In 1951 Mary Annette travelled to Britain and Europe. Although she had taken leave without pay, and was essentially on holiday, she utilised the trip to strengthen her relationship with the IWS and its partners. With introductions from Reg Lund, she sat in on a meetings at retailers, including Harrods, attended press showings and was invited to address members of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers. Impressed by her description of her work in New Zealand, they in-turn offered to provide whatever she wanted for her shows. Frederick Starke and Michael Donellan from Lachasse also kindly offered the young promoter outfits for her own wardrobe at a price they knew she could afford.
In Paris, Mary Annette attended fashion shows throughout the city, and met with several designers, including Schiaparelli and her hero, Pierre Balmain. On visiting Balmain’s office ‘one warm spring afternoon’, Mary-Annette was thrilled to see a framed photograph of herself proudly wearing his pink evening gown pinned to his wall.
Mary Annette channeled information from her trip into her next production ‘The Inspiration of Trade’, which was presented at the Retailers Federation Conference at the Chateau Tongariro. The production was designed to instruct sales people ‘in the selling points of wool and to invest the subject with a fascination through a knowledge of the background of wool' [i] It was subsequently redeveloped for the wider public as ‘The Inspiration of Wool’.
Through her narration, Mary Annette transported her audience from New Zealand to the streets of London and Paris, the ‘gayest city on the world’. She described meeting Peter Russell dressed in sturdy tweeds, with a red carnation in his buttonhole who dreamed of coming to ‘our little Island’, and the excitement of walking along the Champs-elysses clutching an invitation to a fashion show by Robert Piguet, and Balmain’s ‘unconsciously artistic’ office. Throughout the show she skilfully connected her audience not only to the great designers, but also the people behind the scenes as she had visited mills and IWS research facilities as well as designers.
‘I remember in Yorkshire all the mill owners I met and the simple folk who work the machine – how thrilled they would be to see their materials in such a setting. Also those great designers in London and Paris – how fascinated they would be if only they could be here to view their works in wool in this great wool producing country of New Zealand’ [ii]
As well as providing ‘insider’ content for her scripts, Mary Annette’s new personal connections helped her acquire additional garments. Her greatest triumph, both professionally and personally, was persuading colleagues in Italy to send her a wedding gown by Carosa of Rome. The gown had featured in the IWS’s ‘International Fashions in Wool’ event held in London in 1952.
The Italians had made a dramatic impact on the fashion world the year before, when Giovanni Battista Giorgini, a buying agent who had his eye on the ‘comparatively wealthy’ American market [iii] enticed a small but important group of American buyers to travel onto Florence after the Paris haute couture shows. He treated them to a presentation of 180 garments by 10 Italian designers. The American buyers were excited by what they saw, and the event marked the beginning of Italy’s rise as a dominant force in fashion. The House of Carosa, which was founded by Princess Giovanna Caracciolo Ginetti di Avellino in 1947, was amongst the companies shown.
The Carosa wedding dress had made an impact on Bernard ‘Bunny’ Woodhams, the general manager of H & J Court’s department store in Hamilton, when he attended the ‘International Fashions in Wool’ show in London. He sent Mary Annette his annotated programme, with his recommendations circled. The London IWS office declined her request for the Carosa gown, stating that it would simply be too expensive to procure it for New Zealand. Refusing to take no for an answer, she contacted a colleague at the Italian office of the IWS whom she had met the year before. After some negotiations, he eventually wrote with the news that the gown would indeed come to New Zealand at an affordable price following its all-important US tour. Once it was received, he wrote, it would be the New Zealand Wool Board’s ‘forever’ [iv]
The Carosa gown became not only the star of a number of Mary Annette’s productions and window displays, but also of her own wedding. In December 1953 Mary Annette wed Donald Hay at St Paul’s in Wellington. The Wool Board permitted her to borrow the Carosa wedding gown, an act of generosity that Mary-Annette was able to parlay into publicity for the Wool Board. The media were so keen to know what she was going to wear, that she had to warn her fiancé not to look at the papers. She slipped into another Wool Board garment, a soft pink tailored suit by Hardy Amies with a scalloped peplum, for her ‘going-away’, living proof that wool could be cool for summer.
[i] Mary Annette Hay, Script for ‘The Miracle of Wool’, 1951. Mary Annette Hay Archive. CA000915/001/0007. Te Papa
[iii] Miracle of Wool programme. Mary Annette Hay Archive. CA000911/001/0010/000 Te Papa
[iv] Mary Annette Hay, Script for ‘Inspiration of Wool’, Mary Annette Hay Archive, CA000915/001/0002. Te Papa