Once in a while, it’s good to take a trip down the proverbial rabbit hole. Do something you don’t know much about, go somewhere you’ve been randomly invited to (by a non-crazy person) and see what happens. Ruby Assembly were recently invited to visit Lady Phillips, a diffusion range from the house of Phillips Shirts. We met with the driving force behind Lady Phillips, Emma Clarke (looking suitably Phyrne Fisher fabulous, above on the workfloor of Phillips Shirts) and were taken on a  magical trip back in time to a Melbourne (and a trade) that time has seemingly forgotten.

Hidden in the heart of the bustling, efficient CBD is an elegant brick building with a small, weathered sign to identify it as the home of Phillips Shirts. I was welcomed upstairs by Emma Clarke, who is re-invigorating a brand that already enjoys an illustrious (albeit widely forgotten) recent past. Phillips Shirts were founded back in 1952 by migrants Alex and Greta Phillips. Assisted by their flamboyant friend Phillip Phillips, they founded a successful business making men’s dress shirts. They were incredibly popular, riding high on the exotic prints which found favor in a more cosmopolitan Melbourne. Phillips were at one stage the only distributor for Liberty Print fabrics in Australia, and they also did a fine line in frilled tuxedo shirts and luxe men’s knitwear. Phillips Shirts have become less well-known since the 1980’s as the extravagant colors, patterns and materials they specialized fell out of favour with male consumers. This means that there is a vast supply of warehoused vintage goods hiding in the middle of our city, just waiting to be re-discovered like Aladdin’s lamp!

While being given a tour of the Phillips building I was surprised to come upon a fully-functioning shirt manufacturing floor in the middle of the city, heady with the slow buzz of machinists at work. Rosa (top right) is Phillips’ longest term machinist who was shy to have her photo snapped as she worked diligently away. This would have to be one of few such workfloors left in Australian ‘mass’ manufacturing, due to the slow-but-steady move offshore for many retailers. To the left are examples of the exuberant shirts that Phillips were so well-known for in days of yore – now stored impeccably in Phillip’s extensive vintage storehouse.

Mad Men meets Little Lonsdale Street at Phillips, where wood panelled walls and frosted glass chart the passing of time. How beautiful are the graphics?

Mark has been with Phillips for more than 20 years, and he is their principal cutter. He was very proud of his neatly maintained cutting equipment – both of which looked like well-oiled machines from the 1950’s (which they most likely are). These machines allow very high piles of fabric to be cut precisely whilst weighted at either end – including thick leathers. These days Phillips continue to produce tuxedo shirts and formal shirts for other brands in addition to uniforms.

Emma has been charged with looking back on the Phillips archives and carefully curating a selection of vintage pieces for the open market. The range includes vintage clothing (never worn, immaculate condition) and beautiful throw-cushions which use vintage fabrics (including Liberty prints) from the Phillips archives. The top floor of the Phillips building now houses a petite retail shop (inset above) where you’ll discover a range of goodies including…

… vintage 1970’s Phillips material in pillow form and in its original manly (belted) incarnation.

New meets old. Phillips meeting rooms have Don Draper style mirrored bar units for entertaining. If only corporate meeting rooms had such foresight instead of Mentos bowls and notepads today! We love the vintage collars (photo-shoot with these little  babies soon to come.)

Here are some examples of the immaculately archived vintage items soon to be available to you online at Lady Phillips or in-store, such as fine Italian ‘Spini’ knitwear, shirts for frolicking in and neat Peter Pan collars to dress up any outfit. Emma kindly showed me the amazing store of vintage ‘brand new’ clothes in their archive …. a flurry of colors, patterns and campness beyond your wildest dreams.

For more information, visit the official Lady Phillips website.