Voxfrock’s VAMFF count down calendar is GO. Just 30 sleeps till the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival’s full-fat menu of frock shows and fashion-linked business and cultural events kicks off its core week from March 17 to 23. We’re braced for the trickiest task of the year: editing 100 plus frocky dates down to a do-able diary. Best be quick. Tickets are selling, bleachers filling. What to slot in? What to not? (Note to voxself: “Must factor in the odd nap and meal break; a girl can’t live on thrills alone.”) VAMFF’s nightly runway shows at Peninsula, Docklands, are a no-brainer. Ditto the business seminar, beauty workshops and frocky extravaganzas typical of Stonnington’s smashing Malvern Town Hall. From the rest, we will pluck the sparklers, such as Nadia Barbaro’s Vintage Girls book and fashion exhibition, featured here.

But first, let’s pause a tick, shall we?, to slot in some context…

Mrs. Mary Lipshut Photo: Monty Coles

Mrs. Mary Lipshut
Photo: Monty Coles

In the week Melbourne lost one of its best loved and most elegant fashion icons, Mary Lipshut, 90, to cancer, this preview of Miss Barbaro’s whimsical book and exhibition, launching on March 18 at the Rialto Intercontinental, seemed to us a fair tribute to one of that great lady’s legacies: a new generation of impassioned vintage fashion collectors.

Mrs. Lipshut was the doyenne behind ML Vintage, a mindboggling collection of box-fresh original 1970s designer fashions by brands including Missoni, Courreges and Versace. At the peak of her career as a top-end, risk-taking fashion buyer in the 1970s, she mothballed two shipments of these treasures then left them to cool, not breaking their seals for almost three decades. When she finally did, the ML Vintage collection was accepted instantly – and correctly – as a legendary source of legendary fashion by legendary designers. Many of those designers counted themselves among the worldly Mrs. Lipshut’s personal friends. Last year, as reported at the time by Voxfrock, with health failing, Mrs. Lipshut and her family struck a once-in-a-lifetime arrangement with young fashion entrepreneur, Danielle Goodwin to continue selling ML Vintage, gem by gem, under her webstore and boutique, Hawkeye Vintage.

But now, back to Miss Barbaro who recalls her own small link with vintage history; an appointment made long ago to meet the amazing Mrs. Lipshut in her exotic salon. “It was incredible,” she recalls. “So much, you couldn’t even push through the racks.” She remembers revelling in the rarity, but leaving empty-handed. “I could only admire; I couldn’t even afford to hire a piece of Missoni.”
Miss Barbaro is a stylist, publisher of the fashion, art and design website, Sesamemedia and now, author of Vintage Girls. She has also been entranced by the grace and quality of heirloom fashion since, as a child, she fell head over heels for her Italian grandmother’s glamourous, perfectly preserved, “gently mended” clothes and handbags. “This is where my passion for vintage fashion comes from,” she says. “I love that I am somehow still connected to my grandma by wearing something of hers, and get a thrill from knowing we shared similar taste.”
Miss Barbaro’s book Vintage Girls, is the result of that love, and a project she set herself, to search the world for women as passionate as she is about fashion’s glamourous past. “I had a wish-list of the ladies I wanted,” she says of the eight young women she eventually tracked down and photographed. “And I found them.”

London based vintage fashion collector Sarah Owen of Lucy in Disguise.  Photographer: Zoe Barling, Styling: Nadia Barbaro.

London based vintage fashion collector Sarah Owen of Lucy in Disguise. Photographer: Zoe Barling, Styling: Nadia Barbaro.

Among them, she convinced Los Angeles costumier Janie Bryant of Mad Men fame, London collector Sarah Owen (above), Australian Ballet dancer Juliet Burnett,  ARIA award winner and singer Kimbra (below) and television writer Jess Harris, not only to participate, but to give deep interviews about their reasons for loving vintage. “A common thread, especially now there’s so much disposable fashion in the world, was that it’s a sure way to wear something unique, very good quality, and hard to find.” Miss Barbaro says. “There’s romance too; the idea of sharing someone else’s story, and that story going on with you.”

Kimbra Photograph: Thuy Vy Styling: Nadia Barbaro Makeup/Hair: Eve Flight Dress: 50s tulle ball gown

Kimbra. Photograph: Thuy Vy. Styling: Nadia Barbaro. Makeup/Hair: Eve Flight
Dress: 50s tulle ball gown. From Vintage Girls.

Singer songwriter Sarah Blasko for example, recounted how a briefcase, still engraved with its original owner’s name, is her personal, treasured link with a stranger’s story.  Sarah Owen also revealed she delights as much in hunting for back-stories as the once-treasured clothes she stocks in her Lucy in Disguise vintage store in London (co-owned with sister, Lily Allen) She told Miss Barbaro about one lady who proved a rare source of both treasures and stories: “(She) had just inherited a load of clothes from her very glamorous Russian aunt who had lived in St Tropez, didn’t have any children, had countless affairs and was a mistress of many. When I went there, there were all these love letters and photos of her in the outfits, and all this amazing Hermes and YSL. That was the highlight of the last three years for me!”

Miss Barbaro says most Vintage Girls wear collectable fashions as part of a personal sartorial jigsaw, rather than a “head to toe” costume commitment to a particular era, and therein lies its logic and cool. Juliet Burnett, for example, who will officially launch Vintage Girls at VAMFF, is a case in point. “I was a little surprised when I first learned (she) wears vintage rock band t-shirts during rehearsals at The Australian Ballet where she is a senior artist,” Miss Barbaro says. “I love this contrast! Ballet tights and pointe shoes under a Led Zeppelin t-shirt: it’s so unexpected and cool.”

Juliet Burnett, The Australian Ballet Photograph: Thuy Vy Styling: Nadia Barbaro Makeup/Hair: Eve Flight Dress: 60s mod dress

Juliet Burnett, The Australian Ballet
Photograph: Thuy Vy
Styling: Nadia Barbaro
Makeup/Hair: Eve Flight
Dress: 60s mod dress

Vintage Girls, by Nadia Barbaro, will be launched as part of the VAMFF Cultural Programme on March 18 as a print and e-book edition and an exhibition of collectable fashion at the Rialto Intercontinental, Melbourne. Admission is free. For more information go to and VintageGirlsBook
For a complete VAMFF schedule including ticket sales click here.

Janice Breen Burns, editor Voxfrock,
(Disclaimer: Janice Breen Burns is a director of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival).