Ragtrader founder Fraser McEwing remembers the late Norma Tullo.
Norma Tullo, who died last week aged 83, was one of Australia’s fashion royal family – certainly of the post-war era anyway.
Along with Prue Acton she dominated the fashion scene of the 1960s.
At that time styling was nearly all copied from overseas, but Tullo was an originator. Her designs won her a record seven Wool Board Awards (a big deal back then), a Lyrebird Award (made by the Fashion Industries of Australia trade organisation) and a prestigious David Jones Award.
Unlike most of her peers, Tullo was recognised overseas and managed to build up an export business that ran for nearly 20 years, especially in Japan. She was also contracted by Butterick Patterns to design four styles for what was categorised in the US as the ‘junior’ market.
Although Norma Tullo was a famous name in Australia and was awarded an MBE in 1972, she became a recluse. She seldom made public appearances or gave interviews, preferring to work in her studio – where she once employed nearly 50 people.
Tullo closed her business in 1977 citing a lack of Australian made fabric choices, but it was more likely that, like most local designers, she had lost relevance. Her label lived on under licence for a few years and she had a brief flirtation with retailer, Fletcher Jones which was destined to be a misfit.
Collectors of bygone Australian fashion garments prize finding a Norma Tullo. In many observers’ opinions, including mine, she was the best.