Tribute to Norma Tullo, Australian fashion designer

Catherine Alekna is a blogger who loves all things 1960s.  Her tribute to Norma Tullo, Australian fashion designer of the same era, is a fascinating read.  We re-blog it here, with Catherine's permission.

I had bought 2 sewing patterns last week by designer Norma Tullo. I wanted to find out a little bit more about this woman who released a significant number of patterns with Butterick in the 60s and 70s, but strangely there was not a main source of info about her. So I decided to sit myself down and read through The Trove resources from the National Library of Australia and bring you some more info about such an important Australian fashion designer.

Norma Tullo (born 1936) began her career in fashion design as a young woman working in a solicitors office in 1956. She designed and made for herself and friends slacks and dresses, eventually making enough of a name that she was able to open her own studio on Londsdale Street in Melbourne in the 60s.

The autumn teen scene in wool. (1962, March 7). The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982), p. 42 Supplement: Teenagers' Weekly WAIST-SKIMMING dress in red wool. The sleeves have removable white cuffs. Pleats give a godet effect to the skirt. The dress is available in 10 high-fashion colors. Dress by Norma Tullo, Melbourne. Approximate retail price £11/18/6.- TAILORED straight-line pinafore. A pique blouse lends sparkle to the out-fit. Ensemble by Norma Tullo, Melbourne. Approximate retail price of pinafore £8/10/-, of blouse £4/10/ - 1962

In 1965 she was approached by Butterick Patterns to produce 4 patterns in their Young Designers range along the likes of Mary Quant and Jean Muir. Butterick had chosen Tullo as they recognised that her style had “the American look” and would be successful in the US.

In 1965 she won a record 7 Wool board awards (wool being a major Australian export, awards from the Wool board were a major triumph) and also won the Australian Lyrebird award and the David Jones Fashion award – both prestigious awards at the time.

  1. Trend-setting fashions in NEW WOOLS. (1964, March 4). The AustralianWomen's Weekly (1933 - 1982) p.34
  2. Trend-setting fashions in NEW WOOLS. (1964, March 4). The AustralianWomen's Weekly (1933 - 1982) p.34
  3. AUSTRALIAN WOOL FASHION AWARDS, 1965. (1965, March 24). The AustralianWomen's Weekly (1933 - 1982), p. 20
  4. DESIGNS THAT WON WOOL FASHION AWARDS, 1967. (1967, March 1). The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982), p. 24
  5. WOOL AWARDS, 1968. (1968, March 6). The Australian Women's Weekly (1933- 1982), p. 18
  6. Advertising. (1966, September 14). The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 -1982), p. 56

In 1966 her hard work was again rewarded with a new contract with Japanese department store Isetan.co. The project involved 15,000 garments to be sold in the first year worth around $700,000. The partnership would continue for many years and Norma’s’ designs were popular in Japan up until the early 80s

Norma Tullo preview August 1966 for Japanese department store Isetan

She traveled abroad to Europe often to gain inspiration would pick up on ideas and trends just making themselves popular in Europe and bring them home for her Australian customers. She noticed things like trapeze dresses and decided that these would be popular – lucky she noticed as they did become a major trend in 1967.

FLIMSY and FIGURED. (1968, September 11). The Australian Women's Weekly(1933 - 1982), p. 116 Supplement: MARCHIONESS FABRIC Flimsy tent dress in stripe and plain voile has short raglan sleeves,contrast peter pan collar and bow. Butterick Young Designer Norma Tullo 4681, sizes 8, 10, 12, 14, 16. Price 75c includes postage - 1968

 

[No heading]. (1968, September 11). The Australian Women's Weekly (1933- 1982), p. 112 Supplement: MARCHIONESS FABRIC Cool and pretty dress (centre) with deep front inverted pleat and button trim and long bell-shaped sleeves.In surah fabric. Butterick Young Designer Norma Tullo 4685, sizes 8, 10,12, 14, 16. Price 75c - 1968

Slim, one-piece dress with bias collar and contrast bow, button trim. Sizes 70,72, 74, 76, 78 for 37, 32, 34, 36, 38in. bust. 4578 Butterick Young Designer (Norma Tullo) Pattern, price 75c inc. postage

 

SMASH SHAPES ON THE GO. (1968, September 11). The Australian Women'sWeekly (1933 - 1982), p. 110 Supplement: MARCHIONESS FABRIC Slim one-piece dress (center back) in bouclaine-surah with flapped pockets and contrast cuffs and bow. Butterick Young Designer Norma Tullo 4518, sizes 10, 12, 14, 16, 18. Price 75c includes postage - 1968

 

ZINGY LOOK FOR SPECIAL PLACES. (1968, September 11).The AustralianWomen's Weekly (1933 - 1982), p. 115 Supplement: MARCHIONESS FABRIC White is accented with black in this young style (second left) with pintucked front, self-ruffle and button trim, shirred front skirt, long sleeves. The fabric is voile. Butterick Young Designer Norma Tullo 4519 - 1968

In 1969 she was invited by Australian Vogue magazine with other prominent designers such as Prue Acton and Trent Nathan to design garments for the world renowned super model Veruschka. Norma designed for her a Chiffon tiger print flared cat suit which was available to buy for $224 – one month’s wages.

Her designs at the height of her popularity were sold in Australia, the US, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand and in 1972 she was made an MBE.

Norma enjoyed working with young people in her office and would often give jobs to people straight out of school. Employing 46 staff at her studio – she was not afraid to ask her staff for ideas and created a fun a relaxing place to work. The studio designed their own fabric focusing on a young, colourful and feminine look. Norma worked very hard to ensure her collections were to her high standard, even working while in hospital to have her first child.

She was married to Brian King – a successful businessman in his own right and they had a son Christopher born in 1965. They both enjoyed skiing as a hobby and owned a lodge in Victoria’s Falls creek ski town.

  1. For the EASTER RACE MEETINGS. (1968, April 3). The Australian Women'sWeekly (1933 - 1982), p. 96 Supplement: Weekly Fashion News
  2. The Australian Women's Weekly Fashion News. (1969, August 6). The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982), p. 39 Supplement: The Australian Women's Weekly Fashion News
  3. Source
  4. PARTY-TIME SCENE-STEALERS. (1969, August 20). The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982), p. 54 Supplement: The Australian Women's Weekly Fashion News

Viyella autumn fashion forecast. (1969, March 19). The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982), p. 61 Supplement: Viyella autumn fashion forecast High-waisted Aline evening dress, centre,with soft front and back simulated pleats, has short sleeves, a low scooped neckline, and fastens at back with a 20 in. mini weight Lightning nylon zipper. Attached ribbon belt and bow. Sizes 8, 10,12, 14 for 31 i, 32i, 34,36 in. bust. Butterick Young Designer Pattern 4924 by Norma Tullo, price 90c includes postage - 1969

 

 

LIFE STYLE PEOPLE Tied-up for winter. (1972, April 19). The CanberraTimes (ACT : 1926 - 1995), p. 19 Norma Tullo moves up to a new look of sophistication with her witty scarf suits for autumn/winter. Left, swinging pleats for a shirt-jacketed suit in a choice of red, purple, white, gold or black with toning striped lie ($74). Right, multi-stripes in tones of red/green, red/purple or camel/brown for a slim suit with kick-pleated skirt - 1972

 

By 1977 Tullo decided to close her business stating that there was no hope for the Australian Fashion industry and that the textile mills could no longer supply her with the quality fabric that she needed. Tullo did not want to have to buy imported fabric and endure the problems that came with it such as industrial strikes and other issues. However she did continue her collection in Japan for Isetan as it was under license.

But by 1980 Tullo was back, working with retail brand Fletcher Jones, in charge of women's wear but ended her collaboration with them by 1982.

 

Sportsgirl, a women’s fashion chain also stocked her designs in the 80s as well that of other popular designers. Unfortunately from that point I was not able to find much more about Norma and what she may be doing today. Not many articles tend to mention her much so perhaps she has simply gone into retirement – one hopes!

Tullo was not alone in her popularity. Other Aussie designers such as Prue Acton, Kenneth Pirrie and Mark Shaw were also quite prominent and their garments are still treasured by Aussie fashion collectors. 

Do you happen to own any Norma Tullo? Or perhaps you may even remember her when she was at her peak? Circa Vintage has a few of her garments on sale here that you can buy

I cant wait for my two patterns to arrive and to get started with them. Kinda feels like I'm bringing them home!

Blog by Catherine Alekna