Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Fashion history donated to Dior

'Look books' dating back to the 1950s have been sent home to Paris. Photo / Babiche Martens
'Look books' dating back to the 1950s have been sent home to Paris. Photo / Babiche Martens

They were little books that made fashion dreams come true for thousands of Kiwi women. Now, they're going home.

The son of late couture fashion leader Gus Fisher has gifted dozens of catalogue "look books" dating back to the 1950s to one of the world's top fashion houses.

Fisher is credited with bringing Parisian fashion to New Zealand as the head of fashion house El Jay, in Auckland, for more than 30 years.

He was the New Zealand agent for French fashion designer Christian Dior from 1954, until El Jay closed its doors in 1988.

Fisher died in 2010, and since then many items remaining in the building have slowly been removed, his son Michael Fisher said.

The latest to go were 57 look books - 50- to 80-page catalogues with "beautiful, big, black-and-white photos of lovely dresses" and accompanied by sample cuttings of the material used.

He would not say what the books were worth, but could have sold them through high-end auction house Sotheby's or online with eBay.

Instead, he gave them to Christian Dior. "The right thing to do was return it to Paris. They have an archive which is climate-controlled.

Gus Fisher and fellow designer Doris de Pont, with El Jay garments on display.
Gus Fisher and fellow designer Doris de Pont, with El Jay garments on display.

"Designers constantly dip into it because they want to see if they can link between one period and another," he said.

Fashion historian Angela Lassig packed the books for Fisher before they were shipped to Paris a few months ago.

"They were just exquisite. The earlier ones especially had photos of Paris mannequins modelling in Paris, with the Eiffel Tower or statues in the background," she said.

"As the technology changed you can see in the 60s the photos weren't as flash and the swatches were smaller, but the 50s ones were just to die for."

She could not say what the books were worth as she had never seen one for sale, but agreed they would likely fill gaps in Christian Dior's collection.

The repatriation of the books was arranged by Christian Dior's Sydney branch, and a spokeswoman there confirmed it had taken place but would not comment further.

Meanwhile, Fisher said he had plans for the former El Jay site - a three-storey, 720sq m building in Kingston St that has remained unused since 1988.

Although Michael was Fisher's only child, the building was owned by a trust and a collective decision would be made over its future.

He would not say what was planned, but doors would open "in some form" within the next year.

Whatever happened, his father's legacy would be respected by incorporating the building's history into any new use, Fisher said.

"In its day, it was the prettiest little building in town and it could be again."

- Herald on Sunday

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