Not ‘just’ a book launch

By Shine Dighe

I walked into the Reader’s Feast Bookstore on Collins St prepared to cover a book launch.
I did a double take as I approached the function area… did I miss the note on the dress code for the evening? The ladies in their beautiful dresses accessorised with pearls, hats and gloves and men in their stylish suits and shiny shoes, surely this was not just a book launch.
The special event was the book launch of Annette Cooper’s Remembering Georges. The book captures the heritage and history of Georges, Melbourne’s most fashionable department store that traded for 115 years before it closed doors in 1995. The book is rich with images from Georges, examples of its marketing material and wonderful anecdotes from former employees, clients and customers.
Conversations were punctuated with nostalgia as champagne flowed freely and sandwiches were passed around. Former employees greeted each other with excitement as they exclaimed, “I am in the book.”
“It did have a very calm and elegant feel about it,” Ms Cooper said. “It wasn’t cluttered or noisy like some other department stores and maybe that made people feel a little bit uncomfortable.”
Mary Dalmau, the owner of Reader’s Feast shared: “I have my own memories of my mother and grandmother ‘window-shopping’ in the glove department of Georges, never imagining we would locate our bookstore in this lovely building.”
Calling himself the Collins St Kid, Michael Shmith recalled the times when the top end was “unsullied by the ridiculous sobriquet ‘the Paris end’ to which Barry Humphries cheerfully added ‘the Melbourne end of Perth’.”
Former Georges accessories buyer Christine Barro remembered that the store had flown her, age 22, to Italy to buy Fendi and Prada handbags.
“When I wanted to bring in Fendi, the buying office in Italy didn’t know who they were,” she said. “I remember the first time I talked with a journalist about Prada, they had no idea what all this nylon stuff was about.”
Another staff member reminisced how she missed Audrey Hepburn by minutes when she took a “never-before and never-after” long lunch break. Legendary stories such as a red carpet being rolled out for the late society queen Sheila Scotter, and camaraderie among staff were shared.

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