GORGEOUS IS A STATE OF MIND

Photographer Monty Coles and writer Janice Breen Burns drop by an unusual fashion shoot for Melbourne charity event, “Philip Boon Presents: ML Vintage”. For Mr. Coles’ complete photographic essay visit www.theloupe.org.

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Shirley Strauss is an elegant little woman, thin as a reed, brown hair curled soft around striking blue eyes, lips pinked to match lacquered coral fingernails. Gorgeous. And, a natural model too, though, she insists, she has no experience of the art and, “I hate cameras”. Today, Mrs. Strauss is modelling as a favour; her own original 1970s striped Missoni dress, plum tights and tangerine Ferragamo flats (“I only ever wear Ferragamo shoes..”), for celebrated fashion stylist Philip Boon and photographer Marnie Haddad.

DSC7407-800x532Mrs. Strauss is coiffed, styled, made up and ready for her close up. “What about this…?” And without prompting, she gracefully extends one arm like a 1947 New Look mannequin, plants the opposite hand, fingers spread, gently on her hip, tilts her chin up, cocks her head to the left, and smiles a mock-haughty smile that – cracks everyone up and prompts spontaneous applause. At 88, Mrs. Strauss looks so spectacularly, unorthodoxly chic in comparison to the more typically admired teenage model, it’s hard not to be laugh-out-loud delighted.

DSC7372-532x800So this is how the afternoon goes. Laughter, applause, frocks, makeup, lights, camera, action, more laughter. There are 10 of us on location in Mrs. Strauss’s exotic, labyrinthine apartment. In 1976 she commissioned renowned interior decorator Reg Riddell to fill it up according to the cutting-edge style of the day and since then, not a tuft of plush carpet, not a gold-banded lamp or genuine leopard pelt (with head attached), nor stick of emerald-green velvet or Louis VI furniture has been replaced. It’s a marvellous location; 1970s style frozen in time, a look ideal for this particular shoot but, more about why that is, later.

“…she gracefully extends one arm like a 1947 New Look mannequin…and smiles a mock-haughty smile that – cracks everyone up”

We are here for Mr. Boon, a philanthropist in his spare time who, after a lightbulb moment, has coaxed Mrs. Strauss and her friends Mary Lipshut, also 88, and Lola Shattner, the spring chicken of the trio at 83, to model for him. The photographs are being used to promote the first in a series of fundraising fashion lunches Mr. Boon planned with Joshua Koko, marketing manager for Prahran Mission, a charity renowned for its work with disadvantaged people. On Wednesday, April 17, Mrs. Mary Lipshut’s famous ML vintage collection – a rare stock of box-fresh un-worn original 1970s fashions by designers including Courreges, Missoni and Pucci – will star in lunch and show at Circa restaurant in Melbourne’s Prince Hotel.

DSC7214-532x800But let’s back-track a bit. When planning the “Philip Boon Presents” event and its campaign, Mr. Boon and Mr. Koko had a sub-agenda that began with Mary Lipshut. “I met her a couple of years ago when I was going to curate an exhibition of Missoni outfits from her ML Vintage collection,” Mr. Boon explains. “And, I just thought; “I must DO something with this woman..!” Already well into her 80s, Mrs. Lipshut was as arrestingly stylish as she had been at any time during her life as one of Australia’s most influential fashion buyers and importers. “I just thought she’s wonderful,” Mr. Boon says. His plan to “DO something” with her, germinated as worldwide interest in the lives and fashions of vibrant older women is mushrooming among journalists, bloggers, marketers and advertising companies. Suddenly, the women society usually forgets, are in the global/cultural spotlight. Septuagenarians are sexy, octogenarians are hip.

“I just thought; “I must DO something with this woman..!” Philip Boon, on Mary Lipshut.”

DSC7411-800x532“The way they dress, for themselves,not for their husbands anymore, not for anyone, but to enjoy their lives,” Mr. Boon says, “It really draws you to them.” The fact that Mrs. Lipshut’s favourite fashion, of the many decades in which she has lived and dressed, is the 1970s, was also too delicious to ignore. “The 1970s was simply the best era for fashion ever,” she says now, “There was one definite look and it was elegant and it’s never dated and it never will.” Her ML Vintage collection – the culmination of one large stock shipment, a wharf strike, and Mrs. Lipshut’s canny plan to cut her losses and warehouse the lot for a decade or three – includes garments by many of the 1970s’ most famous European designers. Names that still thrill fashion aficionados; Andre Courregges, Tai and Rosita Missoni, Gianni Versace, counted themselves among Mrs. Lipshut’s friends and she is as loyal and adamant now, that their talent has never been eclipsed. “I have some Missoni, done by Ty and Rosita in the 70s, that is breathtaking,” she says. “The next generations of designers have never matched up.”

“There was one definite look and it was elegant and it’s never dated and it never will.” Mary Lipshut, on the 1970s.

Our trio of octogenarian friends are intimately familiar with the classic,1970s fashion they are modelling today. Their lives are rich with the privileges they both married and made, their wardrobes composed of designer brands, commissioned couture, the cream of fashion. They even tinkle with the many rings and trinkets of women who have loved and been well loved. Fashion, in one form or another,  has been an integral expressive medium in their lives. And, it still is.

DSC74441-800x532“We are all widows you know,” says Mrs. Lipshut. “And when that happens, you can be miserable, you can take a pill and go, or you can make a life for yourself.”  She obviously chose the latter. So did her friends. Proof is in their impeccable grooming, their incredibly busy social and professional lives, their wry wit and intriguing chatter, often turgid with remembered details. Mrs. Strauss, for example, describes her mother’s gowns, furs and Rolls Royce and precisely what she herself wore on a sea voyage to attend the coronation of George VI in 1937. She remembers the mink-trimmed gown and satin pumps she wore to Melbourne Lord Mayor Ron Walker’s ball in the 1970s.

Mrs. Lipshut can vividly recall conversations she had with Andre Courregges, Rosita Missoni, many other fashion peers in Paris, and her friend and couturier Hall Ludlow. (Many of the gowns she commissioned from Mr. Ludlow are in the National Gallery of Victoria Australian fashion collection.) Mrs.Shattner remembers when Myer was a powerful fashion leader and spared no expense to host gala shows in its exotic Mural Hall. “The French models, darling, when they came, they walked like this..” Lissome and graceful as a wraith, Mrs.Shattner unfurls for us, demonstrating that elegant tipping point, 50-odd years ago, that ended one era of fashion modelling and inspired the next. “We were amazed, darling. They were magnificent!”

“….Mrs. Lipshut can vividly recall conversations she had with Andre Courregges, Rosita Missoni, many other fashion peers in Paris, and her friend and couturier Hall Ludlow…”

DSC7249-800x532In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Mrs. Shattner was married to Myer’s managing director and, after a number of heartbreaking years nursing her daughter through leukaemia – the first child in Australia to be cured of the condition – she joyfully indulged in the most fashionable perks of that role. One perk of her own astounding physical beauty – she’s still all legs and cheekbones and sapphire-blue eyes – she turned down, however. The day iconic photographer Helmut Newton came across the striking young mother feeding her children in Pellegrinis and begged her to pose for him, she was simply too busy living her own marvellous life to oblige. “Well I was married, darling,” she shrugs. “I had children…” When I ask about regrets, she looks, for a moment, quite bewildered, then chatters on about the marvellous coat she wore once in New York.

This shoot for 1970s fashion, for octogenarian beauty, for charity and sheer, enduring joie de vivre, is almost a wrap when Mr. Koko, quietly observing as Mrs. Shattner is photographed in an ML Vintage Missoni skirt set offers the breakthrough quote of the day: “These ladies, they’re cool with how they look. They dress for THEM. We’ve all been focussed for so long on youth being beautiful, you forget this age is too. It’s a different kind of beauty….”

Tickets for Philip Boon Presents: ML Vintage, $120, include three course lunch, fashion show and live performance by jazz vocalist Hetty Kate at The Prince restaurant Circa, St. Kilda, Melbourne on Wednesday, April 17. Book at www.trybooking.com/CNDL or call Anna Briggs (03) 96929500