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History

10 Sep 2019

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Fashion and Southbank

Among the many galvanised iron factories along Sturt St in the 1930s was a stylish new factory for Lucy Secor fashion designers.

The firm got its start in 1922 and became so successful that by the mid-1930s it needed a new factory to keep up with demand and to maintain quality. A new factory was commissioned at 35 Sturt St not far from Princes Bridge; one of many new factories on this street.

Lucy Secor was one of Melbourne’s better-known fashion houses from this period, specialising in striking, beautifully crafted garments sold from highly fashionable shops in Collins St. Noted for quality and attention to detail in workmanship, this was a firm that cared about its staff and took great pride in its training programs over a number of years (typically four). Staff members were paid well and conditions were good, unlike many of the sweatshops in the clothing industry at the time. For those seeking a job in the industry, being trained at Lucy Secor was almost a guarantee of success, and most people seemed to have enjoyed working there.

Designed by prominent architects Alder and Lacy in 1935, the styling of the factory was decidedly Art Deco, with the streamlined building of simple but pleasing design. The swampy ground requiring strengthened foundations and the firm constructed gardens facing Sturt St. Regrettably the garden was destroyed by local vandals a few weeks after the opening.

On the inside, the delicate nature of the fabrics and textiles employed in the manufacture of frocks required a high standard of hygiene throughout. Large amounts of natural light were admitted via a saw-tooth roof, lined with insulation, while mechanical ventilation and an air-conditioning plant ensured the constant supply of fresh or treated air, meaning that the doors and windows could be closed without admitting dust and dirt from other local factories.

As well as the stylish Melbourne shops, Lucy Secor had branches across Australia and New Zealand and by 1950 the company boasted 50 selling departments. The firm closed in 1980 and Wittners Shoes occupied the building before it was demolished in 2007 as part of the massive changes to the area during its transformation from South Melbourne to Southbank.

But who was Lucy Secor? It appears that no one with that stylish name actually existed and the name was created to give a European/French cachet to the clothes, generally copied from overseas designs. Although advertisements in 1937 stated that Lucy Secor herself was in constant touch with the fashion centres of the world, it seems likely that the key figure was Mr W.C. Cann - the managing director for many years.

Robin Grow - President, Australian Art Dec & Modernism Society

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