By the late 1930s, Ballarat-born Thomas Harrison was Melbourne’s best-known milliner. His hats were coveted by women from all over Australia. An influential presence on Melbourne’s millinery scene, Harrison’s handiwork included one-off pieces for the wardrobes of individual clients, discreet ranges made to accompany the collections of local fashion houses and whimsical historical showpieces created for his own in-house displays.
The NGV is lucky enough to have an extensive Thomas Harrison archive, spanning the 1930s to the 1970s. Gifted by the artist in 1976 and 1980, the archive numbers more than 230 examples.
Rowena Clark was the fashion curator at the time and here recalls her first meeting with Harrison:
… I rang Tommy Harrison and asked if the Gallery could purchase a selection of his collection. He left it a week before he rang to invite me to his salon in South Yarra. I had no idea what awaited me when Tommy’s housekeeper opened the door that lead into his exquisitely furnished salon. It was though I had stepped into Aladdin’s cave. On every possible space, chair, table and hat box, perched an example of Tommy’s creation. It was an amazing experience, I could not take it all in until Tommy and I sat down and tea was served…He told me that he had given it some thought and did not want to see the millinery split-up. So he decided to donate the whole of his collection to the Gallery. It was a great surprise – I was shocked and it took me a few minutes to realise what he had told me. I was elated on my return to the Gallery that afternoon.
(Notes from Rowena Clark, July 2006)
Image: Kate Longley and Zoe Allnutt from Wardrobe V Pantry couldn’t decide if they liked fashion or food more so they just stuck ‘em together.