Friday, November 30, 2012

A Visit To The Shirt Factory That Time Forgot

This week I was lucky enough to enjoy a tour of the Phillips Shirts factory in Melbourne. As a thank you to their volunteers, the tour was run by Melbourne Open House.

The Phillips Shirts business was started in the 1950s by friends Philip Phillips (!) and Alex Peterfreund, two Czechoslovakian immigrants who worked full time by day and made shirts by night.

Cutting out and sewing the shirts at their home – bachelor Philip lived with Alex and his wife and child throughout most of his life – their first big break came when a store in Tasmania placed an order for 800 shirts.

Apparently this caused some consternation for the duo – can you imagine an order of that size coming into your home-based business? Freak out… :0)

Luckily the store was so impressed by the style and quality of the shirts that they were prepared to accept part delivery and have more sent as they were made.

Thus, the business really began in earnest.

That one big order helped them to establish their first business premises at Little Bourke Street… many shirts and seven years of 18 hour days later and they moved to their current premises at 274 Lonsdale Street in the city.

Our tour started with a trip up the very funky, old-school red and black stairs to a small foyer where several old machines sit in pride of place along with some sterling examples of some ruffled, embroidered glories from, I’d guess, the 1970s.


This is exactly the kind of shirt my Dad wore to weddings in the ‘70s… except his frill was detachable :0)

From there it was onto the cutting desk – enough to make any sewist drool – where some fabric was laid out, ready for cutting… again the cutting tools and weights… drool…


The “everyday” cutter



The super-duper cut-through-a-foot-of-fabric cutter

As well as the table, the cutters, the weights and the WALL of stock…


…there was also some lovely moments that felt like eavesdropping and time-travelling at the same time.



And then we came to the rolls of fabric… or should I say rooms of rolls of fabric… or should I say rooms and halls of rolls of fabric…? Crazy!


Enough of that…


I said enough!


I loved this hidden shirt – traffic lights!

The place is amazing… it has such a sense of history about it – and the fact that it is still a working clothing factory in the heart of Melbourne city – BRILLIANT! There is so much… stuff!… crammed into this space that your imagination starts to get carried away with what could be in the boxes… we did hear a tale of a bunch of velour 1970s jackets in one section. Hipsters, take note!

I think I’m going to let the pictures do most of the talking.


Kitchen / tearoom


The goods lift

Actually, one thing I will explain – this next picture was taken upside down and in the dark so I had to flip it and lighten it. It was on the inside of the goods lift door and the reason it tickled me was that my Dad and Uncle used to work at Lysaghts in the 1960s/’70s.




A selfie with Marybeth in the tearoom

For a while the third floor was sublet to a company called Bambury. Although their stock is gone, there are some small clues they were here…



Outside, the city is still there… inside, it’s 50 years ago

Then it is on to the retail shop on the second floor…



For when your shirt sleeves just have to match the drapes…




This tour was a great treat – for people who sew and those who just appreciate a good shirt or a family business.

The retail shop is open from Wednesday to Saturday, from 10:30am to 3:30pm or by appointment.

I loved it and will be back with some spendable cash in my pocket soon. :0)


Friday, October 12, 2012

Diamond Dragonflies and Art Deco Insects

A couple of years ago - long before I embarked on this ‘I’m going to run my own business and be perpetually poor’ adventure ;0) and could actually spend money on myself - I was wandering around the awesome alleys and laneways of Melbourne when I came across an amazing store – Sine Qua Non.

Unfortunately they don’t seem to have a website, but if you are near the corner of Flinders Lane and Degraves, you will find them, and what you will find inside is a gorgeous Aladdin's cave of jewellery.

I have had the pleasure of visiting – and buying – from this store several times.

My first purchase was a beautiful pair of earrings that I just could not resist!

Speaking with the store owner, he told me that the woman who makes them, Catherine Popesco, got hold of a whole bunch of original 1800s jewellery moulds in Paris and now makes earrings, bracelets, necklaces and brooches with those same moulds.

A piece of very wearable history.


My second purchase came about because I had to show a friend “this amazing store that is full of things I love”and… well, I found another thing that I couldn’t resist!


I’ve been calling this my art deco dragonfly but I’ve just realised that it is definitely more art nouveau than deco.

This one isn’t a Catherine Popesco, but it sure does make me think of 1800s Paris.

But you know what’s even prettier?!

The real thing…


Photographer David Chambon has captured a series of macro shots of insects covered in morning dew… stunning as any diamond jewellery!


You can find more at his website.

Here is a quick tip to keep your much-loved jewellery looking it’s best… it’s actually something that I already knew but have never actually put into practice… bad Denise!

Make sure that jewellery is the LAST thing that you put on when you are getting ready to go out.

Hairspray and perfume both leave their marks on your jewellery, which was made abundantly clear to me when I grabbed my earrings to take a photo… ick!! Luckily, mine were easy enough to clean as the beautiful Austrian crystals are embedded in a clear resin, but if it was a more intricate design then it would be a much harder job to get the gunk out.

Take my bad behaviour as an example and save your jewellery! :0)

Have a lovely weekend!

Denise xx

Friday, October 5, 2012

A quaintrelle life

I have a new favourite word!


I don’t know how I’ve lived my whole life and never come across this word before.

From Wikipedia… a quaintrelle is a “woman who emphasizes a life of passion expressed through personal style, leisurely pastimes, charm, and cultivation of life’s pleasures.”

Sometimes I feel we are all so busy getting through the Monday to Friday that we don’t make time for the things that we are passionate about.

I’m going to find a really pretty font, print out “Quaintrelle” in large letters and stick it on my mirror to remind me not to go through life passively, but rather passionately.

Life isn’t a practice run… as far as we know we only get one go through.

So from now on, although tracksuit and cargo pants are easy, so are skirts, tights and dresses… in fact, a dress is one piece so technically even easier than pants and a top. I am not tracksuit pants!! That’s not who I want to be… (except at the gym). I don’t feel like me when I dress down… I lack zip, vim and vigour when I slop around and don’t take care with my appearance.

I’m not making judgement calls on anyone else and what they choose to wear… I’m simply saying that is NOT how I want to present myself to the world and, more importantly, to me!

So ‘Quaintrelle’ on the mirror is going to be my coach and a life of passion my mantra.

I hope you have had a great – PASSIONATE – week and that more of the same is to come this weekend!


Who is this gorgeous creature, you ask? Why, one Betty White! Now there’s a lady who has lived her life with passion!

Denise xx

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Spring has sprung!

What was predicted to be a rather average day here in Melbourne has turned out to be GLORIOUS!

The birds and singing, the sun is shining, Spring has sprung!

My thoughts can’t help but turn to dresses, especially at this time of year and doubly so in Melbourne. The Spring Racing Carnival is a big deal down here… it’s not just Melbourne Cup and then it’s over… the stores are all Spring Racing Carnival mad… and not just clothes stores but also haberdashers (plenty of hat-making supplies out this time out year), hairdressers and even hardware stores… they all manage to work in a saddle or a pretty floral fascinator into their displays somehow.

So this is what I’ve been looking at today…


wFifiCherryBlossomTree - Copy

Does that not say “Spring” to you?

It does to me!


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Four weeks on

…and what a strange four weeks they have been.

There was such a build up of anticipation for the website launch, followed by the high of some sales, followed by a slew of advice, well wishes and tweaking.

Tweaking the range, tweaking the website, tweaking my expectations.

Being at the start of a new business is kind of hard when you are as competitive as me. To say that I want results straight out of the gate is an understatement. :0)

I had my first mentor visit during the week and, even through the purpose of these meetings is to take stock of where you are, make sure things are on track and ask any questions you may have of someone who has already been there and done that,  I felt that because I didn’t have a bazillion sales and a ledger in the black that I was somehow failing.

Talk about being tough on myself. Jeez. Strangely although I am reading a business book by Poppy King who WAS successful straight out of the blocks with her first business at age 19, it was actually her book that got it through to me that I needed to be a bit kinder to myself. Her amazing success is unfortunately NOT the norm.

So now  (although I am still very keen to get more clothing OUT of the door and into the wardrobes of other gals) I am concentrating on the important things like finding more quality, stylish goods, spreading the word to the non-swing dance community in Australia and providing an entertaining and informative blog, Facebook and Pinterest page.

Belle YSL

Denise xx

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What a difference a photo makes

OK, so I definitely already knew this, but it has just been underlined, put into bold typeface and neon lights.

A good photograph can make or break a sale.

You need to be able to trust your retailer, especially in an online situation where a photograph and honest description are what you have to rely on.

As I have a particular look that I want for the website, I very often can’t use the suppliers’ photographs and have to reshoot the clothes myself. This has been an interesting learning curve… tricksy, slippery, creasing, moving fabric!

I have been fortunate though that the stock that I have ordered in has been of the quality that I wanted. Ordering online isn’t just a risk for the general public… imagine ordering 6 copies of the same thing, not knowing what the quality and fabric was going to be like… I guess I’ll have this joyful experience every time I find a new supplier too! :0)

I have started some clothing boards on Pinterest and whilst flitting around the interwebs, looking at STUNNING vintage couture (seriously, you need to click on that link!), I found the perfect example of the difference good and meh photography can make.

Example One:

Looks… OK… I might have a closer look if I saw it jammed into a rack of vintage clothing but it doesn’t exactly leap out. It’s obviously see-through so there’s the matter of finding an appropriate slip. It looks a bit yellowed, a bit dingy, the flowers a bit crushed. The right side looks like its pooched out a bit on the hip, and who needs extra pooching there?

However, I would be so completely wrong to not take this dress seriously and jump on it and sprint to the cash register.

Example Two:


This is actually a dress from the House Of Lanvin, designed and made in France in 1937 of silk and cotton.

What a difference!

I don’t think this is a case of the photography being deceptive either. Example two simply shows the dress to its best advantage. It shows you what it can be. Example one leaves that all to your imagination, and whilst I take my hat off to those that can see that straight away, I need a little help.

So, that’s what I’ve had underlined to me this week. The learning continues. :0)


PS. Seriously… check out my Pinterest boards. The prettiest dresses and suits and shoes you ever will see.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

One week in

So one week after launching the Crimson Gardenia website and a bit has happened. :0)  Thank goodness!!

I won’t bore you with the details but in a nutshell (I just can’t hear that phrase without thinking of Austin Powers)… I started the website, did up a Crimson Gardenia Facebook page, invited all my Aussie lady friends… I omitted most of the gents as it felt a bit odd to invite them to look at lady clothes, however, I should remember that jewellery has no sizing and everyone needs to buy presents, right?

I received my first order and did a happy happy joy joy dance around my room.


I also received an overseas enquiry, which was awesome.

One of the other things that made me go “awwwww!!” was my friend Laura writing about my business venture on her blog, Lindy Shopper. A completely lovely surprise as Laura is such an inspiring woman. She dances, she sings, she plays music, she started her own band, she writes about her vintage clothing passions on the blog, she DJs, she bakes and she holds down a very grown up serious job!

There hasn’t been a lot of movement on the website front this week in terms of new products, but there is plenty going on behind the scenes.

I am planning on releasing a few of my own vintage dresses back into the wild, partly to help fund the business but, honestly, it is mainly because I feel bad that they aren’t being worn! Some of them no longer fit me so there is no point in me hoarding them. I would much rather they be out there, being used for the purpose that they were made for. Granted, they are more fragile than a new garment but with careful handling they can definitely still be worn and hopefully be around for many more years to come.

As part of the shedding process, I have also decided to sell my wedding dress. I just love this dress. It holds such wonderful memories for me but, again, I would much prefer that someone else benefit from its beauty, rather than it sitting in a box under my bed.

So I have put it up on a wedding dress sales site called Still White and throw it out to the universe to find her her new owner.

In the meantime though, since the photo shoot she is hanging about on my mannequin, staring moodily out the window and I can’t help but think of Miss Havisham.


It’s starting to feel like I have a weird, reclusive roommate… kind of like having a cat I suppose.

Anyway, that’s it for now – please feel free to mention my little ol’ business on your blogs, on Facebook, to your friends and families… you know. If you feel like it. :0)


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A new chapter!

Hi folks!

Yep… it’s been a long time, I know, but I have a pretty good reason.

Unfortunately the reason may actually mean that a number of you may no longer follow my blog as it, like my life, is about to take a major change in direction.

I know that many of you have come to my blog from Sew Retro and are therefore interested in seeing sewing adventures, but – well, to be honest that hasn’t happened a lot in my life lately anyway – there isn’t going to be a lot of that here in the future.

Due to a series of events that the universe has put in my life over the last 12 months, I have decided to bite the bullet and go for it… I’ve started my own business!!

Really, you only get one go around in this life and wishing for something doesn’t make it happen. Nothing ventured, nothing gained… how many more clich├ęs can I come up with here? Smile

Late last year I had an epiphany and realised that I am entirely capable of running a business and it was time to stop making excuses as to why I couldn’t. Yes, money is going to be an issue for quite some time but it is amazing what you can get used to.

Curbing my casual shoe collection and buying things on a whim – even small things like a takeaway latte – isn’t a massive problem but saying no to outings with friends because I really cannot afford it has been harder… and as for weekends away and holidays… wow, they are so far off my radar that it isn’t funny.

So what am I doing, you ask?

I heard of an amazing Australian government programme called NEIS – New Enterprise Incentive Scheme – around Christmas last year and knew it was for me.

Basically, you apply with a new business idea – you can’t already be running the business, you can’t buy an established business and you can’t buy a franchise – and if accepted, you go through a 7 week Small Business Management course (which is normally done as a 9 month course!), then, (presuming you pass the course), you are officially employed by the government to run your business for 12 months, which includes financial support (not huge, but enough to cover your rent and food and take that little bit of pressure off the new business), a business mentor and quarterly check-ins to make sure the ship is sailing smoothly.

How amazing is that?! The best start any small business could ask for. Being a government plan that has been running since the 1980s, you can bet it is a successful venture or it would have been canned long ago.

So, I finished the course and learned a tonne of things, made some great new friends, came out with a fantastic business plan… but it wasn’t the same idea that I went in with.

I mean, the basic outline is the same – I am selling vintage-style women’s clothing and accessories – but instead of the bricks and mortar shopfront that I envisaged (and, by the way, still definitely want!) I am in the online realm!

Crimson Gardenia

Yep! I have the biggest grin on my face as I type this post. I have finally done it!

It is not exactly what I planned, but I have made a start and that is the main thing. All things going well, I hope to open a bricks and mortar store sooner rather than later, but in the meantime I’m exploring the digital world and getting Crimson Gardenia out there.

I am only shipping to Australian addresses to start with, but I hope that the pictures and conversations on this blog will still have some relevance to your interests.

I am, of course, always interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions. I am starting out with a small range but any suggestions for other suppliers or products are very, very welcome. I would definitely love to have more Australian content on my website, so if you know of any manufacturers… please send them my way Smile

Henrietta front

I’m sure that more than one of you will recognise this lovely lady! Bernie Dexter designs and manufactures her own clothing range and I’m very pleased to be one of her stockists.

She truly cares about her customers and as excellent customer service and quality products are my priorities, I think we make a good fit. It also doesn’t hurt that she is a strong, independent woman who is doing her own thing – and is as nice as pie!

So, that’s what I’ve been up to. I’m pretty excited about it – and why wouldn’t I be? I’m finally following my dream!

Denise xx