L'Uccello Haberdashery, Melbourne

30 October 2014

L'Uccello Haberdashery in Melbourne
I'll start this post with a notice: I had a piece published in a recent Mollie Makes (Issue 45) all about Melbourne's Rose Street Artists' Market. It's Fitzroy's answer to Brick Lane's artsy, craftsy markets. If you fancy reading the article, it's HERE. With some smashing accompanying pictures by the gentlemanly and marvellous Corey Sleap.

So having read the article you've obviously decided to visit Melbourne. Once here I'd also also urge you to hop on a tram and visit what is one of my favourite crafty establishments of repute and elegance: l'Uccello Haberdashery.

Remember the blogpost about the Nicholas Building and its role as Melbourne's hub of textiley wonder? L'Uccello is in there. Imagine Liberty and V.V. Rouleaux had a love child who - once all grown up -  then eloped to Melbourne with an 19th-century French haberdasher and had yet another child.

Ribbons and trimmings aplenty.
That would be the anthropomorphic manifestation of l'Uccello. It's an emporium of delight, discovery and wonder with vintage haberdashery, Sophie Digard's crochet pieces and knitwear, Valdani embroidery threads as well as delicious ribbons and trims... all for sale to the discerning. A day and an age ago, the owner, Kim Hurley very kindly took a few minutes to have a chat with me. Now, my original plan had been to quiz Kim about her background - window dresser, moisaicist (more Sicilian school than Ravenna or Venice in case you're wondering) - and her transformation into an elite haberdasher who roams about Europe sourcing fabulous stuff from a select group of textile artists, craftsmen and antiquarians.

The creative possibilities that l'Uccello affords is somewhat spectacular.
Jolly good thing I did my research before I went along for the chat as someone has already written a piece on the intermeweb with the pertinent points here. And it would have been tedious for Kim to repeat all that information which is already out there.

Luckily I spotted that Kim has a passion for passementerie. Particularly metallic lace passementerie

"Passe... what?" I hear you cry.

Passementerie. You know, all the elaborate bells and whistles that used to festoon clothes in the days before the rise of polyester and the velour tracksuit? You know, fringes, galloons, gimps, rosettes, tassels and the Mighty Pompom? If you want a 19th-century interpretation, here 'tis. Today, passementerie is generally associated with furniture upholstery but Kim collects lovely pieces of brocade and embellishments made of gold and silver thread that were intended to adorn clothing. Imagine lacework but with silver, or tassels of gold. Then attach it to your clothes - or in the case of Catholic clerics, your vestments - rather than your chaise longue.

A few examples of antique metallic passementerie in Kim's collection.
Much of Kim's collection was in storage at the time of our chat but, with sparkling eyes, she went and found a basket of various delights including some metallic passementerie, vintage fringing and embellishments.

Basket of textiley delights and wonder!
In a word... OOOOOOOHHHH.

Some bobbins with the metallic thread that was used for lace-making or the construction of weightier tassels and trims.
There is so much that is wonderful about such a treasure trove of textiley delights. It gives a searing insight into the collector's taste - defined by personal experience, knowledge and style - as well as sends the imagination soaring with all the creative potential and permutations such a a collection holds. Finally, it probably comes as no shock to regular readers that I find the historical weight of these pieces utterly fascinating.

This two-tone silk moire is the sort of striking creative fodder that would set the heart of any miliner racing.
The incredible skill, experience and talents of the craftsmen and women behind each galloon and tassel is not to be underestimated. Never mind the cost of the precious metals themselves that were the basic materials for the passementerie, but think of the years of training, the practice and the hours necessary to create these complex and beautiful objects. For those who could afford to decorate their clothes with such exquisite and luxurious details, such an act defined in great beauty and theatricality not only their role in society but their place as an economic and ultimately creative prop.

A few more examples of metallic trims. In this instance some lovely patina'd tassel that is yet to find a home adorning a frock or suit.
For example, have a look at this woven silk ribbon with the floral motif that Kim had in her basket of textiley treats:

Silk jacquard ribbon and an original jacquard design from 19th-century Lyon
You see the graph paper with the flower picked out in tiny squares just underneath the woven silk? Although not the design for the ribbon in question this working sketch is from mid 19th-century Lyon and was one step in the creative and manufacturing process that resulted in textiles like the floral ribbon we can see. These two pieces in a basket in 21st-century Melbourne give us a glimpse of the complex silk-weaving industry for which Lyon was famed in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. For a taste of the rich history, there's a V&A article about one of the main silk designers of the 18th-century, Jean Revel. It's pretty amazing stuff.* That sketch you can see above though is also a small part of the history of computing. If you've heard of Jacquard silk and its punch-card patterned weaving technique that revolutionised Lyon's silk design and production, then you're also aware of an early and important step towards computer programming as we know it today.

This was one of my favourite trims; a ruffly, ombre number that would look exquisite on some sort of evening dress affair.
And all this innovation and beauty because a few people - well actually, an awful lot of people. Enough to support entire industries, markets and the economic backbone of cities, nations and empires - wanted to dress up in silk frocks and shirts. I don't think a preponderance of hessian sacks for millennia would have had quite such a profound impact on culture and society as we know it.

From the macro to the micro, you can still find echoes of the makers and wearers behind these tiny objects. The patina that develops on the metallic passementerie is not only from oxidation but the organic build up of generations of fingers that have made and handled the embellishments. It would be incredible to find out their individual stories, but the strangely compelling beauty of the patina's supposed imperfection - the dulling of the gold or silver - is often all that remains

Art deco style metallic trims.
If you're interested in contemporary passementerie have a look at Jessica Light in Bethnal Green, London. Here you have a hint of the variety and panache a centuries' old craft can have today. It's exquisite, playful and luxurious, the latter mainly due to its handmade quality. More of this, please, and less of the velour tracksuits methinks.

Silk passementerie embellishments
For those of us in Melbers though, we are rather fortunate to have the wonderful trove of embellishment and - I quote - "fancy goods" that is l'Uccello just on our doorstep. Enjoy!

*Oh, to have the time and access to the libraries and archives to read up on it all! But I will have to save that for another stage of life...

With thanks to Kim Hurley for taking the time to show me such an exquisite selection of haberdashery. It's always a privilege and pleasure to listen to someone who has such a passion and profound knowledge of their field. Aren't we lucky it's such a beautiful field that Kim is blessed to work in?

(Images: Zoë F. Willis)