Secrets of A Lady’s Paradise – inside the Trilby Yates salon

Kate Lambourne (front row, second from right) and the girls of Trilby Yates. Digsy Yates at centre back. Ata Ellery (nee Yates) top left.
All images – collection of Kate Lambourne

One of the great pleasures (and great frustrations) of a project like The Dress Circle, is the new information that inevitably comes to light too late to be included within the finished book.  Throughout our research process new labels and names continued to emerge, right up to and beyond the deadlines for images and manuscripts.  Although on one hand one of the hardest parts of the process is to realise that the information just can’t make it to the printers, it is also a great delight when someone contacts you with the missing peice of the puzzle regardless of when it happens to arrive. We knew that this would happen once The Dress Circle was published and so have been waiting with baited breath to see what hidden treasures that might arrive in the wake of the book.

Shortly after the book was published we received a charming letter from one Kate Lambourne, congratulating us on the finished product. In her letter, Kate mentioned that she had worked in the Trilby Yates salon in the late 40s and early 50s, later pursuing a career as a fashion model.  Sensing an untapped information source, we immediately made contact to ask about her experiences of the salon, which remains an important area of local fashion research.  Kate’s reply revealed both an insiders perspective on the character (and characters) of the salon, as well as a wealth of new photographs of both the staff and designs of Trilby Yates – A Ladies Paradise.

Kate added in some important new information about the people behind the salon, conjuring up a real sense of the formidible force that was Julia Yates.  Recalling her first experience of a Tribly Yates season opening, Kate writes ‘titled ladies, some from Australia, gathered outsite for opening time and when the doors were flung open I was pushed aside and all but stepped on. Women in full bling fighting over a garment – and in one case a dress was torn apart.  Julia would watch from her office chuckling away at the behaviour downstairs.’

Kate also helpfully gave a name to another key designer behind Trilby Yates, noting that it was June Gould (nee Todd) who came into a design role following the departure of Nancy Hudson (Huddy) for Melbourne in the late 1940s.  June (known as Toddles) was the designer while Kate herself undertook her apprenticship, which began with ‘making tea, picking up pins off the floor and taking the hefty rubbish bins down two flights of treacherous steps’.  Kate gradually graduated to making her own designs under the Trilby Yates Ltd label, as well as taking sole charge of the salon on Friday nights. 

From left: Venie De Mar, June Todd (Toddles) and Gwen Ralph in the salon

Here’s another new images of what we think are Tribly Yates designs, although a little more research is needed to confirm this.

Garments modelled by (from left) Rita Harvey, unknown, Annette Bampton, Kate Posa

Kate’s letters have loads more exciting infomation about Trilby Yates, which I’ll save for another day.  As well, she included some other images from her days as a high fashion model.  While we can look at them in detail another time, here’s one that was particuarly exciting for us. The image comes from a Woman’s Weekly photoshoot of Hall Ludlow Model garments from 1961, which Douglas put considerable efforts into sourcing original photographs to no avail.  As these were key images, they went into The Dress Circle as magazine scans (p.78 top left), so it is with pleasure we were able to finally locate an original in all its glory.

Kate Lambourne modelling Hall Ludlow Model c1961. Photographer John Charnock

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3 Responses to Secrets of A Lady’s Paradise – inside the Trilby Yates salon

  1. Sara Ellery says:

    It is good to read other comments regarding Dress Circle. The book is wonderful to have as a record of NZ fashion, but there seems to be so much information that was omitted and Kate Lambourne ‘s letter has filled some gaps.
    My mother is Ata Ellery (nee Yates) Trilby and Julia’s niece (top left in the photo). She feels there is so much more information that could have been included as there other cutters and designers not mentioned in the book.

    • dlj says:

      We agree with you completely. We talked a lot about needing to start somewhere and just get things out into the public – or else risk spending the next ten years writing a book that a lot of people would never live to see. Please send us anything you or your mother knows and we’ll post it here. Who knows if we get enough we’ll write a Trilby Yates book. If we could just find some surviving dresses we’d do an exhibition!

  2. Robyn Cleland says:

    My mother, Beverly Downie, (was Beverly Riley – nee Johnson) also worked at Trilby Yates in the late forties, early fifties. She is in the centre front of the first photo which is actually taken at her 21st birthday party. She now lives in Tauranga and still hs contact with former workmates at Trilby Yates. Former workers who live in Auckland still meet for lunch, although I am not sure how often There are probably lots of stories still to be told!!

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