The Cult of Youth - Prue Acton and the 1960s


Prue Acton is a name not generally known to the younger generation these days, but she was one of the first designers to cater to a new youth market in the 1960s and the first Australian designer to break into the international market.

(i) Prue Acton in Germany, 1970

Black Wool Mini Dress, 1967 - Museums Victoria collection

Until the mid '60s, the fashion industry was aimed at the mature woman. Models were also often more mature women and young women and teens weren't a market that was catered for. This began to change in the 1960s with a huge swing in the industry towards a youth market. This was the time of Beatlemania, Mary Quant, Biba, Carnaby Street and Twiggy. Prue Acton dived straight into this new movement, producing fun, bright designs that young girls and women loved to wear.

Wool mini dress, 1968. Museums Victoria Collection

Matching coat, 1968. Museums Victoria collection

The coat in action, photo courtesy Museums Victoria

Prue Acton describes herself as "an artist who chooses to work in the field of fashion" (1) The artist Prue is evident in the bright colors and bold prints she used. She completed a Diploma of Art (Majoring in Textiles) in 1962 and set up her own fashion business in 1963. I remember hearing a story about how she got her break in the American market. As a 19 or 20 year old girl, she took herself and her portfolio to New York, where no-one would see her. Not to be deterred, she pursued the fashion buyers of the big department stores, and after being refused an interview, she simply jumped into the back of a taxi with one of the big wigs and showed him her portfolio. The rest is history (and I hope this story is true!)

Blue Hot Pants, 1969. Museums Victoria collection

In the late '60s Acton launched her line of cosmetics and perfumes, and Prue Acton accessories, underwear and shoes helped to create the Prue Acton "Total Look".

Sandals, 1971. National Gallery of Victoria

Described by the press as "Australia's Mary Quant" (2), Acton and her team regularly travelled to Europe to be up with the latest styles by Quant, Courreges and other Mod designers. Acton's signature looks included A-line shift dresses, hipster skirts, culottes, mini coats, Peter Pan collars, pretty prints, bold colors and "connotations of cute, modern, school/business girl sexuality". (3) 

Jumpsuit, 1969. Museums Victoria collection

Bikini, 1970. Museums Victoria collection

Acton has been described as part of a "new wave of designers", who  "established herself as Australia's leading celebrity designer, in the process converting her young girls' fashion label into a national and international brand enterprise with an annual turnover of around $6 million." (4)

(ii) Late 1960s, wearing her trademark flower logo

Her designs from her heyday - 1964-1972, are highly collectible. Acton closed her business in the early 1990s. Museums Victoria has a comprehensive collection of her works. Occasionally, I am lucky enough to find one of her pieces.

White maxi dress, 1970s. Louisa Amelia Jane - SOLD

Quilted Mini Dress, 1970s. Louisa Amelia Jane - SOLD

Striped Jumper, 1970s - Available at Louisa Amelia Jane

Acton's designs through the 1970s and 1980s became increasingly "more sophisticated and exclusive" (5).

Outback Deserts, handpainted dress, 1975. Museums Victoria collection

Evening dress, 1988. Museums Victoria collection

Here's Prue talking about her designs and fashion in the '60s:

Prue Acton has won numerous fashion awards, including five Australian Wool Board Awards, three David Jones Awards for Fashion Excellence, four Fashion Industry of Australia Lyrebird Awards, and has been awarded an OBE. She now describes herself as "practising as a professional artist and colorist". (6)

 References:

(1) Milesago: Australasian Music and Popular Culture 1964-1975 http://www.milesago.com/People/acton-prue.htm Accessed 29 August 2020

(2) The Touch of Youth, The Sun, 8th January, 1964, quoted by Denise Whitehouse

(3) Whitehouse, Denise: Prue Acton: Youth Fashion and the Emergence of the Celebrity Designer Brand, 1964-1972, DHARN (Design History Australia Research Network), http://dharn.org.au/prue-acton-youth-fashion-and-the-emergence-of-the-celebrity-designer-brand-1964-1972/ Accessed 29 August 2020

(4) Ibid

(5) Reason, Michael: Prue Acton, Fashion Designer (1943-) in Museums Victoria Collections, https://collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/articles/2377 Accessed 29 August 2020

(6) Quoted in Reason, Michael, Op Cit

Photo Credits

(i) Press photograph, Prue Acton Archives, FBTRC (Frances Burke Textile Resource Centre), RMIT

(ii) Photographer unknown,  Prue Acton Archives, FBTRC (Frances Burke Textile Resource Centre), RMIT

 


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