One of the joys of the traditional Australian holiday road trip involves encountering an unexpected treasure whilst passing through an unassuming location.
For the quiet South Gippsland township of Toora, one such hidden gem resides in a quiet street corner: Mauzie’s Most Marvellous Vintage. Here lies a shop containing an enchanting repository of lovingly curated couture and accessories from the past century and beyond. It is a destination that surprises both new and repeat visitors alike with a diverse and sophisticated collection of period-correct styles.
Mauzie’s Most Marvellous Vintage is the passion project of its resident proprietor and namesake, Mauzie Chau. A lifelong enthusiast of all things fashion, Mauzie has been adding items to her own private collection from an early age.
“I was a teenager during the 1960s. I experienced the lack of confidence and insecurity that all of us went through during that stage of life. I remember at the time being gifted some women’s magazines and seeing the photographs of other women within their pages, dressed in miniskirts and wearing makeup on their faces. I had quite a shy personality, and I discovered that I could become more self-confident through experimenting with different looks and fashion styles. The clothes provided a way to achieve what I deemed to be desirable at the time, and it helped me to connect with other people around me.”
Exploring different eras in fashion continues to bring joy to Mauzie, and the act of collecting and maintaining the collection has nurtured her desire to share this joy with others.
“My collection had grown to fill three shipping containers. Many of these items had their own personal stories and associated memories. The older they were, the stronger their accumulated history — and the more I loved them. I didn’t want them to be discarded in landfill, or to be turned into pincushions. I wanted to rescue them, but at the same time I didn’t want to selfishly hang on to them either. Finding a way to put my collection up for sale was a way to preserve these items for future generations. I now see myself as a temporary custodian and hope that everything I have will eventually go on to be appreciated.”
Through a fateful set of circumstances, Mauzie and her husband Frank moved from Tarraville to their current location in Toora around fifteen years ago. The building, which in a previous life had been the Toora District Scout Hall, was slowly and painstakingly restored into their new home by their own hands.
“We had lived in other regional locations previously but were looking for somewhere that had everything we considered to be important for our stage in life — doctors, banks, the supermarket — but would still feel like a small community. There was enough space left over from the renovations to open my own little shop, so that is how it all started. It was just a hobby business that stocked all the things that I had collected and was passionate about. It also didn’t take long to be accepted by the Toora community; it was just a case of meeting people gradually, and it only took a matter of weeks to feel like a part of it.”
Mauzie’s passion is evident upon entering the shop: hand-built robe racks and shelving that efficiently utilise the available space; curios and trinkets on show in complementary arrangements, revealing a knowledgeable curation; menswear and ladieswear face each other from opposite sides of the room, sorted into corresponding decades. The final showpiece is the wedding room, where customers trying on and fitting a selected piece are surrounded by the radiant light reflected off the silk and lace of the numerous vintage bridal dresses adorning its walls.
Mauzie has kept the focus of her business on personal passion, evoked emotions and social connection. “It was never about commercial growth, or about making money. It was pure self-indulgence on my part! When I set up the shop I didn’t tell anyone, or ask for outside opinion; it was just something I wanted to do as a hobby. It was about sharing with other people the positive feelings that were elicited from interacting with these items. This doesn’t just come from the age of the clothing; it’s also the pleasure that comes from trying them on and being open to the essence of their history. I see eyes light up when people walk into the shop. It evokes good memories for many people. It’s a privilege to meet others who appreciate the work that has gone into these items — and a delight to hear customers trying on dresses, giggling and having a good time. It’s really uplifting.”
The shop has developed a healthy customer following and strong reputation, despite mostly relying on word-of-mouth and the quality of its collection for its marketing. “Customers come from everywhere — not just Melbourne, but from interstate and overseas, and they usually browse the shop for much longer than they had originally intended because they enjoy it so much.
“Some make a special effort to travel long distances and return for a repeat viewing of my collection. This has led to knock-on benefits for Toora with regards to supporting other local businesses. I’ve also been contacted by the wardrobe departments of film and television studios when they sought authentic designs from specific eras, and I’ve developed good relationships with them through this communication.”
Most telling of Mauzie’s business success and reputation was how she described the pandemic lockdown as a blessing in disguise. “I had to close the shop down for nine months for safety reasons. It gave me a chance to attend to personal matters, catch a breath from the business side of things, and reflect upon how the business was run. It turned out to be for the best, as I came to realise that the shop had taken over my life. I re-evaluated my priorities, reduced my working hours, and returned to treating it as a hobby, as a personal project.
“Paradoxically I now feel like I am more capable of dealing with a busy workload than before the pandemic. During the lockdown I also received phone calls from people offering their collections of clothing from deceased estates. They knew the value of these clothes, and they didn’t want to simply throw them away. It was a privilege to be considered as someone who could be a trusted curator and custodian for these memory-laden items from a family’s history.”
Perhaps her shop is best understood as a living repository of fashion history. Unlike a museum that attempts preservation using lock and key, Mauzie’s Most Marvellous Vintage enables preservation through an accessible participation with the artefacts on display.
Mauzie attends to these items with just as much love and attention as a museum curator. She invites everyone to discover the past whilst continuing to add their own personal lived experiences to the pieces on-going story. She expressed satisfaction with how her own personal journey has progressed and developed in Toora. “If I could go back in time and do this again, I would — although with the knowledge I have gained up to this point, if that were possible. I would most definitely do it again. I have met some wonderful people along the way. The people that are interested in vintage and in sewing, they are just lovely.”