Czechoslovakian-born Eva Winton was married in England in 1946. She emigrated to New Zealand with her family in 1952. In 1954, she set up as a milliner in Auckland at 159 Symonds Street and named her business Jane & Judy after the Knightsbridge (London) milliner where she served her apprenticeship during the final years of World War II.
Although Barry McDonnell, a young fashion designer of the moment, had opened a shop at 123 Symonds Street the previous year, the thoroughfare wasn’t a recognised fashion destination. It did, however, have a reputation as the hub of furniture retailing in the Auckland region and this drew many shoppers to the area. Eva’s shop was located opposite one of the major furniture retailers – Smith & Brown.
Flanked on one side by Chilcott Jewellers and Watch Repairers, and on the other by a café-come-takeaway called The Purple Cow, the shop had an adjoining workroom at the back where Eva and two assistants designed, created and assembled the hats. "Steam, hat blocks, sewing machines, stands with hats-in-progress, radio on, smoke from cigarettes," is how her son Eric, a child at the time, remembers it. "The shelves were stacked with linings, stiffening fabrics and veils, and boxes of multi-coloured cottons, ribbons and artificial flowers. The steaming device, for sculpting the hats into shape, was in regular use."
Eva had an eye for colour and style and was always well-groomed and particular about her appearance. A competent seamstress, she made a lot of her own clothes. She wore hats on occasion as befitted the fashion of the day, and as befitted her role of milliner.
The hats she made, described by Eric as "glamorous", were based on pictures from overseas magazines with some adaptation for local preferences. "She did sample ranges and travelled twice a year, presenting them to retailers in probably 12 or 15 towns throughout the North Island," he says. "Her trips took about three weeks, by car. She started with an old Morris Minor but later trips were in an Austin Farina, an estate-type vehicle whose back seats collapsed down. She would leave with the car laden to the hilt with hat boxes." The business trips were planned well ahead of the forthcoming fashion seasons, giving Eva time to fill the orders.
Eva numbered among her clientele, many individual clients. Depending on the complexity of the design and the availability of materials, she was usually able to make hats to order quite quickly. Eric recalls his mother often worked late into the night to deliver orders on time, and helping her to pack consignments in big boxes for sending out to retailers. Reams of tissue paper, mainly white, some grey, were kept on hand for this purpose.
Fabrics and trims were sourced largely through local wholesalers. Specialty items, that would give her hats a uniqueness and exclusivity, Eva ordered from overseas. One year, she concentrated on a floral theme, decorating the hats with lily-of-the-valley, lavender, blossom and other flowers.
When Eva’s sister Anita arrived from England in 1955, they opened a second, smaller shop further along Symonds Street, selling slightly different hats and some women’s clothing. This enterprise lasted about 18 months.
Changes in fashion and a decline in hat sales forced Eva to close Jane & Judy in 1962. This was the fate of milliners all over the country around this time. She then trained as an Elizabeth Arden beauty consultant. Her outgoing personality, people skills and marketing ability led to her becoming the leading New Zealand consultant for the brand.
While working on the Elizabeth Arden counter at Milne & Choyce, she was photographed, during the store’s centennial celebrations in 1966, in Victorian dress. Interestingly, the bouffant hairstyle she sports on this occasion was a major contributor to the demise of the hat.
Eva Winton later moved to Australia where she lived until her death in 2012.
Text by Cecilie Geary, banner image © Eric Winton.
Published December 2019.