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Dame Zara Holt

Dame Zara Holt

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(Dickins 1924)


Dame Zara Holt was a fashion designer, business woman, and wife to former Prime Minister, Right Honourable Harold Holt. In the 1930s, in the depths of the great Depression, Zara Dickins borrowed £150 from her father to establish a successful dress shop in Little Collins Street in Melbourne with her friend Betty James. Zara always claimed that it was her short and plump stature which inspired her interest in couture, as she attempted to keep up with the most recent fashions. Although she could neither cut nor sew Zara was creative, had an astute brain for business, and could manage people. Just after the Second World War Zara opened another boutique, Magg, in Toorak Village, again with her friend Betty (now Grounds.) After post-war austerities the lavish evening dresses designed at Magg were very popular. A further boutique was opened in the Myer Emporium Ltd, Melbourne, and another one in Sydney. In 1961 one of the evening gowns by Magg was voted as 'Gown of the Year’ and in 1962 Miss Australia won the Miss International contest wearing a Magg gown. Zara was also approached for consultation on the Australian uniforms for events such as Expo ‘67 in Montreal and the Mexico Olympic Games in 1968. Zara became a popular speaker on international fashion trends following her frequent visits overseas. As late as 1979 she was appointed Chair of the Yves St Laurent Board in Melbourne. Zara married three times, to James Fell, Harold Holt and Henry Bate. During her time in the Lodge after her husband, Harold Holt, became Prime Minister, she was noted for her colourful refurbishments and energy as a hostess. She was appointed DBE in 1968.