September 6th, 2012

The Magical Mrs Press.

Growing up in her mother’s boutiques, Clare Press has fashion in her blood. She has a knack for mixing old with new and isn’t afraid to wear an over-the-top ball gown on a daily basis, if she’s in the mood.

After a career in fashion mags Clare made her passion for rare fashion finds into a business. She started Mrs. Press – a vintage fashion boutique and label with homewares and gorgeous beauty products too.

Here she shares her tips for working vintage pieces into our wardrobes, her Downton Abbey style crush and her biggest fashion blunder… at fashion week no less!

Chelsea xx

Who Is Mrs. Press?

Vintage bits & bobs -  Jacqumar scarf, 1940s rhinestone purse, 1960s silver lurex gloves, 1950s pearl collar, 1920s pink ostrich feather collar.

Where did your passion for fashion begin?
My mother. She had boutiques in the UK where I grew up and is fab at sewing. She bought my first vintage dress. In my 20s I worked on fashion magazines. My first job in Sydney was at Oyster.

Is there anyone that inspired you to join the fashion industry?
Stylish cool women like Alex and Gen from Ginger & Smart, Marnie Skillings and Parlour X’s Eva Galambos.

How would you describe your own style?
Erratic, eccentric, amusing and vintage-inspired. I change it every day.

Who’s your celebrity style crush?
Iris Apfel and Lady Mary from Downton Abbey.

What is your favourite trend right now?
British label Erdem’s painterly florals for A/W 12/13, the modern take on slip dressing at Nina Ricci and I love the ballet trend at Dior RTW – I always wanted to be a ballerina!

What are the three pieces you find yourself wearing constantly?
1. Mrs. Press Jean dresses – I’ve got six different colours.
2. A little black jacket from Scanlan & Theodore that works over so many vintage finds.
3. Belstaff biker boots – a great anchor for a silly frock.

“This is a vintage emerald green 1960s showgirl’s dress which I wore to my book launch last year. Mr. Press bought it for me from an antiques shop in Balmain.”

What is the most treasured piece of clothing in your closet?
Too hard! I’m a hoarder; they are all my treasures. I have special affection for a silk-linen dress with appliquéd pineapples and raffia, which we made for a fashion show last year. And I’d cry if I lost my 1920s ostrich feather boas.

What’s in your closet that you’ve never worn before?
Nothing!

Where do you love to shop?
I just bought two beautiful jackets from Ginger & Smart – I love their use of colour and flattering cuts. I’m a fan of Romance Was Born. And I like to rifle through Sydney Antiques Centre and Rozelle Markets.  

What’s been your best vintage find?
A collection of beaded and sequined vintage evening bags from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.

Where is your favourite place to shop for vintage fashions overseas?
Flea markets. The first thing I do when I arrive in a new place is ask where the antiques markets are.

Being A Vintage Designer.

Tell us about the design process that goes into each of your collections.
I always start with a vintage garment that inspires me – it might be the general shape, the colour, the print or a detail such as a pocket. 

Describe a typical week…
Mondays & Tuesdays I write fashion stories and work on my novel, I’m doing the “Writing A Novel” course at the Faber Academy. The rest of the week I design, cut samples, produce collections and work in my Oxford St, Sydney store. We’re actually closing the store soon to move online. Retail is tough and I want my weekends back. I worry about shops. I hope too many don’t disappear. Please support the shops!!

What inspires you?
Fashion books – I collect them. I love to read about colourful characters from fashion’s past, people like Coco Chanel, Isabella Blow, Celia Birtwell, Diana Vreeland, Elsa Schiaparelli. And vintage garments – the way things used to be cut and made, especially Art Deco and 1950s dresses.

The ship hat on top is by Sydney milliner Lil Jen. I wore it to the Melbourne Cup lunch I hosted last year at Etch.

What’s your favourite piece in your current collection?
The printed florals – I developed the print from a 1940s ball gown in my closet. And our silk slips which are great building blocks for your wardrobe.

Where do you source the pieces in your store?
Auctions, vintage fairs and sometimes eBay. I once bought a mink trimmed Edwardian wedding gown on eBay. It’s dangerous on there!

What She Wore.

Vintage 1930s dress, Ginger & Smart jacket, Scanlan & Theodore boots.

Alannah Hill sequined top, vintage 1940s ballgown – “I used this skirt as the inspiration behind our S/S’12 print.”

Vintage 1930s brocade coat, vintage scarf, Mrs. Press silk tee, Mrs. Press sequins pants, Marc Jacobs shoes.

Her Vintage Shopping Tips.

‘The Dressing Table’ by Clare Press, $45. CLICK TO BUY

What are your top five fashion tips?
1. Wear the dress, don’t let it wear you.
2. Be a risk-taker. It’s not life and death; it’s just clothes.
3. Wear colour, jewels, prints, tulle, velvet – preferably all at once.
4. It’s fun to break the rules – but it helps to know them first.
5. Don’t fight getting older because it’s a battle you can’t win. I’m looking forward to being 80. There’s no age limit on beautiful clothes.

Where’s the best place to start for the novice vintage shopper?
Online is great if you know what you’re looking for. If not, start in a store where you can try stuff on. In Sydney, head to Zoo in Surry Hills – I can spend half a day in there – and Coco Repose, which is in the basement at the Antiques Centre on South Dowling St. Shag in Melbourne is brilliant.

What are your tips for vintage shopping successfully?
Be prepared to have things altered. Shortening a hem, removing shoulder pads or chopping off sleeves can transform a garment. Look for natural fabrics; nothing can rescue nasty nylon. Flick through mags and notice what’s happening on the catwalks – then you can hunt for a 1970s print that reminds you of new season Prada.

Mrs. Press ‘Gyspy” skirt.

What’s your favourite piece to buy vintage?
Because they are increasingly rare, and it’s an era I adore, I can’t go past the 1930s, be it a bias-cut evening gown or an opera coat. I’ve got an ankle length 1930s brocade evening coat, and a whole lot of silk velvet dresses (three in electric blue – told you I was a hoarder). I love glamour, getting super-dolled up and pretending to be Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby.

What is one piece of clothing every woman should splurge on?
For some women that means a handbag or shoes, for others a winter coat that will last seasons. For me, it’s a ridiculous ball gown that I don’t need but makes me smile.

What are your top tips for incorporating vintage pieces into a modern wardrobe?
You don’t want to look like you walked off the Mad Men set. The trick is to wear old with new. I once went to a fashion week event dressed in a vintage 1940s dress with fishnet stocking and A HAT WITH A VEIL! I cringe. What was I thinking?! Mix it up please, ladies.

Mrs. Press drawer liners and room sprays.

The LifeStyled List.

Tea or Coffee? Skim latte from Baffi & Mo in Redfern.
Favourite Flower? Tuberose.
Heels or Flats? Charlotte Olympia heels.
Favourite Cocktail? Dirty martini.
Style Icon? Wallis Simpson, Lauren Bacall, Diana Vreeland.
Signature Scent? Chanel No 5.
Favourite City? Rome.
Reading? ‘That Woman’ by Anne Seba and ‘Helena Rubinstein: The Woman Who Invented Beauty’ by Michele Fitoussi. And online, TheHoopla.com.au and the blog Shine By Three.
Listening? Bob Dylan Blonde on Blonde and Django Reinhardt.
Biggest fashion weakness? Impractical frocks.
Beauty must-have? Mason Pearson hair brush – the best for long hair (I can nearly sit on mine!).
Guilty pleasure? Violet creams.
Every woman should own… lacey lingerie, black patent pumps, a pair of jeans that flatter her, a white shirt, a ball gown and a really daft hat.
I will never wear… Ugg boots in public, track pants unless exercising.
I need… more time to create.
I want… a pony.

Photographer: Erin O’Sullivan

Chelsea-Tromans-Signature



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