Leave a comment

The Sydney Fair 2016 Review


The Arte Deco / Online Antiques Stall


1920s celluloid rhinestone pendant with jet beads

We attended opening night at The Sydney Fair – it was evident as soon as we entered the Byron Kennedy Hall that the benchmark set during previous years’ events was being maintained, with a very high standard of exhibitors and objects for sale. I had planned to make my way straight to a couple of my favourite stalls at the back, but was waylaid by some fabulous pieces along the way, and made slow progress! One of the distractingly beautiful displays was by The Antique Guild of Brisbane – among many lovely pieces was a breathtaking Art Deco duette brooch of rubies and diamonds, and a captivating 1920s Assuit shawl that was so densely set with metal it looked like a sheet of liquid silver.

We made our way to Coutura Vintage, where I was immediately smitten with a sequinned and beaded 1920s evening cloche and a Chinoiserie headdress, both from the estate of a former MGM film star. As it was impossible to choose between them, they both came home with me.


1920s green raffia wig and dance purses, Coutura Vintage

I have seldom been as close to coming home with an unexpected piece of furniture as I was at the Arte Deco stall, where my heart was stolen by a wonderful Art Deco carved sideboard. Showing uncharacteristic restraint and concern for my budget, we instead walked away with an absolutely lovely celluloid pendant.

One of the most pleasant aspects of attending Sydney vintage and antique events is that, because we’re a fairly small community, there’s an excellent chance you’ll run into collectors and dealers that you know. As always there were familiar faces and a chance to have a quick catch up with people like the Recycology gals, who we realised we last saw in Napier at the Speakeasy event on Saturday night, where they happened to have a nearby table. There were some other great encounters as well – it sometimes takes a bit of effort to remember you’re not just there to socialise, but also to look for new pieces to add.

We had our friend Emma with us for her first Antique fair, and she proved to quickly have an eye for the quirky and interesting items, finding a funny little taxidermied owl with a pincushion crown – just one of the odd little gems to be found (I noticed when I returned on Sunday that it had been sold).

Thank you again to the organisers and the dealers who participated – we’re already looking forward to next year!


1920s Evening Cloche and Chinoiserie Headdress

Leave a comment

Frock Around Randwick Vintage Fair

It’s been a while since I’ve been to one of the Frock Up events at Randwick Town Hall, and – if my current feral cold decides to abate enough tomorrow to allow me to attend – I’m looking forward to seeing how it has evolved.

While on a much smaller scale than some of the big fairs we used to have in Sydney, when I last attended I picked up a few nice pieces. I’m very keen on the idea of supporting out local vintage fairs.


Randwick Town Hall, Avoca Street Randwick

Saturday 30 July 2016 10am – 5pm

Leave a comment

The Sydney Fair May 26-29 2016


Two questions I’m asked all them time – firstly, where do I buy my vintage pieces and secondly, where in Sydney can we see good quality vintage pieces older than the 1970s?

The answer to the first is complicated, as I have to source a great deal online from overseas, but is also partly answered by the second. The vintage scene in Sydney has taken a few blows in recent years with some of the best fairs and dealers either downscaling or disappearing, notably with the hiatus (hopefully to be lifted) of Love Vintage and the closure of the Sydney Antique Centre and its vintage stalls, but there have been some shining lights that have seen us through. These include both the sellers that continue to operate their bricks and mortar stores, and events like the wonderful Sydney Fair.


Deco Diva delights

Since it debuted in 2014, The Sydney Fair has become the talked about event for lovers of Art Nouveau to Art Deco design (with some very notable inclusions of decorative movements outside that era). Walking into the Byron Kennedy Hall is like walking into a cave of wonders for those of us who love the design of this period – be it fine art, interior decorating items, furniture, jewelry, fashion or accessories. Everything beautifully selected and displayed with some of Australia’s best dealers (and some overseas visitors) – and because the organiser, Dianne, has a passion that includes furniture, art and fashion, she creates an environment for the very best dealers and experts in all these areas. She sets the tone with the Arte Deco/Online Antiques display, which lavishly showcases everything from soft furnishings to gowns. Those who exhibit here have a passion for their areas of expertise that makes not only viewing their pieces but also talking with them as delightful as it is informative – people like the owners of Deco Diva who sell a collection of Deco sculpture and furniture that can usually only be found in such quality and quantity in heavy coffee table books, or Lena of Coutura Vintage whose care and skill in selecting and displaying vintage clothing and accessories a visual delight.

We’ll be there on opening night to revel in the best of high style Art Deco, and also – we hope! – to find the pieces that will bring us such joy for years to come. In the past, we’ve walked away with Art Deco figural lamps, Russian style bandeaux, flapper beaded dance dresses, lamé capes, velvet lined 1920s coats, Czech Egyptian revival necklaces and other such delights. If you wonder where the good vintage pieces are to be had in Sydney, they’re here under the one roof.

The Sydney Fair Facebook Page

Byron Kennedy Hall

Moore Park

26 – 29 May 2016


Leave a comment

Lucile Ltd Belt on loan to Guelph

Some years back, I was lucky enough to acquire a belt by Lucile Ltd. I was thrilled not only because of her role in fashion history, but because it also tied into my interests in the Titanic. Indeed, the address on the label is for her premises at 37 & 39 West 57th Street New York – it was preparations for the move into these larger showrooms that necessitated Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon’s travel to New York in April 1912.


Lucile Ltd belt, c. 1912-13

Thanks to the work of author Hugh Brewster, supported by Duff Gordon’s biographer and leading expert Randy Bigham, the Guelph Museum in her home town of Guelph, Canada is hosting an exhibition, the first of its kind in Canada. I know Randy and Hugh through our shared interests in Titanic research (I reviewed Hugh’s Gilded Lives book for the Encyclopedia Titanica website when it was published back in 2012, and Randy and I are old cronies). When it came to sourcing gowns and accessories for the exhibition, Hugh, Randy and the team from the Guelph Museum looked to private collections as well as institutions, finding pieces as far away as here in Australia where the Darnell Collection has beautiful examples. Randy also knew about my own modest Lucile piece, and I was only too happy to lend it. It’s a small object, but rather dazzlingly beautiful – as Randy explained, Lucile pioneered the sale of such accessories for separate purchase from couturiers. With its prong set rhinestones and rich embroidery of seed beads, bugle beads, gold thread and faux precious stones, it’s a little gem of a piece, still sparkling brightly.

Lucile: Fashion, Titanic Scandal runs May 7 to November at the Civic Museum (52 Norfolk Street, Guelph, Ontario N1H 4H8 Canada)

Website LucileInvite


Leave a comment

Return of the Love Vintage Fair


It’s back! Banner for the Vintage Clothing “Fair within a fair”

I don’t know how I missed the announcement late last year that Love Vintage was returning, but by mid-this week the word was out on social media that the Love Vintage Fairs – a much missed event on the Sydney Vintage Calendar – was coming back. Expertise Events and the Lindy Charm School for Girls were bringing them back in Sydney and Brisbane, albeit (initially at least) in a much reduced form as part of the vast Stitches and Craft Fair.

It was certainly much smaller – four or five booths – but as one of them was Coutura Vintage, one of my favourite vintage businesses, we were very happy to make the trip out to support the revival of the concept. As outlined on the Lindy Charm School website, it is hoped that after these initial baby steps the fairs will be returned to their former scope. Talking to Lena, she did mention that some of the buyers who visited her stall and picked up pieces were not part of the regular vintage set, but rather craft fair visitors who were drawn in by the beauty of the vintage pieces…so hopefully a few people may have been introduced to the idea of enjoying vintage.


The Coutura Vintage stall at the fair – a lot of lovely 1950s pieces, but also earlier and later vintage

As for us, we bought a couple of lovely 1920s-30s purses and Lena gave us a lovely reworked 1920s vintage dress to which some Edwardian dress embellishments had been added.


Vintage leather clutch purse we bought at Coutura Vintage. Enamel detail on front and chrome vanity pieces in the case.


1920s-30s clutch purse embroidered in a “jazz pattern” – a beautiful piece of Art Deco fashion


The Neiger Brothers: Enduring Beauty

Neiger scarab beads in some of the rich colours they were produced  (Inger Sheil collection)


I can recall the precise moment I first encountered the work of the Neiger brothers. I was sitting in a cafe with friends under sunny New Zealand skies, and Sharon – a lady with a knack for finding excellent vintage (which consists of having both an eye for it and the perseverance and patience to seek out hidden gems) – handed me a string of beads. “What do you make of these?” she asked. They were one of her finds, and she’d identified them as a quality 1920s necklace of scarab beads.


Max Neiger, 1924 driver’s license photograph from the Holocaust.cz digitalised records

Scarabs have been a recurring motif in Egyptian revivalism since the stylistic elements of Ancient Egypt first began to influence Western design in the late 18th century, and are popular in jewellery, architecture and interior design. As a child I’d been given faïence beads that were replicas of ancient scarabs, as well as more contemporary versions.  These, however, were of a different order to the majority of such beads – they were double sided rather than flat-backed as so many scarab beads are, had the weight of pressed glass, and a tactile finish that made them a pleasure to handle. I agreed with Sharon that they were most likely 1920s in origin, possibly influenced by the 1922 wave of “Egyptomania” that followed the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb, and were possibly Czech in origin as so much quality glass of that era was. I didn’t know who made them, but I knew they were beautiful.

A few weeks later, Leigh – another friend with the vintage “touch”- asked me about some scarab beads she’d found. There, again, were more of these remarkable, colourful, double-sided scarabs. Where were they coming from? Were they modern pieces imitating the 1920s style, down to what looked like original stringing? Or were they from the same vintage source? The internet soon yielded answers, and I encountered the name “Neiger” for the first time. And later still, in conversation with a dealer specialising in Bohemian jewelry, I earned that the Neiger brothers perished in the Holocaust. For a long time my research on the subject went no further, but as I sought out and acquired more of the pieces and the Neigers’ work became ever more popular, my mind turned often to the brothers and their fate.

Trying to make sense of the senseless, I looked to the http://www.holocaust.cz/ website to try and tease out more of their story. While the English portal language version is still under construction, this site contains digitalised deportation records of those who, like the Neigers, were victims of the Shoah in Czechoslovakia. Looking through the scanned paperwork, I was stunned to come across a photo of Max himself, taken for his 1924 driving license. It was with mixed feelings I examined the identification shot of the creative force behind the label – however good it was to finally put a face to the name, the reason behind its survival was disturbing. The license had been retained as part of the record keeping of the Nazi machinery that would kill him and his family.

The Neiger records yielded the name of Temerle, their mother (born 27 August 1860), and birthdates for the brothers – Norbert on 25 September 1883 and Max (or Moritz, as he also appears in the records) on 11 August 1893 in Gablonz, Czechoslavakia – part of Bohemia’s famed glasswork and jewellery industry.

After he graduated from Gablonz’s technical school’s bjouterie course Norbert started creating jewellery in the family basement c. 1905. His younger brother Max joined him, and while Norbert managed the business, Max managed the workshop and jewellery design. Gablonz had been the centre of Bohemia’s bead making industry stretching back to when it was part of the Austrian Empire, and while they were following in well established footsteps, the work of the brothers was soon very recognisably their own.


Elephant themed Neiger necklace, showing an Indian influence  (Inger Sheil Collection)


Their fame reached its height in the 1920s and 30s, as they created exquisite pieces of costume jewellery and scent bottles – while their most famous works today are the Egyptian revival scarab beads, produced in several sizes and a tremendous range of colours, they also produced a great many other pieces incorporating Egyptian revival, Chinoiserie, Japonisme, Indian and other motifs. They supported a small local cottage industry, with locals contributing components to the jewellery. Their work was also subject to imitation, although unsurpassed in quality. It is characterised by the use of Czech glass and exquisite metal filigree work.

They also found partners in these happy years. Norbert married a woman by the name of Margareta (born 17 September 1889), and Max married Anna (born 3 April 1906). Max and Anna had a daughter, Zuzana, born 16 May 1931.

But the darkness was falling over Europe, and by 1938 it was apparent that the Nazis would not be placated: Czechoslovakia was firmly in Hitler’s sights. Under the Munich Agreement and the first Vienna Award, Bohemia was part of the ceded territories. Among those who fled from Gablonz to Prague were the Neigers. On March 15, 1939 German troops marched into Prague.

Some online sources suggest that the Neigers were able to operate a much reduced business in Prague for a time. The deportation records indicate, however, that on 26 October 1941, the extended Neiger family – Norbert, Margareta, Max, Anna and Zuzana, as well as Anna’s mother Emilie Bachnerova, were taken from Prague to the Łódź Ghetto in Poland. Temerle was sent to the Terezín concentration camp on 13 July 1942 – she was nearly 82 years old.

In 1941 there were 90,000 Jews living in Bohemia and Moravia. Only 14,000 would survive the war.

Hathor column at the Temple of Hathor, Dendera (photographer Steve Cameron Wikipedia Commons) and a Neiger bead depicting the Ancient Egyptian goddess. Hathor was depicted with the head of a cow and, in her human form, retained cows ears by which she can be recognised. She personified joy, feminine love, and motherhood, and was worshiped at all levels of society throughout Ancient Egyptian history – an appropriate subject for the popular Neiger beads. (Collection Inger Sheil)


The fate of the Neigers can be traced through the records. Max and Anna were murdered on 17 July 1942 in Łódź. Temerle died in Terezín on 16 October 1942. The death dates of Norbert, Margareta and Zuzana – 10 years old when she was sent to Łódź – are not recorded.

In the scale of human loss represented by the Holocaust, it seems perhaps slightly disproportionate to dwell on the destruction of the creative talent represented by the Neiger brothers – each murder of a human being was equally a tragedy, whether they were jewelers, housewives, accountants, or ten year old girls. But it seems, on an individual scale, indicative of the wholesale destruction of the war, and of things that were lost. First and foremost are the lives annihilated, but there is also the genius and creativity of those lives. The brothers were brilliant artisans – “Fabrikants”, the records called them: “manufacturers”. The occupation designation gives no clue to what they really did. They created beautiful things. They brought joy.

Would Nazis have cared for the work of the men they destroyed? They might have wished to eliminate the creative output of this Jewish family entirely or, I suspect, appropriate it and try to obfuscate its origins, as they did in many other instances (perhaps most notoriously in Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which was renamed “Woman in Gold” to obscure her Jewish origins). In either case, they would have failed…did fail.

Some years ago I bought a strand of green Neiger scarab beads in their original box – it was sold in the 1920s in a prestigious jewellery retail shop in Melbourne, Australia. On another occasion, I sat down here in Australia with a woman at a 1920s themed function who was wearing a sautoir of beautiful black Egyptian revival Neiger beads. She didn’t know who the Neigers were, and was fascinated by their story. The necklace had belonged to her grandmother in the 1920s, and it was the only 1920s piece she had, so she wore it. I’ve had conversations with women who have found Neiger beads everywhere from antique stores to op shops, from places as far away from Gablonz as middle America and New Zealand. Even if they hadn’t heard of the Neiger brothers, the people who found and cherished them recognised the quality of the pieces.

The scarab symbolised the sun god Ra for the ancient Egyptians. In rolling their dung balls across the desert, scarabs imitated the movement of the sun across the sky. They represented the cycle of rebirth and regeneration.

The Neiger brothers created beauty, and delighted the world with their work. That legacy has endured.

Leave a comment

How to Gatsby


New Zealand government tourist brochure, 1944. The girl is Marcia Hart, winner of the 1937 Mardi Gras bathing belle competition at the Soundshell, wearing her winning costume.

It’s that time of year again – after planning our Napier Art Deco wardrobes and devising our own unofficial schedule with friends to go alongside the official program, it’s time to finish packing the bags and prepare for the moment the wheels on the plane go up.

I was asked to give the “How to Gatsby” talk again, this time partnering with the fabulous Glory Days Magazine girls. I know a few purists raise an eyebrow at the title, given that the Art Deco weekend covers the 1930s as well (indeed, the earthquake that initiated the re-build of the city occurred in 1931), and Fitzgerald’s masterwork is a quintessentially American book, sometimes hailed as the great American novel. I do understand these reservations – there is, of course, a great deal more to the Art Deco era than Gatsby, particularly in Napier. I think the program committee was bang on with the title, however – because this is all about accessibility. When we unpack the name Gatsby we not only have the specific associations with the 1920s and big parties, there’s also the theatricality of Gatsby himself and the world he created. Yes, there is illusion here – but that is part of the appeal. Nick Carraway sees through the artificiality, and admires Gatsby anyway. This not-too-serious event, rather than a reenactment of the Deco period, is a theatrical celebration of it. That’s the wonderful thing about this mass participation event…it’s not just for a niche crowd of devotees, although they are more than accommodated (if you love vintage fashion or excellent repros, you’ll find others to share your love of the subject in Napier). It’s a weekend when thousands visit, and when you might find yourself dancing in the streets with hundreds of others. It’s about being as involved as little – or as much – as you like. You could attend several paid events a day, or attend none and enjoy the free entertainment. You could dress head to toe in era-accurate attire down to your shoe buttons, or don a dodgy chook feather boa over your t-shirt and shorts as the equivalent or your party hat and hits the streets to enjoy yourself.

One of the most magic moments I’ve experienced in Napier was a late night by the Soundshell, as the music and dancing was winding down. A group of Indian visitors assembled, and launched into a Bollywood dance routine. Not to be outdone, some of the local boys took to the stage and danced a Haka. Not long afterwards, a dance instructor gathered up a bunch of people, locals and tourists, and gave them a spontaneous lesson in how to do the basic Charleston step.

It’s an atmosphere like no other – this will be our tenth visit to summer Deco. We originally came for the architecture and the chance to enjoy 1920s-30s themed events, but we kept coming back for the enduring friendships that extend around the year.

But back to my talk. It’s a broad topic, though, particularly for someone who delights in minutiae. I’ve been asked to give lectures on subjects as broad as maritime history, Edwardian fashion, and the fate of the Franklin Expedition (due, so my friends tell me, to the fact I could probably talk underwater if it’s a subject I’ve studied). I’ve worked to keep this talk on point and accessible as an intro to putting together a Deco-style wardrobe, and will firmly clamp down on any inclination to digress into early 1920s bodice fastenings or satin stitches I have known and loved. If you do drop in, please come up and say hallo! I’m also delighted to be co-hosting this event with the Glory Days girls, who know how to put on a very stylish show. You can book tickets online here for Friday 19 at 10.30 am in the marquee.

And if you want to drill down beneath the theatricality and find out what people were really wearing in New Zealand in the Deco era (including how they different from European and American styles) and learn more about fashion history in this fascinating period, my costumier friend Natalie is giving a talk that I highly recommend:

Natalie Robb, Napier Costumier, asks the question – what were we really wearing in
Hawke’s Bay in the 1930s?
FRI 19 FEB 4.00PM
Napier Library, Station Street, Napier.
Hope to see some of you there! NapierDay2SandraIng