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1889 The murder of Jane Withey, St Philips, Bristol
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Today the St Philips area of Bristol is mainly industrial with just small pockets of houses as a reminder of how things might have looked in past times. In 1889 when the Withey case took place the district was densely populated with row upon row of terraced dwellings with front doors opening directly on to the street.

The residential properties were peppered with countless little shops, off-licences and pubs and the close proximity of neighbours seemed to breed a strong community spirit. It is this brand of loyalty which figures strongly in the death of Jane Withey and its aftermath.

Jane Withey was 36 years of age in 1889 and lived with her husband John at 21 Cumberland Street together with their four children, Frederick, Alfred, Sarah and Emily whose ages ranged from 10 to 16. John, 2 years older than his wife, worked as a stoker at the local gas works where he had been employed for 11 years. He also had a side-line – slaughtering animals for local butchers. In spite of this additional revenue they still lived in virtual penury, the entire family inhabiting two small rooms. The bedroom was about 12-foot square and the parents occupied a 3-foot bed in the centre while the children slept on bundles of rags in the corners of the room.

Life had not always been like this for the Witheys. At one time John was running a small shop but in latter years had taken to drink. Jane also had this failing, being described as ‘given away very much to drink, so much so that she was hardly ever out of a public house’.

So this, then, was the situation in February 1889 when Bristol first read about what the Bristol Times and Mirror referred to as ‘The St Philips Mystery’.

It is said that on 11 February, a Monday, ‘nothing particular appeared to have occurred until the evening’. It would seem the first incident which could have presaged trouble ahead was between 6 and 7 o’clock when Jane Withey encountered next door neighbour Alice Bartlett. Alice noted that Jane had been drinking. They parted at the door of number 21.

A short while afterwards Annie Sainsbury from number 18 passed the house and the door was open. Jane was sitting by the fire. She called Annie in and confided to her that she had spent the rent money and was going to bed ‘to get myself square by the time Jack comes in’. Annie was later to testify that Jane had clearly been drinking.

It is at this juncture that certain inconsistencies arose in depositions made following the tragedy but it was generally conceded that the most likely sequence of events was thus. John Withey arrived home from work between 6.00 and 7.00 and sent one of the girls out to get him some supper. Then a few words were exchanged between the couple on the subject of Jane squandering all the money John had given her on Saturday so that there was nothing left to pay the rent.

The youngsters agreed that both parents were cross and irritable and that John Withey had ordered them all to bed at about 7.30. It was suggested this was to avoid the landlord who was due to call at 8 o’clock.

It is hard to imagine how the next couple of hours were spent cooped up in that little room. What is known is that 10-year-old Emily Kate was despatched to Taylor’s bakery on the corner of Sussex Street and Edward Street. According to Mrs Charlotte Taylor, the baker’s wife, the little girl bought a loaf of bread at 10 o’clock. Emily stated she went straight back to bed on her return and did not know whether or not her mother ate her supper. If this is true events must have happened swiftly after that because at 10.30 neighbours were alerted by screams of ‘murder’ emanating from number 21.

Frederick said that it was he who raised the alarm. He could not say what woke him. In court he was to swear that he heard no scream. He simply woke up and went to his mother’s side of the bed where a lamp was left burning on the mantelshelf as he and his brother and the father had to get up early to go to work. He noticed his mother was lying back on the bed with blood flowing from her nose and mouth.

He stated that he then went round to the other side of the bed where his father was snoring loudly and it took him 3 or 4 minutes to wake him up. When John was apprised of the dire situation ‘he made a great outcry and woke up the other children’. Later, Sarah Ann was to state that when she looked at her mother she noticed that the bedclothes were pulled down below her waist and there was blood flowing from her left side.

For some unexplained reason John Withey, on being given the news regarding his wife, immediately took himself off downstairs. Almost immediately Alice Bartlett appeared on the scene, wondering what on earth was happening. The front door did not close properly and a piece of furniture was jammed against it at night. When she was eventually able to enter the house Withey told her that his wife was dead.

She went straight up to the bedroom where, she was subsequently to aver, Jane was lying on the bed with blood flowing from her nose and mouth. The bedclothes were pulled up to her chin.

The sequence of events after this point is somewhat hazy. Certainly another neighbour, Mrs Elizabeth Nutt, entered the house shortly after Alice Bartlett and they were soon joined by a Mrs Crinks, Sophie Tarrant and Ellen Williams – both from nearby Barter’s Buildings, George Lane – Mrs Moss and several other local women.

Apparently they tried to revive her with brandy but she was beyond human help by this time. Even more neighbours had congregated outside the house and had attracted the notice of PC Hiscocks, who overheard someone say ‘Fetch a policeman’. He walked into the kitchen of number 21 and found Withey sitting there.

On being questioned by the policeman Withey said his wife had burst a blood vessel. He denied having quarrelled with his wife and said he had been in bed since 7 o’clock. He was fully dressed but the children and neighbours testified that often, when he was the worse for drink, he would go to bed removing only his scarf, jacket and boots.

The officer went upstairs to what must have been an extremely crowded bedroom and was told by Alfred that there had been no quarrel between his parents that night. On being asked what had alerted him to his wife’s condition Withey replied ‘She screamed out’.

When it was queried why he had not sent for the doctor he made no direct reply but asked the constable if he would fetch medical aid. In the end one of the boys was despatched to fetch the surgeon, Mr Page, from Old Market Street. Apparently he arrived at the house at about 11.30 when he was told by the women assembled there that Mrs Withey had died of a broken blood vessel and that a policeman had been called in. When he was asked his opinion he declined to give one until a post-mortem had taken place at which time he said he would issue a death certificate. He did not examine the body of this ‘well nourished woman’ – her weight was given variously as between 12 and 13 stone and between 14 and 16 stone – until 13 February.

It was later said that it was while the doctor was present in the house that John Withey threatened to do away with himself but Alfred had already taken three knives next door to the Bartlett household by this time if George Bartlett’s evidence is to be given credence. Apparently Alfred’s reason for this action was to prevent his father attempting suicide. He was to say that he found the knife beside his mother in the bed. He took it down to show his father and that is when the suicide threats were made.

The following morning at 9.00 John Withey, accompanied by Mrs Nutt, called at St Philips police station to report the death to the coroner but they were too early and were told to return at 11 o’clock. However, they were back again just before 10.00, Mrs Nutt remarking that Mr Withey was very nervous.

From there they made their way to the premises of Simon Howard, an undertaker whose premises were at 18 Gloucester Road, Lawford’s Gate. Mrs Nutt was reported to have said either ‘We have got a very bad case’ or ‘We have got a very sad case’. She further explained: ‘Mr Withey has got his wife died sudden through the breaking of a blood vessel.’ When Mr Howard reached the scene of death and began to measure up the body he noticed a lump on the woman’s side and advised Mrs Nutt to ‘Mind and point this out or you’ll chuck them off the guard’. He was referring here to the inquest jury. Alerted by this turn of events he searched the bed and found a knife among the feathers. It was stained with blood. Mrs Nutt said ‘I threw it in there for the sake of the children’.

The inquest was opened the following day at the George Inn, Kingsland Road but adjourned until the Thursday so that the post-mortem might take place. On that day such a large crowd assembled that extra police were drafted in to keep order. Mr Page had carried out the post-mortem and was able to testify that he had found a wound in her left side, 6 inches deep which had sliced 2 inches into a lung. The knife which Alfred had spirited away had afterwards fallen into the hands of Mrs Nutt who had returned it to the bedroom where it was found by the police and was described as being ‘quite capable of inflicting such a wound’. After the discovery of this weapon John Withey was placed under arrest.

When Frederick was questioned he insisted he had heard no quarrelling in the bedroom that night. He also stated that his mother was undressed when she went to bed whereas his father slept in shirt, waistcoat and trousers. Then Elizabeth Nutt was called. The coroner gave his view that, according to the evidence he had heard, ‘the woman evidently wanted to screen someone’ and she interjected ‘No, no, sir’. She was then closely questioned about her first sight of the body. She insisted she had examined the body but saw no signs of blood anywhere but issuing from the nose and mouth. She laid out the body but one of the other women removed Jane’s chemise.

She swore she saw no cut in the chemise, no knife on the bed and she did not remove the body from the bed during the laying out process. She afterwards heard about the knife and was present on the Tuesday night when Mrs Crinks advised Alfred to put the knife back where he had found it. Mary Crinks was an old family friend, an acquaintanceship which dated back to the days when the Witheys were still moderately affluent and not drinking to excess. Eventually Mrs Nutt admitted she had gone up and replaced the weapon although she had no recollection of whereabouts she had actually placed it.

Meanwhile another bone of contention was introduced into the proceedings. It had been discovered that the wound in Jane’s side had been stuffed with sacking. Mrs Nutt denied all knowledge of this.

Next it was Alice Bartlett’s turn to give evidence. She recounted the screams she had heard from the children at about 10.45 on the Monday night. When John Withey opened the door she asked him what the matter was and he said ‘I don’t know, go up and see’. She described the blood coming from Jane’s mouth as ‘frothy’. She told how she was joined by Mrs Nutt and that they had endeavoured to administer brandy. She said she watched Mrs Nutt and some of the other women laying out the body and washing her ‘as low down as the chest’. She could not recall who had removed the chemise but she fancied she saw some blood on it.

She noticed that the dead woman was clutching a piece of bread and the rest of the loaf was on the floor. There was a cup of pickled onions on the bed. The next morning she spotted on her dresser two knives previously having been loaned out and another one – a butcher’s knife with bloodstains upon it. She showed it to her neighbours and then, later that day, Alfred came to her house and took that one away again. She averred that she did not know where the knife had been found.

She testified that the Witheys quarrelled occasionally, that they were both in the habit of having beer and that she had seen Withey himself very intoxicated but she had not seen him on the night in question until he opened the door to her late that night. When she first entered the bedroom she was startled at the sight of the children ‘almost naked’, ‘dancing’ and bemoaning the fate of their mother.

So, without really committing themselves, the Witheys and their neighbours closed ranks and stuck to their chosen stories. The version they hoped might be believed was that Jane Withey was using the knife to cut up the bread. She dropped the bread, placed the knife in the bed and then, in retrieving the remainder of the loaf, fell back on the blade.

Dr Warner of Barton Hill House had assisted with the post-mortem. He shared the opinion that an accident was out of the question. The knife would not have remained in an upright position to cause such a wound. Considerable force had been used to push the knife in. As the intricacies of the convoluted case were skilfully unravelled by assiduous questioning the behaviour of John Withey himself was carefully examined and the conspiracy of silence among the women in the room that night was breached. Questions hung in the air. Why was the chemise removed and stuffed into a cupboard? Who plugged the wound with sacking? Why were there so many contradictory statements beisignificant in any way? What had happened to the children while all these events were taking place? It is to be hoped that one of the kind neighbours took them in.

By this stage the coroner was adamant that the death of Jane Withey was a case of either suicide or murder. There was no possible way the knife could have entered the woman’s body accidentally. As far as the suicide theory went he did not think it at all likely that she could have accomplished such a deed without her husband being aware of her actions. Although in a statement he had declared that he was in bed by 7.30 and his wife was out drinking until after eleven the coroner argued this was a contradiction of every other witness involved in the case.

Even the position of the knife was open to question. Mrs Nutt had said she had placed it on the right side of the bed after Alfred had retrieved it but PC Cooper who had had charge of studying the crime scene said it had been found among the feathers in the mattress – a place of concealment which had involved tearing the outer sacking. It was a task which he considered would have taken some time and trouble to complete. It was said that Mrs Nutt hid the knife there ‘for the sake of the children’. Having given direction to the jury the coroner then asked them to consider what the charge should be. After an hour the foreman was ready to make an announcement.

He said: ‘Twelve of the thirteen have come to a decision with which one of us will not agree. After careful and just deliberation, we have come to the conclusion that it is the act of the husband, John Withey.’ He also expressed the view, on behalf of the rest of the jury, that Police Constable Cooper was to be praised for his careful, diligent examination of the room and the manner in which he presented the facts relating to the case.

It was deemed the circumstances showed there was a case to answer and John Withey was put on trial for the murder of his wife – with Elizabeth Nutt being charged as an accessory after the fact.

And so the case came to trial. The counsel for the prosecution, Mr Foote, in addressing the jury, said he felt the witnesses ‘had not thrown the fullest possible light they might have done on the matter’. He asked the jury to consider the undisputedng made? The knife itself had only been returned to the Withey household on the night before Jane’s death. John had left it with a Mr Gibbs some time before after slaughtering a sheep for him. Albert had been sent to retrieve it on the Sunday.

Was this facts – that the prisoner, the deceased and the four young ones were in the upstairs room by 8 o’clock and that ‘somewhere before 10.15 the woman Jane Withey was dead. It was not suggested that there was any other person in the house’. The jury were told that the main question for them to decide was ‘how that wound was inflicted – whether self-inflicted suicidally or accidentally; if it were neither of these’ they would have no doubt it was murder, and murder by the prisoner Withey.

He enlarged upon the knife wound explaining that it had been spoken of as in the side but it was round the curve. The exact location of the entry had been pointed out to them on a plaster model. He drew their attention to the prisoner’s conduct and language on the night in question. He submitted that ‘while there appeared to be no direct testimony which would substantially establish motive’ there did seem to have been some words exchanged with relation to the rent money and they were both ‘the worse for liquor’. He then introduced a ‘strong painful fact’ into the proceedings.

While agreeing that several of the witnesses stated the couple lived on good terms – some had even used the word ‘affectionate’ – he had to make the point that during the previous Christmas period ‘the prisoner was seen to throw a knife at his wife with such violence that it buried itself in the door so deep as to require considerable force to draw it out.’ And then there was Withey’s behaviour on being woken by his son. Why did he fail to seek assistance? The only help came from the neighbours who heard the children’s cries of ‘murder’ penetrating the paper-thin walls. He asked the jury, too, to consider who had drawn the knife from the wound and placed it in a corner where it was found by the boy and to decide who had arranged the bedclothes.

If Jane Withey had, indeed, been sitting up in bed eating bread and cheese and had fallen back on the knife – would the clothes have arranged themselves in the manner in which they were found?

Also why did Withey say to Mrs Bartlett ‘Go up and see what my old woman has done?’. If he thought she had died naturally why would he have employed this turn of phrase?

He then asked them to try to visualise the situation the following morning. Did the prisoners, seeing how their story of the burst blood vessel had been accepted without query, believe that everyone else involved could be similarly gulled?

This, said counsel, was the only explantion for the otherwise mad course which both prisoners adopted, continuing with the blood vessel farce and the outright untruth told by Mrs Nutt at the coroner’s office that both she and Withey were present at the time of his wife’s death.

Their subsequent actions – his tissue of lies at the coroner’s inquest, stating that his wife had not joined him in the bedroom until 4 hours after he had gone to bed and Mrs Nutt’s attempts to hide the bloodstained chemise were the actions of someone assisting in the concealment of a murder.

Mr C Mathews, Withey’s brief, called character witnesses -work colleague, William Shipp, who had known him for 30 years, foreman Henry Pullen and William Mountain, superintendent of the gas works where Withey was employed – all testifiying to his good character. Mr Mountain went so far as to say that if Withey was acquitted he was welcome to return to his old job.

Mr Mathews outlined a likely scenario in the bedroom where the knife wound could have been accidental – the loaf and cut piece falling to the floor, the woman placing the knife by her side on the bed while she bent to retrieve the bread, the knife shifted position as she fell back on the bed and on to the pointed blade.

Mr Metcalfe, who was representing Mrs Nutt, argued that if Withey was found to be innocent then all charges against his client would have to be dropped. He pointed out that she was by no means the only woman in the bedroom and no evidence had come to light showing she was aware that Jane Withey had sustained a knife wound. Also, he asked, why would Mrs Nutt put herself ‘within the clutches of the criminal law’ by covering up for a man who was neither relative nor close friend?

Mr Justice Hawkins’ summing up of this extremely complicated case took 3 hours 5 minutes. He carefully examined the events in the bedroom and the disposal of the chemise and the knife and intricately explained the knife wound and its relevance. The jury retired to consider their verdict at 7.24 pm and re-entered the court at 8.55. The foreman of the jury then announced that they had unanimously decided Withey was guilty of the murder of his wife, and Nutt guilty of being an accessory after the fact but this verdict was delivered with a strong recommendation to mercy on the grounds of his previous good character and the belief the crime was not premeditated.

At this juncture Elizabeth Nutt was removed to the cells and the Clerk of the Assize asked Withey if he had anything to ‘urge why sentence should not be passed’. Withey came to the front of the dock with hands clasped above his head and exclaimed:

"The Lord knows I am innocent; I am innocent, ask the Lord; I am as innocent as a child; I am innocent, I am. Lord, Lord, look down upon me, I am as innocent as a child just born".

Unmoved, the judge donned his black cap and spoke to the prisoner: After an anxious consideration, and as patient a hearing as any jury could pay to any case, they had felt it their bounded duty to pronounce you guilty of murder of a very cruel and very treacherous character. They have appended to their verdict a recommendation of mercy, upon grounds which they have stated, and I will take care that their recommendation is forwarded to the Home Secretary; that is all I can do.

The prisoner interceded here and said ‘Thank you, my Lord’. In passing sentence the judge said: The poor woman was helpless sleeping in bed, where at least she may have felt she was safe and under the protection of her husband. You it was, her husband, destroyed her with your cruel hand and for that your crime you must die.

It is reported that the condemned man ‘looked most wretched’ and before descending the steps leading to the cells ‘gave a long, lingering, wistful look round the court.’

Mrs Nutt then was placed in the dock and made a long statement protesting her innocence. She accused PC Cooper of lying in his testimony and informed the court that she was the mother of a family and a grandmother and that it was the first time that she had ever been in custody. She denied to the very end that she had known about the stab wound. Even as she was being sentenced to 5 years’ penal servitude she called out ‘Oh, my Lord, I am not guilty’.

John Withey was hanged on 11 April 1889 and the four children were orphaned. However, members of the family in the Pennywell Road area took them in and they were able, it seems, to overcome the trauma of that dreadful night and the resulting trial to live normal, worthwhile lives and to marry and have families of their own. A relative of Mrs Nutt living in the Bristol area today recalls, as a child, the name being mentioned in hushed whispers making her wonder what scandal had been committed.

The Bristol Evening News January 1897

Shocking Tragedy in St Philips Bristol – Attempted double murder and suicide.

Last evening a shocking tragedy occurred in Kingsland Road St.Philip’s. A man called Thomas Coles, of no fixed abode, but formerly landlord of the Glass House, Kingsland Road, attempted, it is alleged, to take the lives of Mr and Mrs John Withey, confectioners, of 57, Kingsland Road, and subsequently took his own life. Constable Watts, 50 D, states that at 9.50 p.m., while on duty in Kingsland Road, he heard the report of firearms, and observed Thomas Coles running down Sweets Court. In company with Constable Hunt, who had arrived on the scene, he pursued Coles, and heard another shot fired. Coles was found in a stooping position at the bottom of the court, and , knowing him by name, the constable called, but getting no answer, turned him on his back. It was then discovered that he had a six-chambered revolver in his right hand, and, on an examination being made, a wound was discovered in the head.

A truck was procured, and on this he was taken to the infirmary, where it was found that, a bullet had penetrated the right side of the head. Prior to the removal of Coles, Constable Hunt was informed by some bystanders that Coles had shot at Mr and Mrs Withey, and proceeding to the shop the officer found Mrs Withey sitting in a chair. She stated that she had been shot in the back by Coles.

A cab was procured, and in company with her daughter she was conveyed to the infirmary, where her injury, a bullet wound in the side, received attention. The occurrence, which took place in the sittng room behind the shop was said to have been witnessed by Frank Barrett, a young man employed by Mr Withey, and lodging in the house.

Coles, who was admitted at the infirmary at about ten o’clock, expired at 11.15, the bullet, which entered behind the right ear, passing nearly through the head. Mrs Withey was admitted about 20 minutes after Coles, and, although the wound is of a serious nature, she was reported to be progressing favouraby at midnight.

John Withey informed our representative that Coles, who was at one time a sailor, formerly lodged with him. About nine months ago he left their house, and was afterwards sued at the county court for money due for board and lodging, which he was ordered to pay. Since that day, Mr Withey states, he had not been to their house until that night.

He then came to the shop door and said “Have you had any new nuts lately.” and Withey replied in the negative. Withey was then about to put some money on the shelf, when he saw Coles level a pistol at him, and he felt a shot graze his hand, which he had placed to his head. Withey then ran to the back door and heard another shot fired, subsequently finding that his wife had a wound in the back. Fred Barrett, a lodger, was in the room at the time. Withey adds that Coles, who was about 55 years of age, has done no work since giving up the Glass House, but had had money to live upon.

Kingsland Road

The shocking occurence of last evening was the theme of conversation in the vicinity of Kingsland Road this morning, but little information that is not now generally known was to be obtained. Our representative this morning visited the scene where the tragedy was enacted, and, in course of conversation with Mrs Withey’s daughter, learnt that Coles lodged with her father and mother after he had given up the Glass House Inn. He helped Mr Withey in his business, and, according to an arrangment, paid him 5s a week for his lodgings. Subsequently, Coles objected to its continuance, asserting as he did work for Mr Withey, he should have his lodgings for nothing.

Eventually some relatives of Mrs Withey came to reside with them, and Coles had notice to leave. He became very much annoyed, and would not pay his arrears. County Court proceedings were instituted against him, with the result that he was ordered to pay. In the daughter’s opinion this was the only reason that could have actuated Coles to take such desperate measures to satiate his revenge. Mr Withey saw him walk up and down outside the shop about 8 o’clock in the evening and informed his wife of the fact, but neither of them had any reason to fear him, although there was some estrangement between them. Coles has no relatives in the neighbourhood as far as it is known at present.

He married a young wife nine months ago, but their matrimonial happiness was submerged in domestic trouble which caused them to separate. It is not known where is wife is. Deceased had a little money at the time he left the Glass House Inn, but since that time he had been considerably reduced in circumstances. The condition of Mrs Withey is not of such a character to justify any fear on the part of her relatives. She underwent a successful operation last night, and although she suffers intense pain, her condition to-day is considered satisfactory.

Glass House public-house Kingsland Road

1831 – 48. Samuel Hodges (jnr) / 1853. John Cowmeadow / 1858 – 60. T. Collings / 1861. Daniel Radford 1863 – 69. Thomas Watkins / 1871 – 74. William Bailey / 1875 to 1882. Elizabeth Bailey 1883 to 1885. Samuel Wiltshire / 1886. T. Grainge / 1887. James Stoates / 1888. Sarah Ann Pollard 1889. William Smallbridge / 1891. George Bush / 1892 to 1893. Mary Ann Clark / 1894 to 1896. Thomas Cole 1897 – 1909. Henry Llewellyn Goodyear / 1914 – 28. Emily Davis.

Lisa Maree
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Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week; Cruise Bar hosts famous fashion event; MBFWA business wheels in motion

Cruise Bar Hosts Fashion Week…

When it comes to style the Cruise Bar and Restaurant is a perfect host partner for the prestigious Mercedes-Benz Australian Fashion Week.

For the first time in many years, Cruise Restaurant is open to the public everyday of fashion week for lunch and dinner.

Fashion Week is Sydney’s premier fashion and lifestyle event showcasing some of our most talented and contemporary designers.

The beautiful waterfront location of Cruise Bar in Circular Quay is an ideal location to enjoy gourmet food, decadent wines and delicious cocktails while enjoying the cultural surrounds that is Fashion week.

For more information visit their official website.

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week: Business, fashion, beauty, deals and gossip…

Sydney will be enjoying a bevy of catwalk shows and party like events as Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia commences tomorrow. But unlike the increasing number of fashion festivals across the country where people can buy tickets to events, MBFWA is invitation only.

Today was media registration day, which was quite an event in its own right.

Over five days, fashion designers show their latest collections to media reps, celebrities and retail buyers, and the response can be paramount to the bottom line.

This year happens to mark Mercedes-Benz’s return to Fashion Week as the title sponsor, which many media and fashion commentators have welcomed.

“The strong link between Mercedes-Benz and fashion was initiated in Australia with the launch of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in 1995, so it’s come full circle,” advised Mercedes-Benz senior manager of corporate communications David McCarthy.

The car maker’s Fashion Week events have spread around the world to places such as New York and Berlin, and to Swim Fashion Week in Miami.

The Mercedes-Benz’s sponsorship deal was not exactly a secret last year as Rosemount’s (wine) five-year run came to an end. The new deal is understood to be valued at million over three years but McCarthy says the details are confidential.

MBFWA comes with a many change. A key change from the festival organisers is that IMG Fashion have reduced the price of on-site venue fees. A trend over the past few years.

This year, it set back exhibitors ,250 to use the newly returned Tent at the Overseas Passenger Terminal as a catwalk venue, 00 to be a part of Fashion Week but show off-site and between 00 and 00 to showcase collections at The Rocks Pop-Up suites.

Two of the festival’s biggest names, Josh Goot and Dion Lee, pulled out a fortnight before their respective shows. The designers who have fallen by the wayside in the lead-up to the five-day event have either opted to concentrate on upcoming overseas shows (Lee), to focus on getting collections out to coincide with northern hemisphere seasons (Goot) or have chosen to disregard Fashion Week from the get-go, with Fairfax Media pointing to Alex Perry as the example.

For Melbourne Business School associate professor of marketing Mark Ritson, having Australian designers drop out is a “tricky” scenario.

“On the one hand, you have to respect any Australian designer focused on building their reputation overseas,” he says. “We are perilously under-represented in Paris and Milan.

“But at the same time, a designer has to be careful of burning branding bridges back home. That said, if Goot or Lee make it in Europe they’ll be welcomed back home in 2013 with open arms.”

Fashion Week is serious business. Alongside Mercedes-Benz, sponsors that have signed on this year include DHL, EYE, HP, Maybelline NY, Redken, Shangri-La Hotel Sydney, Pentax, Keystone Hospitality and Getty Images.

The NSW government, Destination NSW and Austrade are also supporting the event.

In addition, designers are obtaining their own sponsorships. Jayson Brunsdon’s show, for instance, is being presented by Myer and sponsored by Qantas, Woolmark, TRESemme, MAC Cosmetics and Joh Bailey.

Couture designer Johanna Johnson is the virgin Australian designer to showcase her collection at the prestigious Mercedes-Benz Presents show, which has previously featured big fashion names such as Herve Leger by Max Azria, Carolina Herrera and Badgley Mischka.

“To do [the Presents show] during our first year back was a priority,” McCarthy says.

Johnson recently found international success, with Hollywood actresses Christina Hendricks and Maya Rudolph wearing her feminine creations on the red carpet.

The show will have the same feel – glamour, lots of hand-beading and detailed finishes.

“I hadn’t really considered doing it and was focusing more on overseas expansion this year,” Johnson says.

“But we’re having so much feedback from Australians wanting to know more now, it will be really good to showcase our luxury lifestyle line and red carpet ready-to-wear.”

She initially signed on to show in the smallest of the three catwalk venues, the Box, but had to move the show to the Tent (the biggest) as the number of outfits she wanted to parade expanded.

“It’s our debut show so we want it done as well as it possibly can be,” she says.

Australian accessories giant Oroton is launching its first ready-to-wear collection. But for creative director Ana Maria Escobar, the clothes are there to show off the accessories – be they handbags, jewellery or shoes.

“The biggest thing is when I walked into the stores, I saw they needed something soft to highlight the accessories,” she says.

Customers can expect “understated quality” from the new Oroton clothing range.

“To me, functionality is important,” Escobar says.

“So are the materials . . . it can be a simple singlet but made out of really beautiful silk or customised fabrics. There’s a tone of heritage as well.”

While Oroton views Fashion Week as important, Escobar says there is also “life beyond those 15 minutes on the catwalk”.

For the retailer, it’s about reminding people of the brand.

“We want to talk a little louder about the product we design,” she says. “Fashion Week gives us that space without having to scream.”

This year, a great spread of overseas buyers will be in attendance, many from online retailers such as Net-A-Porter, My Wardrobe, Shopbop, Moda Operandi and ASOS. Department store Harvey Nichols and Hong Kong-based Joyce will also have buyers present.

The retail picture in Australia is not particularly strong, and IBISWorld analysts are predicting growth for the local rag trade over the coming financial year will be flat at just 0.5 per cent.

IBISWorld general manager Karen Dobie says the high Australian dollar is a double-edged sword for retailers, as local vendors can buy overseas at a favourable rate, but increasingly tech-savvy competition is straining profit margins.

New to MBFWA: Dylan Cooper; Flowers for a Vagabond; Toi et Moi Sydney; By Johnny; Oroton; Watson x Watson; An Ode to No One; Jenny Kee; Aje; Roppa Pemmaraju; Bless’d Are The Meek and Nana Judy

Not present this year: Dion Lee; Josh Goot; Alex Perry; Arnsdorf; Morrison; Friend of Mine; Flannel; Karla Spetic; Lover; Therese Rawsthorne; Ms Couture; Rachel Gilbert; Little Joe Woman (voluntary administration); Nookie; Amber & Thomas; Marnie Skillings; Kate Sylvester; Shakuhachi; Bianca Spender; Dhini; Camilla & Marc; White Suede; Yeojin Bae; Lisa Blue; Limedrop; Stolen Girlfriends Club; Alistair Trung; Saint Augustine Academy (which shut up shop late last year)

Returning to the show: Romance Was Born; Camilla; Aurelio Costarella; Ksubi; Jayson Brunsdon; Akira


Since launching her label eight years ago, Camilla Franks continues to receive global recognition as an Australian designer who has a unique approach to creating colorful, playful and luxurious lifestyle fashion.

Her unique ready-to-wear and resort wear designs are becoming highly sought after products, capturing the attentions of celebrities and fashionistas alike. Camilla’s global fan club (which includes the likes of Beyonce Knowles, Miranda Kerr, Kate Hudson, Lily Allen and Gwen Stefani) reached new heights 2 years ago when the queen of television, Oprah Winfrey, glowed in one of her designs while taping her ‘down under’ series. The general public and the fashion world gushed and stock sold out overnight. Camilla is definitely a brand on the move.

So, how did Camilla Franks become one of Australia’s most iconic fashion designers? This iconic brand came to be whilst Camilla was exploring her passions for theatrical artistry. Here, she embraced her inner creative spirit to craft beautiful elaborate costumes for the various characters in her productions. It wasn’t long before the Australian fashion market caught eye of these imaginative, easy-to-wear designs and catapulted Camilla on this amazing journey.

Today, Camilla has evolved from beach and resort fashion into ready-to-wear clothes that cater to all her client’s needs. Globally, Camilla has begun weaving into the various fashion niches, resulting in a kaleidoscope of high-end editorial and extending an already growing customer database.
Over eight years, Camilla has produced nine collections: these include the highly anticipated 2011/12’s Spring Summer Collection, Labyrinth; which has received significant media attention and 2012’s Autumn Winter Collection Caravanserai, Camilla’s second winter season. The success of her brand is derived from Camilla’s philosophy that “all women have the right to look and feel beautiful no matter their age, colour, size or origin”, this is also a testament to the company’s popularity and growing awareness.

Camilla is a brand that celebrates women, self-expression, beauty and individuality. The signature ‘Camilla’ piece is a statement of brilliant colour, graphics and material rhythm. It is a celebration of shapes that can be tailored to individual styles and that follow global trends.

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia Announces Preliminary Line-up…

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia Announces Preliminary Line-upfor Spring/Summer 2012/13 Collections

Sydney, Australia (February 29, 2012) Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia is excited to announce cult label Ksubi, celebrity favourite Camilla, Zimmermann, Lisa Ho, Toni Maticevski, Aurelio Costarella, Jayson Brunsdon, Ellery, and Carl Kapp will be amongst the line-up of designers showcasing their Spring/Summer 2012/13 Collections at Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal, April 30 to May 4, 2012.

"MBFWA is a fantastic opportunity for emerging Australian designers to join already well established designers in showcasing their creations not just in venues that people expect but in venues and spaces that will reflect the diversity and vibrancy of the Australian fashion scene. The shows, presentations and locations demonstrate that MBFWA has a flavour and style that can more than hold its own around the world" says Gavin Allen, General Marketing, Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific.

A stand out on the 2012 schedule is expected to be Romance was Born. The label is showcasing their polished ready to wear collection combining art and wearable fashion in a sophisticated Spring Summer range. Johanna Johnson will also attract hype as she hosts an intimate salon show for her debut at MBFWA. Mixing old Hollywood charm and modern simplicity, Johnson is renowned for her recent Oscar’s role dressing starlets in her eponymous label.

Iconic Australian brand, Oroton will also debut on the runway at MBFWA for the first time demonstrating the brand is as skilled at creating Ready to Wear women’s wear as well as their well known luxury accessories.

Joining this incredible line up of iconic designers are Magdalena Velevska, Alice McCall, Lisa Maree, Gary Bigeni, Bec and Bridge, Miss Unkon, Bowie, Kooey Australia, Michael Lo Sordo, Kirrily Johnston and Talulah.

New talent showcasing for the first time, Watson x Watson are sure to excite international buyers and media with their collections, providing new ‘ones to watch’ for our global audience. Watson x Watson focus on everyday luxury and easy glamour, with a relaxed, sexy appeal that has become synonymous with Australian fashion.

Other newcomers joining the MBFWA family: We are Handsome, Aje, Elliot Ward Fear, Roopa Pemmaraju, Flowers for a Vagabond, Suboo, An Ode to No One and Project Runway Australia winner Dylan Cooper and alumni by Johnny. Designers involved in the 2012 New Generation, Fashion Design Studio and Raffles emerging talent shows will be announced shortly.

“We’re extremely excited by the response from designers and brands and are looking forward to showcasing the new seasons Spring Summer Collections in our world class facilities on site as well as sharing more of the city of Sydney’s wonderfully unique locations with our expanded off site program of shows and presentations’” says Jarrad Clark, Global Production Director, IMG Fashion.

Leveraging our global network, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia is introducing new showroom spaces, exciting venue upgrades and unique presentation spaces to ensure our line up of designers have innovative way to communicate their artistic vision for 2012.

For the first time on Australian soil, many designers will showcase their collections via a studio style presentation space known as The Box. Having established itself at MBFW in NY and Berlin, designers are redefining how they showcase their collections using this blank canvas. Australian designer Dion Lee recently used a presentation style space to showcase his collection at London Fashion Week and wowed crowds with his use of lighting to create drama and engagement around his collection without the confines of the runway.

2012 will also see the much anticipated return of The Tent. Synonymous with international fashion events, the sheer scale of The Tent showroom set on the Sydney harbour foreshore will create an incredible billboard for MBFWA and the Australian Fashion Industry for our attending local and international guests.

Key buyers will have the opportunity to get up close with designer collections during the week via a unique offering of Designer Showrooms via The Rocks Pop-Up Suites, utilising retail spaces within The Rocks historical precinct, designers will be able to house their collections off runway, and meet buyers and media in one on one appointments. It is here that designers are encouraged to create consumer offerings around the Fashion Week schedule to create more retail opportunities for our participating designer brands.

MBFWA hosts the world’s most influential buyers, media and industry players during the 5 day event and bring Sydney city to life with Fashion Week fever. With the support of our official partners, and showcasing designers, the 2012 season will be a standout year showcasing the creative energy and raw talent that Australia has to offer.

Title sponsor Mercedes-Benz is proudly supported by Government partners Destination NSW and Austrade, Maybelline New York, DHL, HP/Intel, Redken 5th Avenue NYC and EYE and as well as media outlet Getty Images. Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia is an IMG event.
The Spring Summer 2012/13 Collections will take place April 30 to May 4, 2012, Press and Industry Registration opens March 1, 2012.

For more information please visit us online at
Follow us on Twitter @MBFWA and on the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Facebook


Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week (Australia)

IMG Worldwide

Cruise Bar

Eva Rinaldi Photography Flickr

Eva Rinaldi Photography

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