Driven by a desire to control her own destiny, Isabel Haworth left her job in The Casual Shop workroom and opened her own boutique, Hadny 5, in 1964. She decided to specialise in one-off designs cultivating a dedicated clientele who knew that wearing a Hadny 5 garment would guarantee exclusivity.
Isabel grew up on a farm in Te Awamutu. She had four older brothers and a sister Margaret, who also went to work in fashion. After finishing school, Isabel left New Zealand for Sydney where she worked as a cutter and designer at the manufacturer Bert Mendelssohn. "I wasn’t that happy though, having to keep costs down on mass-produced garments."
On her return to New Zealand Isabel worked as a cutter at The Casual Shop, a boutique established by Diana Colmore-Williams. After a year, Isabel decided to leave and put her effort into starting her own business.
She opened Hadny 5 at 12 Swanson Street, in premises that Playdate magazine called a "quaint cellar-like setting". The magazine described her garments as "very much in, without being over gimmicky". To begin with, Hadny 5 garments were sewn in house by a small group of machinists at the back of the shop to create a busy vibe. But by 1966 she was producing more than 60 model garments a week and she had a workroom of machinists and knitters, and was employing outworkers too.
Hadny 5 sold one-off garments - pin-tucked shirts, hand-knits, silk dresses and heavy leather belts were promoted for their individuality. Shoppers could also request designs to be made in the fabric and colour of their choice. When Cecilie Neill (now Geary) married in 1968, she gave sketches of what she wanted for her dress and her bridesmaid’s dress to Isabel to design. Both dresses were influenced by the Romantic Look that was big in the late 1960s. The lawn for the bridesmaid’s dress was ordered from Liberty’s in London and the organdy for the bride’s dress came from Smith & Caughey’s. 50 years on Cecilie still has her dress.
"It was such a lot of fun," Isabel recalls. "It was so exciting designing one-off dresses and also my own knitwear." She always looked for ways to make her garments unique, being an early adopter of denim for her garments and embellishing her garments with studs.
Fashion parades were another opportunity to make her mark. "It was fun staging fashion parades, in a way that was still fairly new to the New Zealand fashion scene." While department stores such as Milne & Choyce held regular in-store parades, in the 1960s young designers began to show their garments in coffee lounges and bars to the sound of the latest pop music. The Hadny 5 parades, usually held at De Bretts or The InterContinental, attracted audiences eager to buy the latest designs. "Parades were hard work," she recalls. "Often garments were being completed as the models moved into the parade areas. But there was always a full house - sherry was served and they were such enthusiastic gatherings. Parades were certainly good for business."
Isabel had many clients from Wellington and the lower part of the North Island so she opened a Hadny 5 in Willis Street in Wellington in 1966. "I thought it would be ideal … but I closed that shop after about two years. It was not as well situated as I would have liked and keeping stock levels up was always a problem." By then, Isabel and her husband John (Jack) Petley were juggling their respective careers and raising their children Alice, Jonathan and Aaron. "The Wellington store meant I had a little too much on my plate, especially when weekend trading commenced." A Hadny 5 store in Hamilton was closed after a year for the same reason.
The 1960s were a time of prosperity and change. Hadny 5 and other boutiques like The Casual Shop, Elle in Hamilton and Granny’s in Christchurch broke the mainstream fashion mould of high-end exclusive designs or mass-manufactured garments and instead designed exuberant styles for young women like themselves.
In Auckland, the suburb of Parnell was becoming a hub of boutique-style retail stores. Many of the buildings in the area were owned by Les Harvey who gradually redeveloped them to create what Isabel describes as a vibrant and buzzing street. Isabel and her family lived in Avon Street and she was quick to realise the attraction of what was then a suburb full of small, run-down houses. She closed her Swanson Street premises and opened on Parnell Road in 1976. She joined Liz and Neville Findlay who had opened their boutique Tart (managed by Isabel’s sister Margaret) in 1975. Isabel later moved down the street to a space, next to the interior design store Habitat, which had a workroom upstairs.
But by the mid-1980s her priorities were changing and in 1987, Isabel and her family moved to Sydney.
"I longed to return to Sydney. I liked the weather and the get-up-and-go of Australia." Isabel’s daughter Alice had moved to Sydney to model, and her sons were keen to follow. For a time she had thoughts of re- establishing Hadny 5 in Sydney but she couldn’t find machinists who could make to her standards and she became disheartened. Gradually as Isabel’s life in Sydney grew busier, the idea of re-opening Hadny 5 in faded.
These days Isabel and John live in Potts Point, a vibrant neighbourhood in bustling Sydney. "It reminds me of Parnell," Isabel says. "Parnell was a part of my business and family life for many years and I fondly remember those days well."
Women who wore Hadny 5 clothes also remember those days with considerable affection.
Text by Kelly Dix. Banner image Isabel Haworth outside her Swanson Street boutique, circa 1964. Image © Isabel Haworth.
Last published July 2018.