Claudia Chan Shaw

Claudia Chan Shaw was one of four children. Her family history of migration to Australia from southern China goes back to the 1860s. She provides a detailed plotted history of their settlement in Australia.

Claudia also talks in detail about her mother, Vivien Chan Shaw establishing a reputation for herself in the fashion industry while being a single mother with four young children. She opened her own successful high-end designer fashion store in the Hilton Hotel complex. Claudia describes the items they made, the handmade techniques used and some of the clients they worked with over the years.

Vivian Chan Shaw, the brand, still functions today. Although Claudia had been working in the store while studying, she formally started in 1986 and has been an integral part of that business since then.

Claudia talks about moving the business from the Hilton to the Queen Victoria Building after it had been refurbished. She recalled the big opening day and said that decade of the mid 1980s to 1990s were the ‘glory days’. International tourism was at its peak and sales in the US and Europe were going exceptionally well. She reflects on how the label went international, relationship building and expanding the range to knitwear and jewellery.

[Claudia speaking about her mother Vivian]

Vivian didn’t love sewing but she always had a vision of what something looked like when it was completed and was very artistic, so could sketch a garment and as a good communicator could tell the dressmaker exactly what that garment should look like.

So she didn’t go to fashion school where she learnt how to cut a pattern but she could drape fabric on a body just from her own natural sense of what looked right, good sense of proportion and design.

After she left the fabric houses she did work for the In Shoppes for David Sheinberg and also the House of John and Merivale. The In Shoppes were at the time in the late ‘60s, I think, going into the ‘70s, very groovy stores, and it’s where all the young hip and happening people went for their fabulous clothing and one of the stores that they wanted to open had an oriental feel and it was called ‘In Jap’ and it was on the top level of the Imperial Arcade.

Sheinberg said to her “Have you got a Chinese name?  This Shaw bit is not really very exotic” and she said “Well, our family name is Chan, that’s the clan name” – and he said “Well, you can be Vivian Chan Shaw” and she thought “O.K, I’ll be Vivian Chan Shaw”.

We were at school and we were latchkey children.  So when Mum was at work we were obviously at home and she’d ring us from work and say “Put the rice on.  I’ll be home in half an hour”. And we were a very tight little unit; we worked hard in our house for Mum so that when she came home something was done for her.  And her greatest gripe was when we used up all the hot water because she’d come home and she’d virtually cry because all she wanted to do after being on her feet all day was get into a hot tub and the little rotten kids had used up all the water so we just had to make sure we staggered our baths.

She was still doing her hand knitting, always doing her hand knitting, and when she first started her own business she was always hand beading at night. She was very, very focused on just surviving as a woman alone with four kids which was difficult in those days.

One day she decided “I can do this for myself.  So in those days – it was 1972 when she started her business and that was a shop called ‘Jeunesse’ under the Hilton Hotel and in those days it was the Royal Arcade.  And the Hilton in those days was really beautiful, all the internationals came there.  She had no capital to start the business so she took a day off work and trotted down to the bank and made an appointment to see the bank manager and said “I’m opening a business” and he said to her “I’m very sorry, I can’t give you a loan” and she got up from the table and said “Well, if you can’t help me then I’ll have to leave.  I’ve taken the day off work to get a loan.  I need to start this business and I need your support. If you can’t support me, well, thank you very much for your time”. So she ran outside and it was a bright and sunny day and she blinked into the sunlight and thought “Don’t cry, don’t cry.  And the bank manager ran after her and said “Mrs Shaw, come back inside” and she said “If that’s your answer, I have nothing more to say to you if your answer’s still the same”.  He said “No, no, no, come inside.  We’ll work something out”.

And women in those days didn’t go into business and they certainly didn’t go and get a bank loan and when Mr Woodhouse believed in her enough to grant her that loan she never forgot him for that. She’s a very determined, very vibrant person and I think that would have come across in her interview with him.

Margo Beasley