Monday 10 February 2014

Mary Lipshut, A tribute to an amazing lady of fashion.

I write this post through tears and joy, remembering an amazing lady and friend who passed away on Saturday who I've been very lucky to have known and share a small part of her life. 
Her name is Mary Lipshut and I met a few years ago when I was asked to curate a fashion exhibition for L'oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival with her extensive vintage collection of Missoni, Pucci and Courreges. The fashion exhibition never went ahead but I came to know how much Mary wanted to showcase her amazing collection of designer vintage clothing in a fashion show or exhibition. Mary's collection was unique because it was all brand new and had never been worn making it a significant archive and probably the only such collection in the world. The scale of the collection and the passion that Mary had for her 70's & 80's designer fashion left a lasting effect on me and as I got to know Mary more and spend more time at her showroom (ML Vintage) I knew I had to do something to celebrate Mary's work. 
I set about to somehow create an event that would celebrate Mary's collection but more so make her happy that she would get to see all of her best pieces shown in an authentic event. 
But before I tell you about that event I want to let you know about Mary and how much of a trailblazer she was.   

Mary Lipshut looking great in 1974 

A lot has been written in many newspapers and magazines of Mary's story but an overview is that she  came to Australia while still a baby with her Polish parents, her father eventually went into the elastic business and made a fortune. She studied bacterial science but during her studies met her husband Philip Lipshut and things changed. Philip's family were in the fashion industry and she went along with him on a business trip to Japan in the 1960's, they stopped off in Hong Kong and she bought beaded knitwear and said to him 'It might be nice to have a hobby'. Mary went on to import the knitwear successfully and then set up a wholesale knitwear company with her sister Edith called 'Meredith', a mix of their names. This was the 1960's, woman were still very rare in business let alone the fashion industry but Mary was a total trailblazer creating a wholesale business that still lives on today with Meredith. 

'The Internationals' boutique in the 1970's at Myer department store

In the 1970's Mary went onto be a buyer for in-store boutiques in Myer and Georges called 'The Internationals', being the first person in Australia to bring in Pucci, Missoni and Courreges and then after one of the department stores decided they didn't like her direction stylistically told them that she would leave and set up her own fashion boutiques selling all of the designer clothing she had sourced and discovered while on her buying trips in Europe.
In those days in the early 1970's she met and became friends with the fashion elite of the time, Gianni Versace, Rosita and Tai Missoni and iconic fashion editor of Italian Vogue Anna Piaggi. She bought clothing from Gianni Versace when he was designing for italian brand Callaghan and remained a friend until his death in 1997, the Missoni family supplied her boutiques in the 70's too and she spent time with Rosita and Tai on many trips to Milan. 
Anna Piaggi became a great friend, one that gave Mary a great piece of advice when after the French bombed the pacific in the early 70's and everything French was black banned in Australia for two years. Mary's new shipment of Courreges sat on the dock for many months and became out of date. 
Mary asked Anna "What should I do with this huge shipment of outdated Courreges?'
Anna advised 'Pack it up and put it into storage because in years to come people will open fashion galleries at museums' Mary took this advise and did so, thereby creating an extensive and unique vintage collection when the term 'vintage clothing' hadn't even been thought up.

Mary with one her favourite Pucci outfits

This advice would prove to be very wise when more than 25 years later Mary decided to share her extensive vintage designer collection with the world in a showroom she later called ML Vintage. She had added to the initial Courreges with Missoni, Pucci and many other international labels that had been on sale in her boutiques, more than 4000 garments and hundreds of accessories.
ML Vintage reigned supreme in the last decade or so as the place to find the perfect vintage piece for stylists, fashion editors and celebrities, Mary had sold her vintage all over the world and many of her garments hang in galleries and museums from Boston to the Smithsonian as well as the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra and the NGV here in Melbourne.
Always a patron of the arts Mary and I went to the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) recently where the head curator of International Fashion and Textiles Roger Leong took us on a private visit of an upcoming exhibition where one of her acquired pieces from the 80's sat on a mannequin in all its glory. Mary's face beamed with pride and it was so nice to see her see this.     

Mary Lipshut photographed by Marnie Haddad

So back to creating an event that would showcase the great Mary Lipshut's vintage fashion collection. I have worked with the my good friend Erica Myers Davis (General Manager of Fundraising) at the Prahran Mission Charity on fundraising events for many years and had come up with the idea of fashion charity luncheons that would bring my network of fashion folk together with my chosen charity to raise funds for their great work in the community under the banner, Philip Boon Presents:.
We decided that Mary's collection was to be the feature of my next charity luncheon event and set about to create this with the help of Erica and Joshua Koko from the Prahran Mission, knowing that hopefully I could give Mary that show she always wanted to see.
My first idea was to promote it and to do so through an 'Advanced Style' (the blog, book and soon to be documentary by New Yorker Ari Seth Cohen) inspired photo shoot with Mary and two of her close friends Shirley Strauss and Lola Schattner, glamorous woman in the high 80's who had better social lives than me or anyone half their age! They were all to wear Mary's designer vintage pieces. 
I asked celebrated art and fashion photographer Marnie Haddad (family friend of the trio) to photograph the three vibrant octogenarians at Shirley Strauss' home, an apartment that was designed in 1976 by a top interior designer of the time and had not changed a bit from that time, still a glamorous 70's abode in immaculate condition. 
We had a magical day of laughing, chatting and story telling that I will cherish forever. Josh Koko had asked respected journalist Janice Breen Burn to attend the photo shoot and write a story for her new venture about these marvellous women.
I styled the three in different parts of Shirley's extensive home adorned in ML Vintage, the photos were to be used for publicity as well as have the original images sold at the charity luncheon weeks later.

Shirley Strauss photographed by Marnie Haddad

The photos caused quite a stir and were picked up by many media outlets and newspapers, suprised to see three stylish and vibrant women in their 80's dressing up and enjoying their lives when most at that age are quietly slipping away from society. I love these images and have to say how much I admire Ari Seth Cohen in New York who has brought to the worlds attention women over 50 living life to the fullest.

Lola Schattner photographed by Marnie Haddad

Onto the event, PHILIP BOON PRESENTS: ML Vintage and I prepared to bring Mary's ML Vintage collection to life on models in a beautiful contemporary setting at the stylish Melbourne restaurant 'Circa at The Prince'. I wanted the whole experience to hark back to Mary and my favourite decade of fashion, the 1970's and so worked with my great friend and make up artist Narelle Hall on a 70's inspired make up palette also with hair masters Frank and Helen at Hair By Ciccone to create the perfect 70's frizzy do! We even had a 1970's soundtrack for the models to walk to creating that total 70's salon style show.

Narelle Hall working her 70's magic on model 

Helen Ciccone frizzing that 70's hair

Model wearing 70's Courreges


Model wearing Courreges

70's Pucci velvet 

Velvet Pucci

One of Mary's favourite Pucci outfits

In my quest to make the whole event as authentically 70's I invited Australian supermodel of the era Wendy Bannister to walk the runway again in a wonderful Missoni creation, still a stunning model she stole the show with her twirls and smiles! Thank you Wendy!

Missoni in neutral

Layered Missoni 

Stunning Missoni

The remarkable Mary Lipshut

Celebrated photographer and family friend Marnie Haddad with one of her images

General Manager of Fundraising at Prahran Mission, Erica Myers Davis in Vintage Courreges from ML Vintage

All photos of the charity luncheon Philip Boon Presents: ML Vintage by Meagan Harding Photography

I am so very happy to have given this fashion extravaganza to Mary and celebrated her beloved vintage. We raised money for the great work the Prahran Mission do and had a wonderful and successful day that I'm sure Mary enjoyed.

To Mary, who I was lucky to have seen before her passing in hospital and tell her how amazing I thought she was as well as let her know that she will never be forgotten for all the fantastic things she did in her life, I will miss our many chats about our mutual love of the 1970's, I will miss our lunches and meetings about where to take your business next, I will miss your vibrancy and love of life, I will miss your never say die attitude in the face of cancer and mostly I will miss your stories of the fabulous life you led in fashion where there was no difference in our ages and you appreciated my opinion even though you had decades more experience than I. 
I will miss you Mary but you will always be there in my fashion heart. 



  1. So, so lovely Philip.
    I think you brought a lot of joy into Mary's life too. x

  2. This was a really beautiful article. I can't believe the foresight in Anna Piaggi..imagine being Mary back then shopping...knowing to pick the most beautiful and outrageous, yet so timeless, pieces to represent each era and each designer. Its so breathtaking and inspiring. Thank you for sharing her story! From the US, KG