History

My name is Thea Basiliou and I founded the store Blonde Venus in Brisbane, Australia in 1990.

I grew up in Nambour on the Sunshine Coast and around the age of 8, I developed an obsession with pop/rock music.
In my early teens this evolved into a passion for alternative and experimental music and the style and culture that was inspired by this.

My Mum, Ruth Basiliou had a strong sense of style and we shared a love of unique design, admiring designers like Stuart Membery, Prue Acton, Sally Browne and Lydia Pearson. I started collecting and experimenting with vintage clothing from local charity stores and also alternative hair styles and became a regular follower of the live music scene on the Sunshine Coast and
in Brisbane.

I followed bands like The Go-Betweens, Pel Mel, The Johnnies, The Birthday Party, The Sunnyboys, The Hoodoo Gurus, The Cure, The Celibate Rifles, The Associates, The Cramps, The Gun Club... I clearly remember my first purchase from Rocking Horse Records on Adelaide Street in 1981 - a Birthday Party album and a Siouxsie and The Banshees T-shirt!

It was also around this time in the early 1980's that I discovered Stiletto Magazine which was Australia's answer to Andy Warhol's Interview Magazine from the States. Stiletto showcased directional Australian fashion, music, culture in avant garde style editorial including Brisbane designers Belltower, Lyn Hadley and Rhonda Reid.

This was an amazing alternative media form in contrast to the mainstream press where these labels would have found it difficult to get a look in. It was a platform for Brisbane fashion and music to be showcased on a national level with like-minded people.

This strong time of creativity and these labels inspired me. These designers were going up against corporate fashion
labels that dominated mainstream fashion. They were actually creating. They helped unleash my direction in life - that I wanted to be a part of the creative culture and to be a part of the movement against the ordinary - where everything should be extraordinary!

I moved to Brisbane in 1986 and immediately enrolled to study fashion, which I did part-time at Mt Gravatt TAFE until the end
on 1989.

I explored the Brisbane fashion and music scene, regularly attending fashion parades and events relating to the creative scene.

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In May 1990, I opened Blonde Venus in the city's Elizabeth Arcade. My aim was to create an eclectic boutique that showcased creative and forward design. This did not necessarily have to be all fashion but encompass ideas of the lifestyle and genre -art, books, music etc. The concept of the boutique was also not necessarily high end, but definitely exclusive and to be a platform for new designers.

I stocked my own label Theodora Goes Wild along with a mixture of then emerging Australian labels including Zimmermann (then known as Zimmerwoman) and Third Millenium, alongside international labels including Pam Hogg, Betsey Johnson and Patricia Field, all of which had never been stocked in Queensland before and were difficult to buy in Australia.

I put the word out in the fashion community and started stocking local designers - home grown pieces from Angela Sinnett and Bec Litchfield, graphic design pieces by Dominique O'Leary, industrial jewellery by Stephen Gallagher. It was then that I also met Mark Wilson from Hairy Dog and we did our first parade together at an art space called Gallery Brutal at Isn't Studios on Gipp Street in Fortitude Valley. I also met and stocked designs by underground design duo Two Blue Fish, who were Vicki Martin and Karen Blinco.

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Editorial by Kellie Alderman, Time Off 1990

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The link with art and fashion continued and I later participated in events for Brisbane's Art Right team – a group that were using art to raise funds for human rights. Their first exhibition was at the then MoCA on Petrie Terrace and was actually opened by the Dalai Lama on May 10th, 1991. Blonde Venus participated in Art Right’s Dance-Rite, which was a dance party at McWhirter's Art Space and later an event at the Riverside Ballroom in New Farm, where designers had to design pieces inspired by Madonna. I chose the Byzantine version!

The late 1980's and early 1990's saw the underground explosion of dance music and dance party culture. These events would often draw massive crowds of gorgeous young things dressed in the very latest. It became quite competitive with girls and guys buying a new outfit for each event and the fashion was quite "extreme".

Back stage at the Shock Dance Party, 1990

Fashion parades became a big part of this scene and Blonde Venus was regularly involved in these along with the other cool Brisbane boutiques of the time The Mask, Hyaena, Chi Chi Deluxe and Betty Britches.

The night club fashion parade was a major concept throughout this time and it was then the way to present emerging fashion
design as well as our burgeoning make-up and hair stylists, models, dancers, choreographers, sound and lighting technicians
and of course DJ's.

These parades were often quite kitsch and flamboyant choreographed dance routines, reflecting the dance and club culture of the time. Regular names in the scene included Peter Brown, Tim Gruchy, Michael Watt, Adrian Barker, Lance Leopard, Edwin, Johnny Griffin, Thomas Sidey, Jane Slingo, Lyndell Mansfield, Danielle Pedrina, Matt Kitshon…


Some of the bigger dance party events included: The RAT Parties (Recreational, Art's Team), Adrenalin, Adventjah, Blackout, Magic Roundabout, Fantazia and Infinity.

These events were held at clubs and venues like The Roxy, Transformers, Manhattan/The Site, The Alarm, Lexington Queen,
Metropolis, The Fag Bar and later Grand Orbit.

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The RAQ Fashion Awards were a popular event on the Brisbane fashion calender and the pressure to be involved
was quite compelling. It almost felt like a path for acceptance into certain circles. I entered three times and I finally became a finalist with my label which I had then renamed Theodora in 1994. The experience of attending the awards was an eye
opener and made me realize that this perhaps wasn't the right environment for me.

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There was a feel of change in the city in the mid 1990's. City rents had escalated and some stores had closed down or changed direction.

In 1995, I decided to move the store into the mostly vacant block on Ann Street, below The Zoo in Fortitude Valley.



Thea Basiliou at the first incarnation of Blonde Venus on Ann Street in 1995

 
I figured that the store would always be a destination boutique and Fortitude Valley had long been a cool social destination.
Patience and hard work paid off. In 1996, Brisbane emerging architect Adrian Spence re-designed the store interior which became it's signature style for a very long time!


Nineties minimalism kicked in and Brisbane was again evolving and feeling a sense of sophistication. Sydney designers like Morrissey Edmiston, Wayne Cooper's Brave and Melbourne's Saba opened up in the city's Wintergarden.

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Mercedes Australian Fashion Week launched in Sydney in 1995 heralding a new era in Australian fashion. This was the first time that Australia could present itself internationally on a professional catwalk level, as a collective.
Also, it was the first time that we could network with other retailers, designers, photographers, hair stylists and particularly media on a national level.

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The night club fashion parades as we knew them moved out of favour and we looked at new ways of promoting and presenting.

In fact, I tried to distance Blonde Venus from the eccentric days of the early 1990's and it was quite some time before I hosted another fashion show.

Contemporary style cocktail bars became the place to go and for Brisbane it was Gerties, The Lychee Lounge and later The Press Club.

In 1998, I held two Sunday afternoon fashion parades as season launches which were stylish sit-down affairs, one at Jameson's Restaurant and the other at Fortitude Valley's Latin Cafe.
In 1999 I launched our Spring/Summer season to a sold out crowd at the Press Club with a catwalk show.

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Caroline Gardam and Margot Davies launched Minni Magazine in 1999, a small bi-monthly free glossy filled with Brisbane fashion and lifestyle.

In 2000, Australian Fashion Week team launched the Mercedes Start-Up Programme. The advent of these awards for young designers marked a new time and confidence for fashion in Australia.

The awards were a national event which also included New Zealand and the support of MAFW meant that the designers received immense support and coverage by national media, which crossed into international recognition.

This included editorial in our major fashion magazines including Vogue Australia, Harper's Bazaar and also avast on-line presence. The awards elevated our young designers confidence in that they could be based in Brisbane but were accepted as international. Finalists included Brisbane labels such as Gail Sorronda, Shiloh Engelbrecht, John Prikryl and George Wu.

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Australian Fashion Week invited me to be on their National Selection Panel and their Advisory Board.

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Edgy London based magazine Wallpaper, put us on the international fashion map in 2002, in their feature on Fortitude Valley as a cool shopping destination.
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In 2002, I hosted another season launch at The Press Club and in 2003, a seated show at the brand new Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts. With both of these events, I incorporated performance dance pieces in addition to a traditional catwalk parade to create a unique event.

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The addition of the Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Fashion at QUT in 2002 has made a huge impact on the progression of fashion in Brisbane in leaps and bounds. Leading the course with international experience from the London College of Fashion was Suzi Vaughan and she was certainly responsible for another shift in confidence and inspired a more progressive fashion community.

In 2004 QUT, invited me to assist the final year fashion students with feedback on their collections and also guidance, during assessment. I took this role until 2015!

Gail Reid was in the first batch of graduates from the degree in 2005. Blonde Venus was the first store to stock her label Gail Sorronda label and Gail quickly gained media attention with her striking black and white collection and her own quirky style.

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In 2002, as the city was growing,  I opened a second Blonde Venus at 76 Vulture Street, West End.

A memorable event we held there was the season launch for Perks and Mini’s Lights Over Egypt Collection with an amazing pyramid light installation by artist Timothy Kendall Edser.

After three years, this store had taken on it's own personality so I decided to move it to Winn Street in Fortitude Valley (just around the corner from BV) and re-named it The Outpost after the cool local band venue from the 1980's.

This move enabled us to streamline Blonde Venus by moving some of the more street based themes into The Outpost, including books, zines, toys and artwork.


The concept has worked into many in-store music and art events and also the annual art show I Used To Skate Once, which now in it's fifth year drew a crowd of nearly 1400 people on it's opening night (above) on June 25th 2009.

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We  hosted a series of other incredible launches at Blonde Venus in that decade.

In 2001 we participated in the public art concept Retail Therapy. Retail Therapy was an integrated temporary public art exhibition, using the shop fronts of fashion retailers in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley. 14 artists and designers worked with individual retailers with the retailer as client.

Blonde Venus collaborated with artist Lucy Griggs.

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In 2002 and 2003 we participated in the Straight Out of Brisbane Festival, again with the concept of temporary public art in our store windows.

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Yen Curvy Art Work inside Blonde Venus on Ann Street with the party continuing in to the back laneway on Winn Street in 2005



We held launches for Yen Magazines Curvy Book, for issue number 2 and number 5 in 2005 and 2008 respectively.

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In 2004, we held a huge launch party for the Karen Walker “Queenie Was a Dog” collection vs the Perks and Mini “It’s a Balls Up” collection. The party was an inside / outside event with champagne and hotdogs, London Fashion Week footage and frantic shopping!

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Michelle Brown from Feathers playing live in store at Blonde Venus on Ann Street, 2008

 

 

In February 2008 we launched Chloe Sevigny’s debut collection for Opening Ceremony in Australia with an in-store event featuring Rose and Cupcakes and a live performance by Brisbane all girl band Feathers.

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A Karl Lagerfeld sighting on Rue St Honore during fashion week in Paris

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yacht rock disco blonde venus

In September 2009, we held a huge night as the "Unofficial

Brisbane Fashion Festival Opening Party".

Called Yacht Rock vs Disco, we invited guests to dress in theme

with some unique live performances and a very packed dancefloor.

Special party guests included Kirsty Clements (then editor of Vogue Australia)

designer Akira Isogawa and fashion writer Damien Woolnough.

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Matthew Nguyen and Anthony Trojman wearing Pageant, Liz Whelan and Frances Hannaway wearing Verner at the Fish Lane Studios opening.

Hair by Lisa Guidala from Lila Boheme and make up by Amy O'Farrell from Immaculate Makeup.

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Dancers, choreographed by Claire Marshall for the Fish Lane Studios opening

 

 

In August 2013, I was invited to participate for the opening of Fish Lane Artist Studios at South Brisbane.

I collaborated with contemporary dance choreographer Claire Marshall who created a dance piece and also band Naked Maja who played live on the night for the performance.

I styled the dancers in Verner, Perks & Mini and Pageant and they performed on the floor, pushing the crowd back. It was a great piece.

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After 18 years on Ann Street, the environment had changed dramatically in every aspect from the cafes to the club scene. It was time to make a move.

In December 2013, I sold The Outpost,  closed the Ann Street store and re-opened Blonde Venus on Robertson Street in the James Street Precinct, in March 2014.

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Blonde Venus at 181 Robertson Street, Fortitude Valley

 

The store had a complete facelift, again with the help of architect Adrian Spence taking on even more of a gallery aesthetic with concrete floor, pale wood and avant garde lighting.

The beautiful trestle racks were designed by Brisbane architect Paul Owen and all of the woodwork was made locally.

 

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Blonde Venus in Artichoke Magazine September 2014 with photos by Toby Scott

 

In September 2014, the new Blonde Venus was featured in the Australian design magazine, Artichoke.

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In October 2014, Blonde Venus participated in an Art Exhibition in collaboration with the Institute of Modern Art (IMA) called the Subtropic Complex where we exhibited work by artist Alice Lang in the shop front.

 

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Heatwave Invitation

thea basiliou emma sayer erin dawson workshop heatwave

Thea Basiliou (centre) with Emma Sayer (left) and Erin Dawson (right) from the band Workshop

 

In November 2014, we held a huge dance party in collaboration with Sydney based DJ phenomenon Pelvis. We had been stocking their clothing line exclusively in Queensland and Heatwave was their live Brisbane debut.

The party, which led from the store through to the back carpark of the building was a huge success and included local music acts DJ Domestic Sphere, Workshop, Multiple Man and Enderie Nuatal. 

 

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On December the 6th 2014,  we hosted an in store launch for Brisbane based artist Michael Phillips who created a limited edition screen print (above) for Blonde Venus. We served Gelati from Macelleria and Capi Sparkling Mineral Water to enthusiastic art and fashion fans.

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thea basiliou at the jacquemus les parasols de marseille

At the Jacquemus 'Les Parasols de Marseille' SS15 Runway show in Paris

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Styling Kia Low for Oyster Magazine, shot by Megan Cullen

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After being located on Robertson Street for only 13 months, we were asked

to temporarily relocate the store due to building works right next door to us.

So Blonde Venus was re-located in a make-shift store on James Street.

This relocation dragged on over expected time and we were struggling for store space and identity in the temporary environment.

Most of our on-line orders were going to Melbourne, so in July 2015, I launched a Pop Up store for a month within the beautiful Verner store space, in Mitchell House in Melbourne city. I had been stocking Verner in Brisbane since the label's inception and it was wonderful for Ingrid Verner to share her space with me.

I had done many short trips to Melbourne over the years but had never stayed for so long and I really fell in love with the city. The fashion, arts, film and music scene is incredible, buoyant and supportive and I felt very much at home.

I realised that I knew many people based in Melbourne all through out the creative industries.

Back in Brisbane, after 7 months there was no end in sight for the end of construction works for us to move back to our 'real' store. The store momentum had really suffered  and I sadly decided that it was time to go.

So after 25 and a half years, on the 24th of December 2015, I closed Blonde Venus in Brisbane to forge a new beginning in Melbourne.

It was a sad time but also I felt a great sense of fulfilment for all of the work that I had achieved in Brisbane and also in the Australian fashion industry.

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Over the years Blonde Venus has been the first to introduce an incredible array of labels to Brisbane.
Australian labels have included Zimmermann, Third Millenium, Bettina Liano, Wheels and Doll Baby, Alannah Hill, Foxes, Mad Cortes, Toni Maticevski, Rebecca Dawson, Teresa Ruiz, Marnie Skillings, Jon Hewitt, Anthony Kendall, Gary Bigeni, Akira, Caravana, Alice McCall, Youthworld / Therese Rawsthorne, Gail Sorronda, Nicholas Wilsdon, Josh Goot, Michelle Robinson, Elke Kramer, Carly Hunter, Dion Lee, Christopher Esber, Provensen, Holly Ryan, Harriet Sutherland...

International labels have included Patricia Field, Betsey Johnson, Pam Hogg, John Fluevog Shoes, Preen, House of Jazz, Little Joe, Liness, C&C California, Miller Harris, Eley Kishimoto, Hussein Chalayan, Peter Jensen, Lara Bohinc, Jens Laugesen, Apiece Apart, Base Range, AriesMarques ' Almeida...

There are also many international labels that Blonde Venus launched exclusively into Australia, including James Jeans, Park Vogel, Elizabeth Galton, Sinha Stanic, Gaspard Yurkievich, Andrea Crews, Dolly, Ann-Sofie Back, Richard Nicoll, JW Anderson,  Roksanda Ilincic,  Chloe Sevigny for Opening Ceremony, Peter Pilotto, House of Holland, Mary Katrantzou, Simone Rocha,  Jacquemus, Claire Barrow...

thea basiliou blonde venus at verner popup

Blonde Venus Pop Up Store at Verner in Melbourne


Thanks to Verner, I continued the Pop Up space at Mitchell House until May 2016.

In July 2016, I decided to let go of the Blonde Venus title as I felt I'd outgrown it.

It was history and a very different time.

I have rebranded as 'myself' Thea Basiliou!

The store is currently completely online and based in Melbourne, Australia.

If you read all of this...thank you!

See you soon,

Thea X

Thea Basiliou X