House of Lucas exhibition celebrates the fabric of Ballarat’s fashion past

BGM House of Lucas Pierre Cardin rangeA new exhibition at Ballarat’s Gold Museum shares the rich fabric of the region’s fashion past as it tells the story of the city’s iconic Lucas clothing company.

The House of Lucas celebrates the family-owned firm that operated in Ballarat from 1888 until 1968, employing hundreds and putting the regional city on the map as a producer of high quality clothing. The exhibition is a tribute to the personalities that shaped the firm, a behind the scenes look into its production techniques, and a look at some of the incredible archival pieces from the Gold Museum’s Lucas collection.

From historical photos of the factory and advertisements that ran in the Australian Women’s Weekly in the 1950s, to a beautiful two-piece Pierre Cardin suit that was produced by the House of Lucas, circa 1960, and other precious fashion objects, the exhibition offers visitors an opportunity to discover a unique part of Ballarat’s history.

The Lucas fashion house emerged under difficult circumstances when founder Eleanor Lucas was widowed in 1878. She began sewing underwear and shirts to support her family, and when she was widowed again in 1888, she launched her own sewing firm. The firm was successful from the outset, and by 1908, it employed over 200.

From the start, the business was innovative – its premises were the first in Ballarat to use electrical power, and in 1905, Tilly Thompson was hired by Lucas as a saleswoman, making her Australia’s first female commercial traveler.

In 1917, Thompson proposed a campaign to create an Avenue of Honour and an Arch of Victory as a living monument to Ballarat’s men who served during the First World War. With the firm’s support, Thompson and the staff, affectionately known as the ‘Lucas girls’ raised over £10,000 towards the project. The Avenue of Honour remains the longest in the Southern Hemisphere and the first of its kind in Australia.

In terms of fashion, Lucas was an innovator, becoming one of the first textile manufacturers to open a knitting factory, equipped with the latest machinery and a dye house. The knitting factory allowed Lucas to produce Australia’s first knitted nylon tricot which would go on to revolutionize Lucas’ lingerie and dress lines.

Lucas also developed commercial relationships with American lingerie firm Vanity Fair (with Lucas manufacturing Vanity Fair lingerie for the Australian market) and French couture house Pierre Cardin. This dramatically increased the firm’s prestige and exclusivity, and as early as 1930, a Lucas stylist traveled to study European markets and buy fabric samples.

Lucas remained a family business with Eleanor‘s first son, Edward Hargreaves Price, joining his mother‘s business full-time in 1898. Edward’s three sons eventually succeeded him, followed by two of his grandsons.

“The House of Lucas exhibition provides a fascinating glimpse into such an important part of Ballarat’s history, both in terms of the fashion industry, but also the individuals who shaped the House of Lucas,” Gold Museum curator, Snjez Cosic. “It’s a thrill to bring the stories and historical pieces to life through this exhibition.”

House of Lucas 
Gold Museum, Bradshaw Street, Ballarat
Exhibition continues to 26 March 2017
Admission fees apply

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Advertising stills promoting the Pierre Cardin range at the House of Lucas (supplied)