You could be forgiven for thinking it’s a blonde Shirley Temple who answers the front door of a brick cottage in the Sydney suburb of Kyeemagh. Bold ringlets, a vintage print dress with a delicately scalloped neckline, perfectly coordinated clogs and an adorable smile greet Australian Country. Oh, and the exuberance of youth. I’m waiting for the improvised tap dance. Instead Kelly White motions us into her hallway and my eyeballs start to swivel. The show begins with a wall of vintage plates to the left, a vivid shower of retro skirts to the right and a couple of sociable chooks that keep bobbing in and out of the frame. It is captivating and we’ve only seen a snippet.
Growing up surrounded by treasures, such as her great grandfather’s paintings and her mother’s antique and contemporary quilts, Kelly has continued a collecting tradition. The house itself is brimming with history as it was her father’s childhood home. There is a cluster of Bambi deer on the mantelpiece, and her workroom is a gallery of framed butterflies, ballerina prints, swan paintings, and plenty of French bulldog portraits. “I definitely like realism, animal prints, anything 1950s with a European influence,” she says. “My partner, Trev, works for a European audio company and has to travel once or twice a year so I tag along and pick up a lot of collectables that I’d never find in Australia.”
We venture from her workspace into a room that Kelly mentions was her father’s bedroom when he was a child. The lurid lime shagpile sets the tone for the psychedelic clothing collection stored here. Vintage hats hung sculpturally, silk and organza scarves waft, clutches of belts every hue of the rainbow dangle, and myriad beaded bags dominate wall space and clamber skywards. Immaculately tailored 1950s dresses jostle for attention in a riot of colour. Amazingly each and every dress fits Kelly and her daily selection is via a process of matching the novelty print to the occasion. “The fifties cut is so flattering and novelty prints are so specific and often themed,” she says. “I have a lot of seaside related prints, a unique print of the Swiss Alps that makes me nostalgic after a trip there, and one featuring the Eifel Tower. They’re so much more interesting than what is produced today. People are afraid to take risks nowadays and they don’t think about the longevity of their wardrobe, but back then fashion was all women had.”
This story was originally published in the February 2016 issue of Australian Country. Subscribe to the Australian Country magazine here.
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Words Meryl Hancock
Photography Ken Brass