Lucas’ threads of history

Posted on 20 September 2019

Finishing touches: Curator Snjez Cosic prepares the stunning Lucas pieces. Picture: Kate Healy
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It may have been nearly 50 years since the Lucas Clothing Company closed its doors, but its legacy has been permanently woven into the fabric of Ballarat life.

Pages of history: An ad from Australian Women’s Weekly, March 1954. Picture: supplied by the Gold Museum

The company was opened in 1888 by widowEleanor Lucas, who sewed to support her fourchildren.

That soon turned into a business with 30 employees in Mrs Lucas’ back shed, which multiplied to 200 by the turn of the century.

More than a workplace: The “Lucas girls” who raised money to build the Avenue of Honour and Arch of Victory.

A new exhibition due to open next week at the Gold Museum is an ode to not only the beautiful, high-quality fashion that came out of the company’s 80-year lifespan, but also the community connections it forged during thattime.

Gold Museum curator Snjez Cosic said the Lucas identity was still strong among past employees.

“The reason Lucas is held in such high regard is the quality of the work, the new production techniques they brought into Australia, and their connection with the community,” she said.

She said MrsLucas’ son, Edward,was known for his international trips, bringing back cutting-edge fabrics and techniquessuch as the durable nylon tricot andpermanent pleating.

Edward also forged connections withFrench couture house PierreCardin andAmerican lingerie firm Vanity Fair, dramatically increasing Lucas’ prestige.

“By the 1930s they’d already established rapport with international fashion houses. They were quite well known for very good quality.”

In 1905, Lucas employed Australia’s first travelling saleswoman, Tilly Thompson, who started a campaign to create the Avenue of Honour and Arch of Victory, with the company and staff, known as “theLucas girls”, raising more than£10,000 forthe project.

Ms Cosic said the Gold Museum owned more than 300 Lucas pieces, mainly from the 1950s.

“We will have a Lucas wedding dress that was worn by Rosalie Price…she’s loaned us the dress,” she said.

“We’ve got a beautiful nylon pink tricot nightgown and bed coats worn in hospital by a woman while givingbirth to her six children.”

The House of Lucas exhibition will run October 28 until next March.

Gold Bar, abehind-the-scenes evening featuring sneak peeks atspecial collections, floor talks, live performances and 19thcentury-inspired canapes and cocktails will be held on November 3.Tickets are $25 via Eventbrite.

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