Spanning six decades, Elaine Hammond has one of the longest modelling careers in New Zealand. From her first parade at Auckland’s Civic Theatre when she was just 13 years old to her last in her 70s, Elaine has loved fashion and helping others make the most of themselves.
Elaine’s introduction to the world of fashion was as a 13-year-old in 1950, when she modelled a teenage range, Jean Durean. She adored the experience and promptly discarded her dreams of becoming a ballerina to become a model. Modelling however was not a full time career option and, after leaving school, she initially worked as a dental nurse receptionist. Even later, with her reputation established, she still took in home dressmaking to supplement the irregularity of modelling jobs. "We had to be able to diversify between being a house model during the wholesale selling season, modelling in retail store’s seasonal fashion parades and photographic shoots on location, in the studio, and eventually, on television."
The wholesale selling season was full time work and lasted 6-8 weeks twice a year (spring/summer and autumn/winter). Elaine worked as a house model for Classic Manufacturing and El Jay, including their Christian Dior ranges.
Elaine also modelled in the popular seasonal fashion parades at Auckland department stores including Milne & Choyce, Smith & Caughey’s, John Courts, George Courts, Rendells and Flacksons. Preparations involved fittings and rehearsal with parades in the morning, lunchtime and afternoon. Elaine recalls the glamour of the afternoon El Jay and Christian Dior parades at the Star Hotel and the Sky Room parades at Milne & Choyce with the "wonderful" compere Paddy Walker. One event - the New Zealand Wool Board’s 'Fleece to Fashion' show - was memorable for a special guest appearance by champion shearer Godfrey Bowen, shearing sheep beside the catwalk.
Charity fundraiser parades usually took place in the evening, raising funds for organisations such as Plunket and Crippled Children with models including Elaine donating their time and talent to these. In the late 1950s, Elaine won several modelling awards including the Hartnel Trans World Challenge Premier Model of New Zealand competition.
In 1959 she was on the cover of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly. Dressed in Christian Dior by El Jay she holds a large picture of the recently opened Auckland Harbour Bridge.
Reluctant to rest on her laurels, Elaine and her new husband headed overseas to Sydney. Mr Berin Spiro of the Auckland Fashion Model Agency and Charm School gave her an introductory letter to the June Dally Watkins Model Agency and Deportment School which Elaine describes as "just the best". She worked in Australia for a year, with assignments including modelling for the Royal Dressmaker, Hardy Amies, when he was in Sydney, parades at stores including David Jones and Myers, and a photoshoot aboard the P&O Liner Iberia as it visited several Australian ports. Elaine also made the cover of The Sun newspaper when she was selected as 'Girl of the Day' at the Melbourne Cup before returning to Auckland in 1960. She continued to work as a model around care of her new baby, Brett. "Being the organised person that I was managed to juggle my life between family and fashion, even sometimes including my son in a commercial photograph."
Her modelling experience in Australia proved invaluable, particularly her membership of the Australian Model and Mannequins Association. Elaine was determined to set up a similar organisation in New Zealand to help professionalise the industry. By mid 1961 the New Zealand Professional Mannequins Association had almost 70 members, and were clear about their purpose. "The association was formed to protect the name and integrity of the true professional model and to destroy the many unfounded comments that arise out of the activities of those who claim to be models but have no title."
Members included Valda Adams, Terry Nash, Else van den Muysenbergh and Bobbie Jarvis. Elaine was voted president of the Auckland branch and one of their first tasks was to streamline the many requests models received to volunteer for charity fashion parades by holding one large parade a year.
After many months of hard work, the Fashion Spectacular took place at the Auckland Town Hall on 26 September 1961. The event raised funds for the Community Chest charity. "There was great cooperation from all concerned with marvelous media coverage during planning stages and at the gala event," Elaine recalls. Re-named the Golden Shears Fashion Awards from 1962, there was an award for the best garment design and an industry selected award for the model of the year, which Elaine won in 1962.
Elaine kept in touch with her colleagues in Sydney and received an invitation to the Australian Model and Mannequin Association’s ball, which was themed 'A Cinderella Trans Tasman Fairy Tale'. On 18 November 1961 Elaine flew to Sydney for the evening. "With the help of our association, the Auckland Model Agency and Teal New Zealand, I departed Whenuapai Airport on board a Teal Electra aircraft - landing in Sydney with an escort and limousine waiting to rush me to the ball." Dressed in a Colin Cole gown and gold shoes, she gave a short speech to a crowd of ball-goers, including photographers and television cameras. Elaine had "a whirlwind time" before making it back to Sydney Airport before midnight to catch her return flight home. "The media coverage of the '20th century Cinderella' was wonderful in Australia and New Zealand - and my 16-month old son was not even aware that his mum had been out of the country overnight!"
The 1964 Golden Shears Awards were to be the last. By then Elaine was the mother of two boys - her second son Craig was born in 1963 - and no one stepped up to replace her as organiser of the event. Not long after, a new job opportunity soon came up. Elaine was thrilled to take up the role of manager when her Sydney modelling agency, the June Dally Watkins School of Deportment, opened a branch in Auckland.
But Elaine and her family were soon planning another overseas trip, this time to London. With her husband running his own business and the boys in school, Elaine decided to "have a go" at the modelling scene. "I was well received at the reputable Whittaker Enterprises Model Agency. Michael Whittaker was always looking for a fresh new face and talent."
With a portfolio of photos she approached potential clients. Her first agency booking was for a casting for a commercial advertisement. "To my shock, there were 300 girls there for one booking! I was told this was normal - that’s how it is in a big city. In the three years we lived in London, I felt extremely lucky to get any confirmed bookings. What an experience to add to my life!"
In 1969, Elaine returned to New Zealand. She continued to work in the fashion industry, including a 12-month stint in Rarotonga managing a hotel. She trained the local girls to model and arranged lunch time parades with another New Zealander, Annie Bonza, who had moved to Rarotonga in the mid-1970s.
On her return to New Zealand Elaine took a step back from the industry; although she was modelling well into her 70s. Her final modelling job was for Josephine Brodie, who like Elaine had been president of the (now re-named) New Zealand Modelling Association. "Elaine has the all-important personality, glamour and sparkle that makes what ever she wears look spectacular," Josephine says.
Still regularly crossing the Tasman, Elaine spends her time living with her family in Kerikeri and the Blue Mountains.
Text by Kelly Dix. Banner image © Elaine Hammond Hill.
Last published October 2018.