Skip to navigation Skip to content
blog header for tales from the archives

June 16, 2020

Tales from the Archives: vintage fashion designers

In 2008, Deakin’s Archives team received a collection of historical photos and documentation relating to the Prahran Department of Fashion and Design from 1964-1987. These were part of a research collection donated by Dr Judith Buckrich, the author of Design for Living: A History of ‘Prahran Tech’. Buckrich had originally received the items from Rowena Clark, the former Head of Fashion Design at Prahran Technical School. Rowena taught at Prahran from 1962-1970 and has also had a distinguished career as a designer, illustrator, curator and author.

The Archives tracked down Rowena Clark, and, with her permission, was able to digitise and make the collection available online. Through this project, Rowena was able to rediscover the records she parted with over ten years earlier.

The story to emerge tells much about the importance of archives to document stories and preserve history, while also pointing to the social value of archives in the time of social isolation brought about by COVID-19. Social isolation, it turns out, is also bringing new history to light.

Rowena’s story

Rowena contacted the Archives, saying:

I live in a country town called Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire. I have relatives in London. It is all very frightening! Everything has closed except for superstores, chemists, banks and post offices. However, I loved seeing the photographs and cuttings again. It reminded me of those very exciting, innovative years at Prahran. Oh boy, a joy, especially at this time. I cannot tell you how you have made me feel during these unreal, grim times.

Then, out of the blue, she received an email from Gregory Ladner, one of her former students who, since leaving art school, worked for Le Louvre and became one of Melbourne’s best-known and most successful designers. Because of self-isolation, he found all his drawings and photographs of those times at Prahran.

He wrote:

Dear Rowena. Taking time during this isolation to clean out cupboards and dark forgotten spaces under the stairs. Came across all my drawings from those heady years at Prahran Tech. I have chucked out all my life drawings as they had gone mouldy. I was rather good at it. Most of my fashion drawings have survived. You can see some on the board behind you [in photo below]. I don’t know if we were favourites or we were just better than the rest, but we always got our drawings pinned up. Looking back, my drawings were rather wacky.


students in classroom at Prahran Tech

Students in classroom at Prahran Tech

sketch of designed outfit with red shirt and bright green trousers

This is one of the drawings as seen on the pin board.

Sketch of beaded hot pants outfit

Found a photo of a lilac beaded hotpants outfit I made. Best regards, Gregory.

Gregory’s story

The Archives made contact with Gregory Ladner and asked him about his memories of art school. He says:

We had a very interesting head of our Fashion Department, Rowena Clark. She was English and slightly eccentric but she was a stimulating teacher and classes were never dull. She clashed with the very conservative powers-that-be and suddenly she disappeared with no explanation to the heartbroken students. She dressed in a very eccentric flamboyant style and I often thought she must be channelling Mary Quant, Pierre Cardin and Ossie Clarke. She wore a lot of black and I always said it was her that influenced what became Melbourne’s de rigueur look. I can still see her whirling into the classroom.

It turns out Gregory has some fascinating archives of his own and, spurred on by his communication with Rowena, delved into them and made some remarkable discoveries, including the dress pictured below which he says he made ‘out of school. It was a very heavy silk with gold silver and pearl beading.’

photo of beaded hot pants outfit

Dress photo of Gregory’s beaded hot pants outfit

He also sent us a drawing of himself (below) on his way to school, and a written account of the time he spent at Prahran in which he says:

My nickname at art school was Legs Ladner. I had a pair of brown leather sandals that crisscrossed right up my legs to my thighs. This I teamed with an almost sheer Indian shirt heavily embroidered with bells and mirrors. No wonder poor Celia (Gregory’s mother) had the vapours. I, of course, thought I was fabulous.

sketch of Gregory's leather sandals

Sketch of Gregory’s outfit, with leather sandals criss-crossing up his legs

Cedric’s story

Another student of Rowena’s, Cedric Lee has been sending photos and stories to the Archives. Since studying at Prahran, Cedric went to London and became an international fashion model. He modelled for English Harper’s Bazaar magazine, as well as British photographer Bob Carlos Clarke, and worked for the top designers in Rome, Paris and London. Like Gregory’s, his story attests to the fertile creative environment at Prahran. It also reveals the depth of teaching talent at Prahran at the time. He says:

I was spotted by Paul Cox (teacher of photography at Prahran from 1969-1980) recognised as ‘Australia’s most prolific film auteur’. He asked me to model for him and in return he would gift me a set of photos to kick-start my modelling portfolio. The result of my first shoot with Paul was exhibited in Melbourne’s Kodak House. I was then approached by another Prahran student, Carol Jerrems (who went on to become one of Australia’s most famous photographers) to model for her. The result of that shoot I took with me when I landed in Rome and headed straight for couturier Valentino Garavani.

In 1969, Rowena and other staff staged a fashion show that received much favourable press. Gregory recalls:

We had a gala parade as the finale to our four years’ work. Other departments became involved and Paul Cox made a two-minute film to open the show. We opened the parade still in the dark with some fantasy garments made in fluorescent fabrics shown under ultraviolet light, which was very dramatic.

Cedric also recalls the ultraviolet show. In fact, some photographs of the event from Rowena’s collection attest to the story and feature Cedric himself.

photo of two black and white outfits with angular designs

Photo shoot of Rowena’s collection

In 1969 Fashion Design was discontinued at Prahran. Rowena resigned in 1970 to become a fashion illustrator and eventually Assistant Curator of Costume and Textiles at the National Gallery of Victoria. Other students of Rowena’s include Basil Kardasis, who became a successful London designer and taught at the Royal College of Art, and Maree Menzel, who became head designer for Prue Acton.

In her history of the college, Judith Buckrich talks of the intensely non-conformist institution at Prahran and its reputation as belonging to what was known as the ‘counter culture’, particularly in the Art and Design School. A culture of innovation and an impressive teaching staff fostered considerable talent.

Of this recent journey of discovery, Rowena reflected:

To think, because of self-isolation, we have brought a lot of smiles and sudden golden memories. For friends and family who never knew very much until now, it has brought surprise, smiles, amusement.

—Written by Antony Catrice, Deakin University Archivist



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * in their own special way.

0 / 500This is a required field.
This is a required field
This is a required field

back to top