The grand architecture coupled with the colourful yet traditional facade is enough to attract the fashion curious. But look a little closer at the saloon workrooms and nuanced retail spaces and you’ll see why it has been the home to seemingly timeless designs and designers for close to a century.
Long before Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall was dotted with concept stores, multi-level shopping centres and superstores, the city’s couture fashion designers were calling the arcade’s workrooms and shopfronts home. Today, Brisbane Arcade continues to host the city’s most noteworthy homegrown fashion designers and couture – covering men’s and women’s wear and high-end bridal wear.
Setting the scene in the ’60s and ’70s
Brisbane Arcade’s name has been synonymous with fashion in Brisbane, and is home to many of our city’s most decorated fashion houses and designers. During the ’50s, ’60s and into the ’70s, Brisbane Arcade was the design headquarters of two of the most significant couturiers in Australian fashion history – Gwen Gillam and Harvey Graham.
Gillam was the leading dress designer in Queensland during the 1950s and 1960s. She was regarded as the best by her country and city clientele, as her gorgeous evening and bridal wear garments reflected European design and were initially made from exclusive imported fabrics. Gillam’s workroom on the top floor of Brisbane Arcade and her gowns were sold in a glamorous, architecturally designed salon on Brisbane Arcade’s ground floor. Managed by Gwen’s sister Thellie, the salon hosted Brisbane’s fashionable set in a room featuring a white leather couch and mezzanine level.
Brisbane fashionistas of a certain generation will remember Harvey Graham as a dapper, rakish figure whose two-door BMW coupe (possibly the only one in Queensland in the 1960s) accompanied the leading models of the day – dressed in Harvey Graham couture – in the glamorous ‘Concours d’Elegance’ shows of the 1960s and 1970s. Graham opened a Brisbane Arcade salon in 1963, and dressed Queensland socialites well into the 1970s.
The next generation of designers
The ’80s saw the next generation of Brisbane designers set up in Brisbane Arcade and make an indelible mark on the city’s fashion scene locally, nationally and even internationally. Royce Facy, Tim Lindgren, Adam R Dixon, Debra Kolkka, Irma J Smith, Michael Klease and Keri Craig followed by Anthony Leigh Dower’s arrival in the early ’90s cemented Brisbane Arcade’s status as a fashion powerhouse.
These designers dominated Queensland’s Retailers Association of Queensland Awards year on year through the ’80s and ’90s. Known as “fashion’s night of nights”, Brisbane Arcade designers were highly decorated at these awards and two of the three RAQ Hall of Fame recipients, Keri Craig-Lee and Anthony Lee Dower, hailed from Brisbane Arcade.
Another notable Queensland fashion designer who had her early beginnings in Brisbane Arcade is Lydia Pearson, of Easton Pearson fame. Easton Pearson, co-founded by Pamela Easton, was one of Australia’s most successful fashion houses. From the launch of the label in 1998 to its close in 2016, Easton Pearson’s eclectic, boldly patterned and embellished fashions graced catwalks and showrooms across Europe, the Middle East, Asia, America and Australia.
Modern day muses
Joining the arcade in the late ’90s was designer Julie Tengdahl, who bought out her business partner’s share of the label Principles, and launched her eponymous label Tengdahl Australia in 1997. Tengdahl’s flagship store has been in Brisbane Arcade ever since, from a Gallery salon to today’s Ground Floor emporium. Tengdahl Australia’s designs flow from some of the city’s most notable personalities, including media personalities Melissa Downes and Sofie Formica, sporting star Laura Geitz, and business leaders including Brisbane marketing doyenne Megan Barron. The designer’s garments are still made in her Brisbane Arcade Gallery salon today.
The Arcade has adorned many a local and international figure: even Elton John’s 1984 bride Renate Blauel was dressed by Keri Craig with jewellery by Robert White. Pia du Pradal is a favourite of Australia’s former Governor General Quentin Bryce, who chose a Pia du Pradal ensemble to wear to the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales. And Australian television personality Jackie Macdonald wore Royce Facy while she collected her gold Logie.
Current couturiers Darb Couture (Brad Webb), Irma J Smith House of Fashion (Bronwyn Smith), Maiocchi (Deanne Mayocchi), Pia du Pradal Fashions (Pia du Pradal) and Tengdahl (Julie Tengdahl) along with fashion retailers such as 2020 Optical, Belle Folie, Brisbane Hatters, Keri Craig Emporium, Tree of Life and Wendy Louise Designs continue a fashion tradition that spans nine decades.
The annual Brisbane Arcade Spring Flower Show was established in 2014 and has a changing theme each year to celebrate the arcade retailers and showcase the latest fashions.
Read more about Brisbane Arcade’s fashion designers here.