Joan Talbot & Tarantella

When Joan Talbot was a child her career aspirations included riding a horse across Europe and then writing about it. Her actual career was no less exciting - the model and award-winning fashion designer led the campaign to have Vulcan Lane pedestrianised in the late 1960s.

Joan showed an early interest in fashion. She was born in Sydney in 1927 and several years later her English parents moved the family to New Zealand. She told Max Cryer in an interview for Clothing and Footwear News (2 November 1964) that she made her mother dress her in lemon silk with scallops and other fripperies - a far cry from the ginghams and poplins other little girls were wearing.

Although Joan studied journalism at university, she turned to fashion when she needed a part time income to support her studies. She applied for a receptionist position at the clothing manufacturer, Classic. Before long, Classic approached her to model their designs. Completely captivated, Joan abandoned her career as a journalist and started learning everything she could about the fashion industry.

Joan Talbot photographed for Thursday magazine, 1969. Image © Thursday magazine.

Her next position was book keeper at another Auckland manufacturer, Roystyles. Her role quickly expanded to include modelling, buying fabric, selling garments and she also started to design for the Roystyles label. 

With extensive experience behind the scenes, Joan decided she needed a position in retail. She started work at Tarantella which was owned by the Tarrant family. Located on Vulcan Lane, Tarantella was a retail store with its own upstairs workroom.

Joan was married with a family when the opportunity arose to buy Tarantella in 1960. She was determined to be a working mother and told Max Cryer that it was all about being using your time wisely. "Joan finds that a career and family are not an impossible combination. Organisation of time is the answer. She even counts up time spent at the hairdresser and has swapped once or twice because they 'took too long'."

Joan also acknowledged the support of her husband and her staff at Tarantella. "What’s the point of good ideas if you haven’t anyone reliable to carry them out.? I’m lucky. I have."

When she took over ownership of the business, Joan continued the Tarantella label, as well as introducing a new label Caprice. By the mid 1960s, she was designing two ranges a year for the wholesale market.

Tarantella was located in the Giffords Building on Vulcan Lane. The shop was on the ground floor next to John Greer shoes. There were salons on the 2nd floor and 3rd floors - decorated in pink with plush chairs.

Ad for Tarantella and Caprice, 1967. Image © Christine Talbot.

In 1962 Tarantella won a Silver Shears award for leisurewear at the Golden Shears Awards organised by the Auckland Professional Mannequins Association. The awards were judged by Australian Robert White and Bruce Papas, who had won the inaugural Golden Shears Award in 1961. Joan's winning garment was a black and white poncho outfit.

Two years later Joan won the eveningwear category in the Golden Shears Awards with a wool gown and cape with plisse pleats.

Model Judy Hayes with designer Joan Talbot and judge June Dally-Watkins at the Golden Shears Awards in 1964.

The gown was later worn by Jan Barkley in the Miss New Zealand contest. Jan was 18 years old when she won the Miss Taranaki contest and went to Tarantella in Auckland to select an evening gown to wear in the contest. The event was sponsored by the Wool Board so the gown had to be made from wool.

Also that year Joan won Wool Board Fashion Choice awards for an empire race frock in benedictine wool, an orange and black tweed suit worn over an orange tie-necked blouse, and a hooded cat suit in brown and black check. A newspaper article from the time describes the winning designs with the author writing profusely about her favourite outfit: "Of all Joan Talbot’s inspirations I most admired a grey, black and white tweed closing up with enormous black buttons to a huge right-pointing fringed rever. Worn open this reveals a striking black jersey top worn with a tweed skirt."

Anne McClurg modelling a Tarantella ensemble, 1964. Image © Christine Talbot.

The article also describes Joan’s reputation for imaginative, controversial fashion. "For unusual fabrics you can’t beat fibreglass and Joan Talbot uses it for a cream evening ensemble, the full-length frock, low backed, full bodiced, easing into a white braided waistband studded with pearls."

In his 1964 interview, Max Cryer described her as: "Neat as a gilded pin, noisy as a coloratura poodle, [Joan] sprinkles salty remarks about with an outrageous tonic water giggle which makes Lucille Ball sound positively demure."

She was also incredibly determined. As president of the Vulcan Lane Association, Joan worked tirelessly to promote it as 'Auckland’s Petite Paris'. In 1968 the lane was closed to traffic and re-developed as a pedestrian shopping precinct.

Joan closed Tarantella in 1974.

Text by Kelly Dix. Banner image © Christine Talbot.

Last published April 2017.

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