Written by Nick, Hunter Gatherer store volunteer
This story ends in 2021 at the Brotherhood of St Laurence Hunter Gatherer charity vintage store in Pakington Street Geelong West, with a late 60s early 70s minidress.
The story begins in 1944 at the Budapest railway station where 32 year old Gyula Heitler, with thousands of others, was loaded into wagons destined for Auschwitz. At the station Gyula met a friend who had hidden with him carpenters tools, the two men planned to chose a wagon with a wooden floor where the tools would enable them to escape.
Gyula escaped and by 1947 had reached Australia where he worked for his sponsor at Olympia Fashions, a dress shop in Sydney. At this time, Gyula changed his name to John J Hilton, which is the trading name on the tag of the minidress that bears the famous slogan, ‘It’s a honey it’s a Hilton’.
John J Hilton became one of Australia’s leading fashion houses represented in Paris, New York and London. At its peak 300,000 garments were made annually and exported around the world. Hilton pioneered export to Japan. The company was the recipient of many fashion awards and offered women in their mid-twenties elegant and durable dresses.
Such is the dress in Hunter Gatherer, Geelong West; it is a synthetic jersey with a bold geometric pattern. With a simple crew neck, long sleeves and the original hem intact, the dress would sit perfectly as an above the knee mini on a woman of average height. It could be worn with tights and boots to replicate a mod 60s look.
Vintage is not simply old, vintage is a tangible connection to other times and knitted into the fabric of this dress is a story of survival and success. Maybe this dress will also connect its new wearer to an Australia that offered opportunities for everyone in a world very different to our own.
John J Hilton was a philanthropist who, during his life, gave to his community; so in a way, your purchasing this dress from Hunter Gatherer continues to give because your purchase will contribute to the ability of the Brotherhood to give to our community today.
So, after all, this story doesn’t really end at Hunter Gatherer, Geelong West. It ends with you.