Although Lyn Farry (nee Riddell) was interested in fashion, she had no thoughts of becoming a fashion model. In 1966, she was having her hair done in James Smith’s hairdressing salon when she was 'spotted' by the store’s fashion promoter Josephine Brodie.
Deducing that the attractive young primary school teacher had model potential, Josephine Brodie took her under her wing and taught her the rudiments of modelling. Lyn eventually became part of Josephine’s modelling team, appearing regularly in fashion parades at James Smith’s and other locations around Wellington including the British and the American Embassies.
Lyn also modelled in the Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards in the 1960s. In her first show, she wore the winning Wool Award entry, a coat and dress ensemble designed and made by Lower Hutt designer Colleen Stroud. Lyn subsequently walked in the Awards in Colleen's creations on two further occasions, one year showing a cream wool ball gown with a low back, which received a favourable mention, and the following year a culotte/cape outfit in brown wool with a vibrant jade lining. The latter was gifted to Lyn by the designer and she still has it.
In 1968 Lyn, with Josephine’s encouragement, entered the UEB Textiles/NZ Wool Board Top Model contest, winning the Wellington sector of the nationwide competition. This led to her joining up with the winners of the other three regional finals for an exhaustive two weeks of appearances where they worked alongside professional models and were assessed by a panel of judges. On the last day, Lyn was declared the winner and crowned ‘Miss Wool’ with a custom-made wool crown.
The four finalists were photographed for the cover of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly. They were joined on the shoot by a live sheep which Lyn recalls had to be tranquillised so that it wouldn’t move about. "At the last minute though, it leapt up. The surprise on my face in the photograph isn’t feigned!"
As the winner of the contest, Lyn travelled to the West Coast of the United States where she undertook public engagements to promote New Zealand and New Zealand wool. She was the perfect ambassadress. Having been brought up on a Southland sheep farm, she was well aware of the importance of wool, not just for her family’s livelihood but for the New Zealand economy. She appeared at a New Zealand Trade Fair in San Francisco where she met with executives involved in the American wool industry and, on another memorable occasion, appeared as the guest on an hour-long television talk show in San Francisco. Appearances at upmarket stores on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles were also part of the itinerary. On every occasion, Lyn wore New Zealand-made wool garments, some of which, produced by Cantwell Creations, had been part of her winner’s prize. Other garments in her travel wardrobe were custom-made for her through her association with her brother-in-law, Tony Farry, the owner of Farrys Fashion stores.
A popular catwalk and photographic model, Lyn epitomised the 1960s’ swinging London look with its mini-skirts, elaborate updos and squat-heeled, chisel-toed shoes (which she had to provide herself.) But despite being extremely photogenic, she says she didn’t enjoy the close scrutiny of photographic work, much preferring the buzz of the catwalk. "There was a rhythm about adapting your movements to the clothes you were wearing that was very elegant. And I enjoyed being part of a team. There was a lot of camaraderie among the models."
A photographic assignment Lyn does remember with affection was one shot by photographer Sal Criscillo for Hadny 5. From 1966 until 1968, the trendy Auckland-based label and boutique, owned by Isabel Haworth, had a shop in Wellington and Lyn’s look was a perfect fit for their youth-oriented clothes. "It was a lovely day, great fun. We shot on location at Scorching Bay and across the city. I still have the proof sheets as a reminder."
After her marriage in 1969, Lyn settled in Dunedin where her husband Malcolm operated his own dental practice. Not wanting to lose her association with the fashion industry, she worked for Farrys Fashions, the Dunedin store opened by her husband’s family in 1970. The shop was located in Harvest Court, a small inner city shopping mall on George Street. Lyn also modelled for in-store fashion shows and did photographic modelling for Farrys Fashion stores in Gore and Invercargill, as well as the shop in Dunedin. She adapted her look to suit the new decade. In a photograph taken in Dunedin’s Museum Reserve in the 1970s, she wears a tunic top and flares with the same attitude and flair she displayed when wearing a mini.
Lyn was often called upon to judge fashion events such as the Alexandra Wool Princess contest and the South Otago Wool Queen. Her modelling talents were put to good use when assessing students of a local modelling school at their end-of-year graduation.
The demands of an ever-increasing family eventually took Lyn Farry away from her beloved modelling, but she has always retained a keen interest in fashion. Still stylish and elegant in her mid-Seventies, she has produced nine fashion shows for the Zonta Club of Metropolitan Dunedin in venues ranging from Corstorphine House and the Otago Museum to the Dunedin Town Hall. The shows raised around $100,000 for charity.
Text by Cecilie Geary. Banner image courtesy of Lyn Farry.
Published June 2019.