
How did I come to have such a beautiful original piece from the House of Lucas you ask? Well, my mum, ever the op-shopper stumbled across it rather worse for wear but still with its tags intact at a local charity shop. After much love and careful attention its been restored and hangs as a display in my dressing room; always an inspiration!
This piece is part of the collaboration with American lingerie house Vanity Fair, having Lucas manufacturing Vanity Fair lingerie for the Australian market in 1959. It’s made from Nylon Tricot which is soft and flexible and does not snag or run easily. Nylon tricot does not cling to the body either, making it very comfortable to wear. This piece also has the most divine permanent pleating and delicate sheer sleeves. I will treasure it dearly!
The House of Lucas exhibition will run until March 26, 2017, and is located at the Gold Museum (Bradshaw Street) in Ballarat.