Fashion on the farm

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If you were a close follower of the world of women’s high fashion during the 1970s and ’80s and wondered what happened to the often spectacular garments created for beauty pageants and fashion awards, wonder no more. There is a good chance they ended up in the callouSdd hands of a Central Otago farmer, now retired.

Eden Hore, who lives near Naseby, has created a  unique museum, the cornerstone of which is the largest private collection of women’s high fashion dresses and gowns in New Zealand, almost 200 in total.

His collection features designs from 20 of New Zealand’s leading designers from the 1970s and early 1980s. There are 26 gar­ments made by prominent Wanganui designer Rosalie Gwilliam (including her own wedding dress), with some of the gowns having been made especially for the museum. Other New Zealand designers of the period whose work is represented  include John West, Kevin Berkhan and Vinka Lucas, who produced garments for the Saudi royal family.

How did a man of the land more accustomed to sheep than chiffon develop a taste for exotic women’s clothes?                            ‘

“In the early 1960s I advertised for a housekeeper and farm help, and the woman I employed worked part-time in Dunedin as a model,” Hore explains. Over the 12 years she worked for him he became interested in the world of women’s high fashion as, like most models, his housekeeper was very fashion conscious.

His interest was further fuelled by involvement in the Miss New Zealand Pageant. Hore first attended the pageant in 1963 when invited by country singer John Grenell. Grenell, a friend of Hore’s, was new to performing, and was looking for moral support. However, instead of applauding from the front Hore found himself backstage, assisting with the show, and the organisers cajoled him to return and help at the next four pageants.

Through work at the contest and his modelling housekeeper cum farmhand, Hore made contact with leading figures in the fashion industry of the day, and in 1970 started collecting garments, sometimes buying direct from designers. He took a particular interest in woollen and leather gar­ments, as he was keen to have examples of how wool, skins and hides were transformed from raw farm materials into fashionable apparel to show some of his farming cronies.

“Now when I look at all the dresses, I wonder how the devil I got so many,” Hore comments.

Parts of the collection are well travelled, having been displayed throughout the South Island, and Hore even exhibited 20 gowns at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show in 1977. He was even given the chance to take the clothes on a tour of Aus­tralia, complete with models  to wear them, but declined the offer. “I’m a pretty shy sort of a fella, really, and very straight. I just didn’t feel comfortable with the idea,” Hore says.

Initially, he kept his burgeoning collection in his house, but wi th space fast running out and more and more people wanting to view them, he had to find somewhere else to display the garments. He converted an old implement shed and grain store next to his house into a huge walk-in wardrobe of exotic clothes in 1975, and “Eden Hore’s World of Fashion” was born. Ward­robes-53 metres of them—now fill most of the space the machinery once occupied.

Two of the more unusual dresses include an evening gown aglitter with 42,000 sequins (which took 211 hours to sew on), and a futuristic wedding dress which features chain, coins and lace.

The museum contains several award-winning designs including the 1977 and 1978 Benson and Hedges “Gown of the Year” dresses as well as the “Supreme Wool” and “Fantasy” winning garments for that year.

Hore stopped adding regularly to his collection in 1982, after running out of wardrobe space, although the last two Rosalie Gwilliam gowns were not purchased until 1989 and 1993.

Pictures displayed around the museum of models wearing some of the creations help take the guesswork out of how the more exotic and bizarre garments were actually intended to fit the female form. Hore says he paid only a few hundred dollars for most of his dresses, but many are worth much more. One gown is valued at $15,000.

While high fashion dresses may hold centre stage at the museum, visitors have plenty of other collectables and curios to enjoy. Atop the wardrobes are 280 Jim Beam decanters, the largest collection of its  type in New Zealand. These used to reside at the nearby Danseys Pass Hotel, but were sold by the present owners.

The decanters come in a bewildering array of forms. As well as glass bottles, there are steam locomotives complete with carriages, vintage cars, trucks, fire engines and even tramcars, each containing a bottle of bourbon. Complementing the decanters are more than 70 old porcelain jugs.

In display cabinets are souvenirs from the 55 countries Hore has visited during his life, including dolls in national costume, pens, ashtrays and key rings. However, these common  tourist trinkets are eclipsed by less pedestrian memen­toes of his travels, including a handmade banjo given him in the United States, a gold-plated cutlery set from Thailand and a cigarette case and purse belonging to the wife of Vodka baron Marquess Smirnoff. Re­cently he added $15,000-worth of Franklin Mint’s heirloom dolls.

Even with these items, Hore’s collecting instinct is not extinguished. To view the dresses, visitors must first pass a display of 31 stuffed animals seemingly guarding the haute couture in an extension added to the front of the museum. Some of the more unusual exhibits include a coyote, dingo, ferocious-looking wild pig and an enormous yak bull.

These animals share more than a common resting place, for all were born or at some time lived on his farm, and provide a clue to another Eden Hore hobby: breeding unusual and exotic  animals. The reason for diversify­ing into animals not normally seen in rural New Zealand is simple, he says. “After working on a farm all my life, I didn’t want to see the same old cattle and sheep after I retired.”

The dingo and coyote were purchased from the Wellington Zoo, and saw out their days in Central Otago, and while he may not have any living examples of either today, there are still plenty of exotic animals roaming his 80 ha property.

Aside from his museum, Eden Hore is probably best known as a breeder of Ameri­can miniature horses. He was the first person to import the animals into the country, and is still the largest breeder in New Zealand. The horses are sold nationwide, and he has a waiting list of customers despite an asking price of $3000 each.

Hore first saw the horses while on holiday in the United States in 1981 and was so captivated that he purchased 12 mares and three stallions on the spot. Nowadays, miniature horse sales provide his main income. “It takes a lot of people at $5 each going through the museum to pay for $15,000 worth of dolls. I only get about ten buses a year out here, though a few other passers-by drop in.” His 30-odd miniature horses vie for attention with wallabies, peacocks, cocka­toos, deer and Himalayan tahr. No clothes horses, though.

His most spectacular animals lurk in a far corner of the farm, and upon first seeing them you could be mistaken for thinking the Dalai Lama lived just down the road. Hore has been the only person in New Zealand breeding Tibetan yaks, although he has just sold most of his stock. He first saw them at a zoo in Toronto in 1982, and  arranged to have three cows and two bulls airfreighted back to New Zealand.

The animals are decep­tively large, with bulls weighing close to a tonne, and as high as a man at the shoulder. Although they may  appear ungainly, he says, they have a good turn of speed and are quite graceful when running, as their tails curl up over their backs.

Despite having had them on his farm for over a decade, Hore is not keen to tangle with them. “They can be quite aggressive, so you wouldn’t catch me in the paddock amongst them. Their horns can become pretty impressive. I had one with a span of 52 inches. We had to back that one up a cattle race to get it on to a truck. If you hand rear calves they become very friendly. I’ve even shorn one or two for local spinners. Bearskin hats on the Queen’s guards are supposedly made from yak fur.”

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