Albury’s fashion icon recreated in Emporium exhibition

18 July 2014

Almost 20 years since its closure, Albury's iconic Abikhair's Emporium has been revived in a stunning exhibition at the LibraryMuseum.

The original glamour of Albury's famous department store has been restored with original 1950s advertising, merchandise and haberdashery all on display as part of the exhibition Emporium.

Abikhair's Emporium opened on the corner of Swift and Olive Streets in 1928, making it Albury's first department store. It was a family business run by Syrian immigrant Saad Milham Abikhair and his wife Shefia and became known for its personal service, quality and vast array of goods.

For almost 70 years Abikhair's was Albury's mixed-class department store and a must-visit destination for men and women who could find something to their liking, regardless of their economic background.

"The original 1950s advertising is incredible," Exhibition Curator and AlburyCity's Social History Coordinator Bridget Guthrie said. "The posters for beauty products and clothing are spectacular, it's like a living episode of Mad Men."

"For so long Abikhair's was a retail institution in Albury, known for old-fashioned customer service and for stocking items you couldn't find anywhere else. Its growth really exemplified the way people's attitudes to shopping transformed in Australia after WWII."

"Emporium will tell that story, while re-creating the traditional feel that was so unique to Abikhair's."

The exhibition will also focus on the role of women in the 1950s, and the evolution of fashion from the early 20th century.

During the emporium's glory days, women were a household's primary shoppers who were expected to buy for themselves, children, husbands and their homes. The ability to make autonomous decisions about their purchases provided a huge amount of satisfaction for women of the day, and gave them an identity not usually afforded through domestic life.

Shefia Abikhair recognised this and the store's clever advertising appealed to women from all walks of Albury life. Shop assistants became specialists in stocking and fitting intimate apparel and they even began employing single women, although they were expected to retire when they married.

Similarly, post-war Australia saw traditional skills such as sewing, knitting and baking become less important as a means of defining a woman's value. Increasingly a woman's skill lay in making the right decisions when purchasing goods to maximise her family's wellbeing on a given budget. Abikhair's reputation for good quality at reasonable prices was an important factor at a time when a woman's choice of department store reflected her personal worth.

"It's interesting to look back and see how far we've come and how quickly things changed through the mid-twentieth century," Ms Guthrie added.

Abikhair's Emporium would eventually close in 1996 when AlburyCity acquired a huge selection of advertising and original merchandise for its museum collection.

Emporium runs until 7 September.