Dressmaker and stylist Karen Mizzi restores vintage clothing from her central Victorian studio.

Story + Photo Genevieve Barlow

Some of us keep outfits our parents or grandparents wore. Or beautiful vintage garments we bought a long time ago, thinking we’ll find time to fix them. Maybe it’s our mother’s or grandmother’s or great-grandmother’s wedding dress. Then time wreaks havoc. Moths have their way. And our beautiful silk georgette or velvet or chiffon outfits disintegrate.

Enter dressmaker and vintage stylist Karen Mizzi. On the verandah of her 1896 Victorian weatherboard cottage, all Hedy Lamarr glamour in her 1940s crepe rayon fitted dress, seamed fishnet stockings and jewel-studded snood around her black hair, this businesswoman brings all the grace, charm and elegance of bygone eras to her bush home in Longwood (population 240), near Euroa in central Victoria.You might have a delicate and much-loved vintage dress requiring special care, cottons and fabrics. You send the dress to Karen. She fixes it and posts it back. (Luckily, Longwood still has a post office agency at its general store.) She also sells online. She has about 30,000 followers worldwide.

Karen, 46, is no mere mender or repairer. She restores and recreates. “A lot of people claim to restore vintage clothes but they often repair, not restore,” she says. The difference is significant. She’ll restore clothes using the stitches and materials of their time. “I do hems in the way they were done originally,” she says. “I can spend hours and hours on herringbone stitching to match the way it was originally done. Not machine-sewn but by hand.”

She focuses on repairing, restoring and recreating vintage bridal and bridesmaid dresses, for which she says there’s growing demand. “I had a woman who wanted to marry in her mother’s 1960 satin and lace wedding dress,” Karen says. “The lace overdress was damaged beyond repair so I replicated it using French lace that was very similar to the original.”  

Karen’s most recent contract was to create an entire 1950s vintage-style bridal party’s outfits. She has also restored the rotted underarms of a delicate 1920s silk georgette cocktail dress and added length to a 1950s silk-satin day dress in a way that few would know they’d been restored at all. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #124

Outback Magazine: April/May 2019