Ninette Gowns

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224 Queen Street, 114 Queen Street

Flora MacKenzie began her working life as a nurse and ended it as Auckland’s most notorious brothel owner. In between, she spent three decades as a very successful fashion designer.

Flora was born in Auckland in 1902 - the daughter of Sir Hugh Ross MacKenzie, a farmer and horse stud owner in Mangere and chairman of the Auckland Harbour Board. After finishing secondary school, she began training as a nurse, but abandoned that and moved to Sydney, where she discovered a flair for dressmaking.

On her return to New Zealand, she opened Ninette Costumier with Mrs N Austin. The salon was located in rented rooms in the Hallensteins Building at 224 Queen Street.

By 1927, Flora was the sole owner of the business, now called Ninette Gowns, and in 1937 she moved her salon to the top floor of the Vulcan Buildings. The new address on the southern corner of Queen Street and Vulcan Lane had an expansive workroom with large windows. The fitting room featured mirrors, alabaster lamps, furniture embossed with mother-of-pearl, and black velvet curtains that Flora embroidered with gold dragons.

Ninette Gowns attracted a prosperous clientele from Auckland and beyond. Flora insisted on high-quality fabric which she bought from agents, and in lengths – the small amounts kept her garments exclusive. Many of her garments were hand-embroidered and it was as an embroidery apprentice at Ninette Gowns that designer Bruce Papas started his illustrious career directly out of school at the age of 15.

Read more at www.nzfashionmuseum.org.nz/flora-mackenzie-ninette-gowns/

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