The House of Raymonde
Widely recognised for having their finger on the fashion pulse and for the quality of their make and materials, The House of Raymonde was a successful family business that grew from humble beginnings. Their award-winning designs were sold in stores throughout New Zealand and in their own salons, La Ronde, in Wellington and Christchurch.
The House of Raymonde had its beginnings in 1935 when a Wellington mother, Rachel Cohen, started making children’s pants from her family home. They sold for 2/6 per dozen. Building a reputation for the quality of her sewing, Rachel expanded into a CMT (cut, make and trim) service and in 1937 she registered her business as Raymond Manufacturing.
Also known as Raymode or Ray Manufacturing, the business expanded and by 1938 Rachel had moved into a workroom in the Wakefield Chambers building in Wellington. Situations vacant advertisements from the time show she employed machinists, frock pressers, dress improvers and apprentices. Her husband Jacob, and later their three sons Sidney, Gerald and Marcus, also joined her in the business.
After serving overseas in World War II, Sidney remained in London where he studied design and pattern-making. On his return the business started designing a range of fashion garments and was renamed 'The House of Raymonde'.
Gerald focused his attention on retail and Marcus, the youngest, involved himself in the manufacturing side of the business. In 1957, Marcus took over as designer and Sidney moved into management, while Rachel remained active on the board until the 1970s.
In New Zealand, the 1950s and 1960s were a time when the latest fashion trends and products were shared by way of fashion parades and competitions. To help build its fashion profile, The House of Raymonde was a frequent participant in these events. Marcus Cohen told The Dress Circle authors (Hammonds, Lloyd Jenkins and Regnault, 2010) that a gold medal at the Wool Awards was considered so significant that the company would dedicate a whole division to perfecting their entries. In 1961, the house won a gold medal for a full-length black wool evening gown with a "trim of mustard and gold beads", a win that allowed them to add a gold medal swing tag to their garments.
In 1963 the company built a 20,000 sq ft (1,858 sq metre) plant at Rongotai to house their offices, warehouse and manufacturing unit to cater to their growing market. They also established a manufacturing presence in Auckland and Christchurch.
As the fashion landscape changed in the 1960s they understood the need to diversify and to also cater for a new younger customer. Acting boldly on this understanding meant that they were one of the few labels to be included in the 'Young Ideas' pages of Vogue New Zealand alongside labels like Sonny Elegant Knitwear, Miss Deb and Society. Garments from the House of Raymonde frequently appeared in fashion magazines, including the spring 1966 issue of Vogue New Zealand.
The Cohens had initially sold their garments wholesale to department stores and retailers across New Zealand but in the 1970s, they also opened their own salons, called La Ronde, in Wellington and Christchurch. The garments they offered were attune to the fashion sensibilities of the youthful women shoppers of this era without losing sight of the needs of their existing customers and the House’s well established reputation for quality.
In 1973 the Cohens moved their offices from Wellington to Birkenhead in Auckland. Ten years later Sidney and Gerald retired but the company continued to design garments under the Private Collections and Sophisticatz labels until the end of the 1980s.
Designers Jennie Dihm and Jane Bezar started their careers at The House of Raymonde. Both were graduates of the former Wellington Polytechnic School of Fashion (now Massey University's School of Fashion and Textiles) which Marcus Cohen helped to establish.
During its 50-year existence, The House of Raymonde made a significant impact on the New Zealand fashion scene. Their willingness to move with the times and the introduction of new, younger designs enabled them to remain in business longer than many of their rag-trade associates.
Text by Kelly Dix.
Published February 2020.