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Recognition sought for trailblazing designer Charlotte Blau


In the heyday of Melbourne fashion designer Charlotte Blau, her elegant dresses were sold in prestigious American stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue in New York.

In the 1950s and 1960s her creations were appreciated by Melbourne’s society belles and captured by photographers such as Helmut Newton and Athol Shmith.

Gina Goldsmith wearing one of her late mother Charlotte Blau’s dresses.Credit:Penny Stephens

Fashion historian Tom McEvoy said Blau, who died in 1996, deserves recognition as one of Australia’s top designers and her pieces should be in the hands of the National Gallery of Victoria.

McEvoy called on those who own a piece of Charlotte Blau to come forward. He’s only seen four since he began documenting Australian fashion history six years ago.

In the late 1950s, Blau and her husband, Willy Blau, ran her fashion label, Charlotte Fifth Avenue Gown, from their factory in Oliver Lane, in Melbourne’s Flinders Lane fashion district.

They employed 26 machinists, 14 finishers, two pressers, and two in shipping, and they sold pieces to Georges and Myer department stores and boutiques.

Charlotte Blau and husband Willy Blau in the 1960s.

Charlotte Blau and husband Willy Blau in the 1960s.Credit:Gina Goldsmith private collection

A few years earlier, a fire had destroyed the German immigrant’s first collection on the eve of the launch, to be held at the Menzies Hotel, when Blau, exhausted, left the iron at home in Heidelberg.

Blau started again and in 1954 Charlotte Fifth Avenue Gowns was launched. Within a few years, her husband had sold pieces to American stores such as Bullocks Wilshire in Los Angeles, where her dresses were on display in all six storefronts.

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