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Ogilvie, Patrick Joseph (1925–1997)

by Janet Campbell

This article was published online in 2022

Patrick Ogilvie, n.d.

Patrick Ogilvie, n.d.

courtesy of Brent Ogilvie

Patrick Joseph Ogilvie (1925–1997), milliner and couturier, was born on 13 May 1925 at Rosewood, Queensland, youngest of four children of Scottish-born David Alexander Ogilvie, moving-pictures exhibitor, and his Victorian-born wife Ada Madeline, née Caffery. About 1930 tuberculosis forced Patrick’s father to relinquish his business. The Ogilvies moved to Brisbane, eventually settling at Rosalie, where Patrick attended the Marist Brothers’ College. His parents kept the family afloat in the Depression by making lampshades which they sold to department stores. He watched and acquired the skills, later agreeing with an interviewer that it was not ‘far from lampshades to hats’ (1993). By age eleven he had also learnt to tap dance, and for about two years he performed at night in vaudeville shows at the Theatre Royal and other venues. He became known as Brisbane’s Fred Astaire; his father arranged bookings for his performances, which earned him two guineas a week. An accomplished pianist with a good ear, he would retain an interest in music.

In 1942 Ogilvie was appointed as a clerk in the Queensland Department of Public Instruction's office of the apprenticeship committees. Experimenting with millinery in his spare time, he made his first hats for female friends. Word of his creations spread and commissions started to trickle in, through a nearby fashion boutique. At age twenty-one he decided that, if he was serious about millinery, he needed more training. Resigning from his job, he moved to Sydney to become an apprentice to Margot Macrae, a leading wholesale milliner. He gained experience in her factory for eleven months, then worked with the celebrated milliner Henriette Lamotte, Countess d’Espinay, before moving to the salon of another well-known milliner, the couturier Valda Normoyle. As well as a deepening understanding of hat-making, he gained experience in garment design and construction, skills that would later stand him in good stead.

Returning to Brisbane in 1948, Ogilvie established a tiny salon at the back of the dress shop Greddens, in Elizabeth Street. Initially, he had to improvise wherever he could. He created his own hat blocks by shaping spartre (stiffening material) and then covering it with plaster of Paris. In addition, he made his own hatpins, which he described as ‘beaded spiders’ (1993), by scraping out walnut shells which he then varnished and beaded as the decorative heads. Within three months he had outgrown his salon and moved to a first-floor room, which he bought for £250, in the central and fashionable Rowes Building in Edward Street. After about three years, he again required larger premises. He purchased the entire third floor of the Rowes Building for £2,000 and established a sumptuous salon. At first in partnership with Elizabeth Manning, he also sold hats at a boutique in the Lennons Hotel foyer.

By the early 1950s Ogilvie’s handmade, hand-trimmed, and hand-dyed hats were in high demand. He had developed a national reputation for his fine hand-stitch, which he referred to as the ‘stitch-tack’ (1993). Experienced milliners approached him for employment. On 23 April 1951 he exhibited in a big fashion parade at the City Hall in aid of the War Widows’ Guild of Australia. This was the first time an audience had viewed his work, and by the next morning he had sold everything he had put on show. In subsequent years he organised many fashion parades in Brisbane and country centres.

Throughout his career, Ogilvie collaborated with leading fashion designers, most notably Gwen Gillam. For weddings, he often joined forces with the florist Bernadette O’Shea, many brides commissioning a custom-designed Ogilvie veil. His hats were regularly featured in the fashion pages of the Courier-Mail, Queensland Country Life, and Australian Women’s Weekly. Journalists sought his comments on the state of fashion and its trends. Ogilvie headwear became indispensable for every social occasion, clients coming to him from as far as Sydney, Melbourne, and outback Queensland. There could be as many as thirty women in the showroom at once. He personally attended every purchaser and customised his hats to suit facial features and head shapes.

At the height of his business, Ogilvie had thirty-eight employees. He rarely had time to construct any of his designs himself. One of the milliners in his workroom, Shirley Luke, remembered: ‘Patrick would wander around the tables then sit down beside us to discuss the hat we were working on’ (Campbell 2013, 62). Each creation took about three weeks to complete and hatpins continued to be important. He said, ‘you could always tell an Ogilvie hat by the hatpins’ (1993). On 1 June 1956 at St Vincent’s Catholic Church, Ashfield, Sydney, he married Carmen Antoinette (Toni) Rossi, a nurse. She became integral to the enterprise, providing inspiration, support, and publicity. Widely known for her elegance and beauty, she was described as Ogilvie’s muse and regularly modelled his hats and garments.

In 1958 Ogilvie opened Le Louvre, a boutique selling fashion accessories and ready-made hats, on the ground floor of the Rowes Building. About 1962 he launched a second establishment, The Ogilvie Look, at Toowong and in 1970 moved it to Indooroopilly as the Ogilvie Boutique. While millinery was always his foremost creative endeavour, garment design became a feature of his repertoire. His diversification into clothing proved to be fortunate, as the popularity of hats declined sharply in the 1960s. Reflecting on a confronting time, he recalled that ‘my trade just collapsed’ (1993). He was forced to rationalise his millinery business and continue with a skeleton staff. In early 1972 he closed both his salon and Le Louvre. His boutique at Indooroopilly remained open until 1994, by which time he had been diagnosed with cancer. He continued to design bridal veils, often for third-generation clients, and occasionally hats.

Ogilvie had an engaging personality and a ready sense of humour, which immediately put others at ease. He was widely liked and was a loyal and good friend. Six feet (183 cm) tall, with intelligent grey eyes, he cut an attractive figure in the world of Australian fashion. His milliners recalled him fondly as a man of kindness and patience who created a congenial work environment, treating them more like family than employees.

Survived by his wife and their two sons and two daughters, Ogilvie died on 29 April 1997 at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, and was cremated. His work is represented in the collection of the Queensland Museum, South Bank. Pill boxes, turbans, berets, the pixie-style, bridal veils, cocktail hats, cloches, toques, scarf hats, snoods, and boaters demonstrate his exceptional range as a designer and his meticulous handwork. In 1995 the museum held a retrospective exhibition of his hats, which he attended, to celebrate his fifty-year contribution to millinery in Australia. His portrait by Lawrence Daws and several of his elegant outfits and hats were included in private collections.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Buick, Nadia, and Madeleine King, eds. Remotely Fashionable: A Story of Subtropical Style. Brisbane: The Fashion Archives, 2015
  • Campbell, Janet. ‘Patrick Ogilvie 20th Century Milliner.’ In Australian Modern Design: Mid 20th Century Architecture & Design, edited by Chris Osborne, 58–63. Brisbane: Chris Osborne Publishing, 2013
  • McGinness, Mark. ‘Stylish Hatter with a Head for Business.’ Australian, 4 June 1997, 14
  • Ogilvie, Patrick. Interview by Sue Pechey, 11, 19 November, 6, 13 December 1993. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland
  • Queensland Museum. Object File H23324, Patrick Ogilvie Collection

Additional Resources

Citation details

Janet Campbell, 'Ogilvie, Patrick Joseph (1925–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ogilvie-patrick-joseph-32004/text39548, published online 2022, accessed online 9 December 2022.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2022

Patrick Ogilvie, n.d.

Patrick Ogilvie, n.d.

courtesy of Brent Ogilvie