Isabel Harris was working in the merchandising department at George Courts department store when she met Brian Hall and John Throne. Brian and John recognised Isabel's street-savvy talent; she seemed to have an eye for what was hip and desirable.
They owned several manufacturing licences, including the labels Poppetwear and Career Girl, and invited Isabel to come in and apply her eye for design to their labels. "I went in and said 'I don’t like this' and started sketching and working with his pattern cutters and designers, who were relieved to have somebody come along with a few ideas and it grew from there," says Isabel.
The first Hullabaloo boutique was located at 39 Victoria Street West in Auckland. It opened as an early concept store. The fittings, signage, props, music and lighting were all carefully selected to support the brand image.
It was on a trip to Australia that Isabel found her inspiration for the boutique, seeing the popular John and Merivale shops in Sydney. The dark, spot-lit spaces with plenty of palms, feather boas and busy wallpaper were a revelation. "I thought, 'Oh my god, this is fantastic, why haven’t we got this in New Zealand?' So I came back and that was the look I went for; the antiques, the black French wallpaper with the birds and magnolias on it and lots of brass fittings," exclaims Isabel. The shop opened on 1 September 1970 and its popularity grew quickly.
With its on trend clothing and unique style it wasn’t long before it was time to upsize. The La Gonda store underneath Hullabaloo’s workroom at 222 Queen Street became available and the decision was made to move into this much bigger space.
It was a bold move, but one that paid off as Hullabaloo’s Queen Street store became an icon of the 1970s after its grand opening in 1973. "I certainly shook the industry up with Hullabaloo because it was so different from what was around at the time," says Isabel. "On the opening night of the big store some people came in and thought 'Wow! This is fantastic' and others came in and were overwhelmed and turned around and walked out again."
Isabel revelled in discovering the latest trends and interpreting them for her customers. Hullabaloo sold a huge range of clothing but also all the accessories, bags, belts, hats and jewellery needed to complete the look.
A huge team of skilled workers helped create everything from delicately crocheted dresses to knitwear and even hand-painted sneakers when they were in fashion. Together Brian and Isabel put together a dedicated team of talented people who worked for them over the years and contributed to the success of the business. Among them was Jayne Gower who was the head pattern cutter and assistant designer to Isabel, Jayne's talents contributed to some of the label's best designs and she was a key member of the team.
The decision to export into Australia in the late 1970s brought its own set of problems with the discovery of another label operating in Australia under the name Hullabaloo. To avoid confusion Isabel and Brian decided to sell under the name Thornton Hall for Australia only, but it quickly became clear that it would be less complicated to keep the same name for both businesses. They rebranded as Thornton Hall in 1979, keeping the name Hullabaloo only for the Queen Street shop. The shop was eventually closed in the late 1980s due to rising rent and too much space that the business didn’t really need.
Thornton Hall grew to be one of the top labels of the 1980s.
Text by Evelyn Ebrey. Banner image by Nicola Clark.
Last published November 2015.