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Rosalie Gwilliam

Eighteen or more outfits designed and made by Rosalie Gwilliam, spanning more than a decade, have become part of the Eden Hore Collection.

Contact initiated through a mutual friend allowed Hore first to purchase garments made from wool and later to have first option on all of Gwilliam’s output.

Rosalie Gwilliam was through this period a textiles teacher and for some time a dress designer for a manufacturer. She began entering New Zealand Gown of the Year and Wills Award competitions in the early 1960s, gaining a third place in the Gown of the Year, and a fourth in the Wills Award in 1964, the precursor of the Benson and Hedges competition. Her successes in the Benson and Hedges Fashion Awards began in 1970 with a Merit Award in the futuristic design category for a dress called ‘The Puritan – Year 2000’. This dress is not in the Eden Hore Collection, but another from the same year is. Called ‘Aphrodite – Goddess of Love’ and made from cream pure wool crepe, it consists of a long tabard with gold beads and crystal sequins applied to its empire line bodice.

In 1971 she went to the USA to study the sewing of stretch knit fabrics. Most of her gowns in Hore’s collection are made from knitted fabric such as Aqualana (a washable wool fabric) or Qiana (a du Pont nylon fabric) both heavily promoted for high fashion clothing in advertisements during the 1970s. A camel coloured wool jersey trouser suit with flared trousers and a hand embroidered cape featuring New Zealand ferns won Rosalie first prize for needlework at the 1974 Sydney Easter Show.

She also gained a Highly Commended Award in 1974 with an entry in the Benson and Hedges Fashion Awards inspired by butterflies and called ‘Papillon’. This black Aqualana evening dress had a centre front cut out in the shape of a butterfly, which was edged with multi-coloured sequins, and a multi-coloured cape trimmed with sequins formed butterfly wing like sleeves. A helmet completed the illusion.

Applying sequins and beads and piecing fabrics became distinctive characteristics of Rosalie Gwilliam’s designs. From 1975 a spectacular padded cape-sleeved coat made from jewelled and sequinned black lace mounted over gold fabric was designed to cover a brief dance outfit consisting of a bikini top of gold metal cones held in place by chains, gold knickers, and a short black net skirt with fishtail hemline with a yoke of the multi-coloured jewelled and sequinned black lace over gold fabric. A coronet, partly made by a jeweller, completed the outfit, which cost $3500 just for the materials.

Eden Hore also purchased Rosalie Gwilliam’s wedding dress from 1961. In a letter offering it, she described it thus:

of delustered off white satin mounted over Vilene and hand embroidered by me in a traditional Elizabethan scroll design with the centre of each scroll having a simple bead design in it in pearl, crystal, silver or gold. Gown has a train to it. Very simple style with full skirt, pearl coronet and cathedral length 10 [foot] long pure silk tulle veil…with machine embroidered edge. Took 1000 hours to make, how’s that for dedication.

In a very different style, a Hawaiian inspired one-shoulder, one-sleeved dress with red, purple and green flounces on skirt and sleeve, called ‘Tropicana’ was highly commended in the 1978 Benson and Hedges fantasy section. It featured multi-coloured artificial flowers that were perfumed with a tropical floral fragrance.

Several Rosalie Gwilliam evening gowns from 1980 are part of the collection, while one of the youngest outfits is Gwilliam’s 1989 strapless evening dress in cream dupion silk matched with a black velvet jacket, which was entered in the 1989 Benson and Hedges Fashion Awards. The dress has a gathered skirt with shaped hemline, above the knee in front sloping to ground length at the back, and a richly embellished bodice featuring lace, braid, pearls and ribbons. The collarless long sleeved jacket with flaring peplum is also decorated with cream braid, lace and pearls. Gwilliam stopped making entries for fashion competitions in the late 1990s, when her interest in photography left her little time for designing and sewing.

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