In the eveningwear segment of the 1964 Golden Shears Awards, Tina Grenville modelled a Spanish fandango-style design by Lea Draysey, winner of the inaugural Gown of the Year in 1958. Instead of trailing a fur coat behind her down the runway, a popular affectation at the time, she dragged a guitar.
That same night, she was named Model of the Year. Being the mid-60s, there were no restaurants or bars open after the show ended, so Tina and her stylishly-dressed friends celebrated her win at Auckland’s downtown pie-cart, the White Lady.
When Tina broke onto the Auckland modelling scene in 1960 it was on the cusp of change, inspired by the cultural 'youth' explosion taking place in 'Swinging London'. The dawning of the '60s spelled goodbye to the formality of the picture-perfect model, hand on hip, hair firmly lacquered, feet placed in the 3rd ballet position. While Tina could 'do' ultra-sophistication with the best of them, she also represented a new generation of models who were both more animated and laid-back.
One of the country’s most successful models throughout the 1960s, she appeared in major live fashion events and modelled in department store parades and for boutiques such as Auckland’s Hadny 5. As her hefty portfolio of work testifies, she was also in demand as a photographic model, with designers, milliners, magazines, newspapers and advertisers availing themselves of her talents.
From the time she was five years old, Tina, born Kristine DeLacy in Wellington in 1939, dreamed of going on the stage. She took lessons in singing, ballet and speech and learned to play the piano. At Wellington Girls College, she won awards for acting.
When she left school, as there was no professional theatre in New Zealand, the New Zealand Players having folded the same year, she became a radio actress. Her first part was Dunyasha in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard which she remembers to this day for her fashion naivety. "I turned up at the studio wearing miles of stiffened petticoats, loads of bangles, a straw Breton with a huge brim, and high heeled shoes. I crackled, I clanked, I couldn’t get near the mike because of my big hat, and I smiled a lot to cover my embarrassment. I can still hear the producer Roy Hope saying: 'Darling, you look beautiful, but the people out there can’t see you and they can’t hear you smile.'"
'Discovered' by Wellington commercial photographer Gordon Wiles while shopping in James Smith’s, Tina began working for him as a photographic model when she was 18.
From her mother, who was a skilled dressmaker, wardrobe mistress for the Wellington Operatic and Repertory Societies and later the Elizabethan Theatre Trust at the Sydney Opera House, she inherited an appreciation of fashion. As children, she and her sister played what they called the Vogue Game, adopting poses affected by models in their mother’s Vogue magazines.
Tina made her runway debut in the De Beers Diamond Collection, a jewellery show produced and compered by Auckland fashion co-ordinator Paddy Walker at Wellington’s Majestic Cabaret. The models wore black catsuits to show off the diamonds, and security was so tight, Tina says it resembled that of a presidential or royal visit.
Married young and widowed at the age of 19 when her husband Ronald Grenville went missing and was presumed drowned, Tina shifted to Auckland with her young son Ashley, hoping to find work as a model.
On arrival, she discovered that most of the designers had their own favourite models and, with a few exceptions, made their sample garments in size 12s. When designers, like Colin Cole, El Jay, Rosemary Muller and Emma Knuckey among others, began including smaller size samples in their collections, her options improved.
One of her first assignments was for a spread in an Auckland Star fashion supplement. Titled 'Jazz on a Summer’s Day', it was shot on location at Julia Yates’ property in Oratia. Julia, who co-founded the Trilby Yates fashion house with her sister Trilby in the 1920s, became a close friend of Tina’s, as did the rest of her family. For Tina’s second marriage, to Australian TV producer Robert Bruning in the 1970s, Trilby's daughter Digsy Miller made a copy of Tina’s great-grandmother’s Victorian wedding dress, an elaborate design in anthracite grey silk. Tina later gifted the dress to the Titirangi Drama Society along with the bronze ribbed silk dress made by Liz Mitchell for her third wedding.
As one of fashion impresario Paddy Walker’s coterie of models (known as 'Paddy’s girls'), Tina took part in fashion shows produced by Paddy throughout the country. She was a regular model in the 20 minute lunch-time parades at Auckland’s Milne & Choyce that were organised and compered by Paddy Walker, and occasionally by Tina.
On the occasion of the 1963 Wool Board Awards, held in the Lower Hutt Town Hall in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, she recalls that the New Zealand Ballet’s Russell Kerr was brought in to show the girls how to curtsey.
In August 1964, at an International Trade Fair in the capital, Tina, wearing a grey organdy dress by Babs Radon, was the poster girl for a series of parades promoting Indian cotton fabrics. To mark the event, the Indian Legation feted 'Paddy’s girls' and the participating designers at an "exotically glamorous affair" at the Indian Consulate.
Another parade she remembers well is one featuring menswear by the British couturier Hardy Amies, in which female models appeared alongside male models, as "accessories". Cambridge Clothing, the New Zealand manufacturer of Hardy Amies, re-sized one of the men’s suits for Tina’s personal use. She recalls wearing it, with a ruffled shirt, to DeBretts Hotel, and being refused entry. "Designer label or not, trousers in any shape or form, worn by women, were not acceptable, so I took them off, slung them over my arm and walked into the dining room, in my jacket, shirt and tights."
Tina was also a hat model, most notably for Kay Marie Cruikshank whose Kay Marie salon in Vulcan Lane was one of the top millinery establishments in Auckland. Tina describes Kay Marie as "terribly grand". She wore a full-length mink coat to work and had a poodle named Pierre.
In the late 1960s, Tina moved to Australia. She continued to work as a runway and photographic model in Sydney and Melbourne before making her mark as an actress in two long-running television series The Godfathers and The Restless Years. For her last modelling appearance, at a Christian Dior parade in Sydney’s Wentworth Hotel in 1969, she wore the piece de resistance of the show, a flounced brown chiffon dress with tight sleeves and a long sheer torso. She says she couldn’t have wished for a better swansong.
On her return to Wellington in 1980, Tina resumed her acting career, appearing on stage, film and television. She was a co-host of Good Morning, the first national TV morning show, produced for Northern Television by Kevan Moore. Maysie Bestall-Cohen, in her first TV presenting role and soon to become host of the Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards, introduced short segments on fashion.
Later in the 1980s, Tina ran a private supper club, Dining by Arrangement, at her home in Karekare, and wrote a book about the experience. She started another home-based venture, The Beautiful Bed & Breakfast Co, in Piha in the 1990s, and published her memoir, A Life in Three Acts, in 2012. She has recently relocated to the Wairarapa, where she lives in a 106-year-old cottage on a four-hectare rural property with a large flower garden.
At 79, Tina Grenville retains her irrepressible sense of humour. Fashion model, actress, hospitality provider, author and mother of three, in her time she has played many parts.
Text by Cecilie Geary. Banner image of Tina Grenville, 1964.
Last published December 2018.