Following Mrs Allen’s dismissal, the Wool Board committee focused on two main promotional activities – a competition for amateur knitters and a tour of ‘mannequins in miniature.’[i] The latter was developed by the IWS and launched at New Zealand House in London. The display comprised three London-themed sets populated by miniature mannequins dressed in ‘faithful facsimiles of full-sized models. [ii] The aim of the display was ‘to show New Zealand the sort of textile materials made from its wools and also the British fashions that may interest its women'. [iii]
The mannequins in the showcase titled ‘Wool walks abroad in St James Park’, were dressed in daytime ensembles made in a variety of British wool fabrics, including ‘gay’ prints. In two different scenes from a flat over-looking Piccadilly Circus, a group of women in afternoon dress could be seen chatting over a cigarette, while a hostess, dressed in a fine black wool evening dress with beaded dolman sleeves greeted her equally elegantly attired guests. Due to post-war fabric shortages, miniature garments and mannequins provided an ideal promotional solution. [iv]
The display was described not only as a charming exponent of feminine fashion, but as a demonstration of ‘the primary importance of the wool industry in relation to fabric manufacture and design.’[v] It was inspired by the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne’s ‘Theatre de la Mode’, an exhibition of 200 wire figurines (700mm in height) dressed by France’s leading designers.[vi] The display, which was launched at the Louvre on 28 March 1945 with the aim of raising money for war survivors and reigniting Paris’ couture industry, toured Europe and the United States. As the organisers stated, the IWS’s display was ‘deliberately more prosaic than the enchanting French display’, but still had ‘hints of the playful’.[vii]
By 1947, the New Zealand Wool Board were able to source full-size, rather than miniature, couture garments. Britain and France’s couture houses were back in business. In April 1947 the Board wrote to Reginald ‘Reg’ Lund, New Zealand’s representative at the IWS in London, requesting ‘one or two model frocks of the very latest material, and some lingerie suitable for display purposes’.[viii] As the year went on, the Board also received offers of British garments from both the Australian and South African wool boards.[ix]
These were the garments hanging in the Wool Board’s wardrobe when Mary Annette arrived for her first day of work in March 1948. As she admired them, Mary Annette’s employers were quick to point out that New Zealand could not, of course, produce anything as fine.[x] Mary Annette understood this, but also knew that she could successfully use these garments to ‘educate, promote and elevate wool as the greatest of fibres’.[xi]
On 9 July 1948, Mary Annette presented her first major promotional event featuring the IWS garments at the Plunket Society Ball in Wellington. In theme, the production picked up where Ina Allen’s Centennial parades left off. Entitled ‘Wool After Dark’ the event was aimed at persuading New Zealanders ‘that wool comes into its own just as much after dark as during the day and is perfect for evening wear’.[xii] In her style of presentation, however, Mary Annette signaled a new direction. Rather than presenting a standard mannequin parade, Mary Annette created a ‘ballet in wool’ resulting in each model taking up a position on a white disc and pivoting, ‘to give the audience a perfect view of their lovely frocks’, including models by Peter Russell, Norman Hartnell, Victor Stiebel and Angele Delanghe, all of whom were members of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers.
For Mary Annette ‘Wool After Dark’ was just the beginning. She understood that the Wool Board needed to justify the levy they had placed on wool growers to be part of the IWS, and that she had to be more than a ‘fashion promoter’ [xiii] In order to achieve the Board’s aims, she needed a promotional strategy that reached an audience beyond the fashion hungry. These aspirations were clearly set out in the Wool Board’s annual report of 1947-48.
‘Promotion of the use of wool in New Zealand though yet in its infancy has its roots firmly planted in fertile soil for a campaign for the future to reach out to everyman, woman and child in New Zealand to make all essentially wool minded’ [xiv]
To this end, Mary Annette began to script theatrical productions in which the IWS’s garments, rather than simply being examples of couture fashions, were presented as part of a larger story about wool and its properties. Instead of models, she recruited attractive young women trained in dance, theatre and mime.
For her scripts, Mary Annette drew upon the IWS’s promotional material including educational booklets on the history of wool, scientific reports, lectures and promotional campaigns. Matching ideas to specific garments, she began to inter-weave information into a captivating story that would take the audience on a journey. In 1949 she presented ‘Wool the Versatile’ in Hastings and Wellington, in which ‘the wool fashion story’ took the place of the mannequin parade’. [xv] She followed this with the ‘The Romance of Wool’ at department stores in Wellington and Invercargill. To emphasise ‘the important part wool played in the history of our Empire’, Mary Annette presented historical costumes and contemporary garments within a story that ‘related the virtues of wool, its dying qualities, its resistance to flame, and explained all the reasons why it still reigns supreme as the Queen of Textiles’. [xvi]
[vi] David D’arcy, ‘Collections : Now . . .and Then : The 1940s: A traveling exhibit of miniature mannequins shows off styles of postwar Paris’, LA Times, December 14, 1990. (Accessed 1 March 2017)
[xii] New Zealand Wool Board Promotion 1945/46 – 1956/57 (Extracts from the New Zealand Wool Board Annual Reports). Alexander Turnbull Library, MS 2004-185-5/02.
[xiii] Interview with Mary Annette Hay by Tony Mackle, 1991. MS 54/1991/1a. Te Papa MU000100/2/50.
[xiv] New Zealand Wool Board Annual Report and Accounts, 1947-48, p. 9. Alexander Turnbull Library, MS 2004-185-5/02
[xv] New Zealand Wool Board Annual Report and Accounts, 1949-50, p. 16. Alexander Turnbull Library, MS 2004-185-5/02
[xvi] New Zealand Wool Board Promotion 1945/46 – 1956/57 (Extracts from the New Zealand Wool Board Annual Reports). Alexander Turnbull Library, MS 2004-185-5/02.