I have just returned from a flying visit to Te Papa, where I was speaking about one of my favourite designers from our fashionable past – the fabulous Vinka Lucas. My talk was part of the programme for Te Papa’s exhibition Unveiled – 200 years of Wedding Fashion from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and it lifted the lid on the bridal wonderland that Vinka, and her former husband David Lucas, developed in the 1960s.
The focus of my talk was the innovation and big-thinking that made Vinka’s Maree de Maru boutique such a key destination for New Zealand brides. In contrast with the contemporary bridal industry, in which women largely expect to be provided with finished garments, Vinka established her business at a time when her core clientele wanted to sew their own gowns. To meet this market without compromising her vision as a designer, Vinka developed a comprehensive range of services that ranged from fully finished couture gowns through to customised mail-order patterns, fabrics and trims. With David Lucas working hard to cook up new marketing schemes and opportunities to promote Vinka’s designs, Maree de Maru soon become a high profile bridal business.
One of the things I spoke about at Te Papa was the pattern service that Vinka offered via Maree de Maru and a network of fabric stores the couple developed known as the United Bridal Salons. Using this service, brides across New Zealand could select a gown from a comprehensive catalogue of Vinka’s designs, purchase a customised paper pattern and specified material from a member of the United Bridal Salons network, and then get to work making their dream gown.
Fabrics obviously became a key part of this process, and Vinka and David made considerable efforts to ensure that their business had a secure supply of exclusive fabrics. However, when Vinka required extra special fabric for a key showpiece gown, she often went beyond the existing supply chain and commissioned customised fabrics. It was these unique gowns that were on display in the Maree de Maru salon, and appeared in private showings and bridal parades, inspiring brides across New Zealand.
The Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust textile collection is lucky enough to include one of these rare examples of a custom-printed Maree de Maru wedding dress, donated to the collection by Vinka herself in 2009.
The fabric of this gown was printed by a Bronwen Mooney – a screenprinter who completed several key commissions for Vinka. Various sources I have come across have led me to understand that Mooney worked in Hawke’s Bay for a period of time, and I wonder also if she might be a textile printer that also collaborated with Taumarunui designer Michael Mattar. I would very much like to find out more about Mooney as a textile designer, as her work would have such a good fit with the strong New Zealand textile design and fashion collection held here at HBMAG.
This talk was a lovely excuse to delve back into the wonderful world of Vinka Lucas, and find out a little more about a designer who has made such a big contribution to New Zealand fashion history.
Lucy Hammonds, March 2012
Images appear with the permission of Vinka Design