Mollie Rodie Mackenzie: A Life in Fashion

Friday 29 May 2020

by Dr Jill Haley and Dr Bronwyn Labrum

We were very sad to learn that one of our most significant collectors passed away last month.

Mollie Rodie Mackenzie in 1938

Mollie Rodie, c1938, Wellington, by Stanley Andrew. Te Papa (O.039887)

Marion Florence Mackenzie (née Rodie), known as Mollie Rodie Mackenzie, developed one of the most comprehensive collections of twentieth century fashion and clothing in the country. It includes over 2,000 items of women’s, men’s and children’s dress. Nearly 800 accessories such as hats, shoes, handbags, gloves, necklaces, scarves, belts and neckties complement the hundreds of dresses, jackets and shirts she collected. In addition to clothing and accessories, Mollie collected items related to fashion such as cosmetics, perfumes, magazines and patterns. In 1984, Canterbury Museum purchased Mollie’s collection. It is an incredible resource that has been used by students, writers, experts and the curious. It remains a living collection which has been added to steadily by successive curators.

Fashion Became Her Life

Mollie was born in Invercargill on 25 October 1919. She attended Samuel Marsden Collegiate and then Wellington Technical College because of her aptitude at drawing. In 1936, she spent a year with her mother in Britain, where she attended Heatherley’s School of Art. On her return to New Zealand, she worked for a short time for Fashions Ltd in Wellington on their Fashionbilt label. It was there that Mollie learned about fabrics, drafting patterns and garment design and wear.

Living in Wellington during World War Two, Mollie designed costumes for fundraising pageants and carnivals. The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa holds a significant collection of these sketches.

Mollie married Hal Dillon Scobie Mackenzie in 1942 in Wellington and after he had served overseas they lived first at Kyeburn Station and then a low country farm near Timaru. A period in Central Otago was followed by a move to Burleigh Heads in Queensland in the mid-1980s. Over her long career she wrote columns, features and provided illustrations for a range of New Zealand newspapers. She also illustrated fashion advertising for Christchurch’s Ballantynes Department Store. Mollie died peacefully in Queensland, aged 100, on 9 April 2020.

The Mollie Rodie Mackenzie Collection

Many of the items in the collection are everyday, off-the-rack New Zealand-made examples of fashion. These garments are often underrepresented in museum collections, which have tended to favour high-end or special occasion garments such as wedding dresses or christening gowns. Mollie recognised that clothing was just one part of the act of dressing so accessories and other fashion-related items form an important part of her collection. It is a treasure trove, put together by someone with an expert eye who knew what would be important to keep for posterity. It is a delight to dip into and also repays more sustained study.

In addition to supplying objects for Canterbury Museum displays, the Mollie Rodie Mackenzie Collection is used for research, including a PhD thesis at RMIT University (Melbourne) and a Master’s at the University of Otago, and by writers and other researchers. Mollie’s collection has influenced Canterbury Museum’s fashion collecting, taking it in new directions and expanding it beyond its earlier nineteenth-century focus. The Museum has built upon Mollie’s legacy and actively collects twentieth-century garments and accessories with an eye to local and New Zealand designers and manufacturers such as Barbara Lee, Thornton Hall, Southwell, Love Story, Early Bird and Fanny Buss.

Here are just a few items from the collection to whet your appetite:


Chiffon jazz dress

This evening dress from about 1926, an example of Jazz Age fashion, is made of dark blue pure silk chiffon and features a skirt with a Persian pattern over a Cubist background. It is one of the earliest items in the Mackenzie collection. Canterbury Museum 1984.70.454

Gold and Black High Heel Sandal

Mollie’s collection was not limited to everyday items. A pair of 1937 gold and black women's high heel sandals made by Hollywood represent the glamorous side of fashion. Canterbury Museum 1984.70.2121

Black and tan stripe men’s single-breasted jacket

A black and tan stripe men’s single-breasted jacket epitomises the Teddy Boy look of British subculture in the 1950s where young men copied Edwardian-era fashion. Canterbury Museum 1984.70.15

John Webster necktie

This necktie from 1965, made by New Zealand menswear manufacturer John Webster, was worn as a neck filler under sports shirts. In its style and construction, it is an excellent example of the exaggerated designs of 1960s men’s fashion. Canterbury Museum 1984.70.3817

Synthetic fibre knit maxi dress

Auckland manufacturer Silknit is known for its lingerie but in 1969 they produced this bright green, synthetic fibre-knit maxi dress with a turtleneck collar and banded bell sleeves. Canterbury Museum 1984.70.384

Striped underpants

Mollie’s collection includes underwear as well as outerwear. These colourful 1960s or 1970s Bendon briefs were intended for the younger male consumer. Canterbury Museum 1984.70.1793 

Horse Bag

Among the 100 handbags in the collection is this 1970s leather shoulder bag with woven leather decoration and a tooled design of a horse’s head. Canterbury Museum 1984.70.3320

Coke trousers

A pair of Coca-Cola trousers from 1975 epitomises Mollie’s eye for collecting clothing that captured popular culture. Canterbury Museum 1984.70.902

Perm kit

Perhaps nothing represents the 1980s more than permed hair. This after perm conditioning kit was produced by Helene Curtis and sold by Dodds Pharmacy in Merivale, Christchurch, in 1985. Canterbury Museum 1984.70.3526

Black high heels

Since 1984, Mollie’s daughter Vickie has donated over 100 items from her mother’s collection to Canterbury Museum, including these 1970s black heels worn by Mollie herself, made by Selby Shoes. Canterbury Museum 2014.15.7

costume gallery2This 1940s dress by New Zealand designer Maud Barrell of Fascinator Frocks is on display in our Costume Gallery. Canterbury Museum EC184.169

Hundreds more items from Mollie’s collection can be viewed on the Canterbury Museum Collections Online portal.

Read more about the collection in an article by Jennifer Quérée and Andrew Paul Wood, Beyond the black singlet: The Mollie Rodie Mackenzie Collection of 20th century clothing, Records of the Canterbury Museum, Vol. 17 (2003): 48–75. Click here to download a PDF of the article.

Jill HaleyDr Jill Haley is Curator Human History at Canterbury Museum




BronwynLabrumDr Bronwyn Labrum is Leader Special Curatorial Projects at Canterbury Museum

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