When I was about thirteen I discovered a bridal shop in my home town Melbourne, Australia called Jane Hill Bridal. It was situated on the corner of Kooyong Rd and High St in Armadale, a rather opulent suburb of Melbourne. In the glorious round display window there was always the most beautiful Cinderella dresses on dispaly, with tulle and lace and long veils. Whenever my Mum and I would drive passed the store I would look at the beautiful dresses in awe and think “One day, when I get married, I want to have a Jane Hill Dress”.
Fast forward ten years and I had just got engaged to a lovely South African chap named Jason and we were coming back to Australia from Israel to plan our wedding.
I’m not sure how but I guess some times, more often than not we get caught up in our adult lives and forget our inner child. We forget what we’d dreamed of and revert to the convenient and sensible path.
Needless to say, I had long forgotten about those beautiful dresses and ended up being referred by a friend to another dress maker. Her dresses were not even nearly at the same level as a Jane Hill dress, but she seemed competent enough to create the dress that I was imagining for what seemed to be a relatively good price. The dressmaker explained how each stage of the dress making process worked and it seemed reasonable, so I went with it.
Two and a half months later and two weeks before my wedding, she had jumped about three steps ahead in the design process. This all took place without my instruction as to the next step of the design and I was left with what’s safe to say, a bit of a dog’s breakfast.The design was bad, the execution was worse and to top it off, I could barely lift my arms because it was sewn so tight.
Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are less trivial things going on in this World than a messed up wedding dress, but at the time, for a bride-to-be, having an unwearable dress was a pretty big deal.
My cousin Belinda, who had come with me for a fitting on the Thursday and seen the dress and my face when I put it on and in her infinite wisdom jumped into action an called Jane Hill the next day to save the situation…
Jane was getting ready to fly to her holiday home in Byron Bay on Sunday morning but agreed to meet with me at 6am right before her flight to see how she could help. So I set my alarm and without telling anyone, woke up at 5.30am, snuck out of the house and drove over to Jane’s studio.
Jane had since moved studios from the beautiful corner shop in High street that I used to marvel at when I was younger.
From what I understood, she had been battling breast cancer in the early ‘naughties’ and had sold the business. The new owners re-branded the business to Baccini and Hill and started importing the dresses from China.
Once in remission, Jane later re-opened a few years thereafter in a beautiful little studio on Williams Road. It was a lovely tree-lined street that seemed to capture the magic that the Jane Hill name embodied. the perfect location for such enchanting creations.
It was there where Jane met with me, heard my disaster story and agreed with only two weeks to go to re make my dress from scratch.
Usually high-end designers in Melbourne take anywhere from six months to a year to make a dress, and a hefty feel for the pleasure, so you can imagine my surprise and relief when Jane agreed to ‘pull the strings’, so to speak in only two weeks albeit at a discounted price because she wanted to help me out.
From the moment I met Jane I knew I was in good hands. Not only because of the absolutely beautifully executed dresses that stood in the windows of her studio, or the way the entire place (probably only about 30sqm) was decorated so elegantly, but because she made me feel at ease.
The next day I had my mum go and collect the disaster dress form the other dressmaker in order to salvage the beading. Jane was already in Byron and had instructed me to mail her the beads so she could start to work on it over there.
From the time that Jane landed in Byron it seemed that her entire mission was to put me at ease and make me feel confident that I would have a dress for my wedding (in two weeks time) and she was going to do whatever she needed to do to make that happen.
She was in constant contact with me via email, giving me updates about her progress how the beading was coming along and liaising with her very talented dressmaker Sophie whenever I went for a fitting back at the studio.
From the time I met Jane and Sophie the entire process was an absolute whirlwind, albeit a very smooth one and sure enough less than two weeks, three fittings and two interstate trips later (Jane flew back and fourth especially for fittings) I had my dress. New, improved and wearable; I was chuffed and it’s safe to say that shortly thereafter ‘selfie-mania’ ensued…
After the wedding I emailed Jane and thanked her for all her efforts and she replied saying that it was her pleasure and how busy she was. I told her that I would tell all my friends that She had pulled of this amazing feat in less than two weeks and hopefully get her some more happy clients!
Come three years later and my brother Marc had just gotten engaged to Jayde. Jayde had only been in Australia for close to a year after immigrating from South Africa so I offered to help her on my next trip to Australia. Naturally my first thought was “Jane Hill of course!”.
I later learnt that sadly Jane had lost her battle with breast cancer and passed away only a few months prior to my brother’s engagement. I couldn’t believe it, I thought that it had to be a mistake.
I knew that she had been sick and was in remission at the time that she had made my dress, as she briefly told me about it at one of our fittings but only a few short years later she had relapsed and I hadn’t heard.
Jane, the fashion World has lost a great and talented designer and the rest of us have lost a lovey warm enchanting lady. I will forever be grateful that I managed to have a ‘Jane Hill’ wedding dress just as the thirteen- year- old version of myself hoped for, but even more so that I had the pleasure to meet you and be touched by your and your team’s charm and talent. Three years later, I will always remember the beautiful red-head lady who saved my wedding and made me a stunning dress in only two weeks!
Jane Hill studio still continues to design bridal couture under the expertise of Sophie, Jane’s talented dressmaker and her team there.
Needless to say, I will be taking Jayde to meet with Jane’s team and I’m sure they will do her legacy proud.
I have made a donation to The National Breast Cancer Foundation in honor of Jane and of so many women who die from the disease every year (including my paternal grandmother who passed away before I was born and whom I am named after). If you would like to do so too, please visithttps://my.nbcf.org.au/donate.
RIP Jane Hill xx
Thanks to my Dad for passing this onto Jane’s family.
This was their reply:
Hullo Willie -I am Jane’s Dad and I have just read the piece that Elise wrote and which you sent to Jaz and Bella yesterdayIt was written delightfully and very much captured much of Jane’s characterIt was particularly poignant for Marie(Jane’s Mum) and I are at our beach house where Jane did the work on Elise’s dress .The mannequin on which Jane rebuilt that dress now stands rather forlornly up in the top room -the Xmas just gone was the first time it was not used for a couple of decadesIt was Xmas Eve 2012 when she was re-diagnosed and by then the cancer had spread through much of her bodyBut we came to Lennox(just south of Byron Bay) as we always did at Xmas and she worked almost demonically on a new collection which is still the basis of our sales more than year laterMarie and I then went to live with her and she died in our arms at home on the 18th of OctoberTo the end she was enormously courageous and graceful and that too gave us all great strengthWe had a small Buddhist funeral in our garden at Sassafras and then a few weeks later a celebration of her life -lots of stories(Jane had always operated on the principle that it was easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission)many laughs and a few tearsA number of brides spoke spontaneously along the same lines as Elise and it was a beautiful eveningWe miss her enormously of course but know the best way to maintain her presence and legacy is to keep the Business alive and growingBoth Jaz and Bella are heavily involved along with the rest of the great team Jane had assembled over the years and we all remain committed to the ‘Jane Hill look’ and to making our brides feel very specialWe hope to have a Tribute Gown ready soonSo Willie thank you so much for sending this piece on -Marie and I and the girls appreciate that a lotOur best wishes to you and your family and will you also thank Elise for her words and thoughtsTravel well John Hill