Paragon Shoe Collection




The Paragon Shoe Collection comprises 88 objects, largely shoes, as well as advertising and point-of-sale material. The collection dates from circa 1916 to circa 1993. The shoes were largely made by Paragon, but some were purchased from other manufacturers (including some overseas) to guide new Paragon designs. The collection was donated by Diana Gaze; additional shoes have been donated by Linda Bennett.

Paragon Shoes Pty Ltd was one of the most significant 20th century Australian shoe retailers, and at one time was the largest manufacturer of high quality of women's shoes in Australia. Its factory was located in Melbourne, and its shoes were sold throughout Australia and New Zealand. The name Paragon was originally used by H. Walters Pty Ltd. Prussian immigrant Henry Walters founded a boot manufactory in Regents Street, Richmond, in 1883. Walters applied for the 'Paragon' trade mark on 7 August 1905, stating that 'The word paragon has reference to the character or quality of the goods - meaning a model or example of excellence'. The Paragon name and factory was bought by the donor's father-in-law, Alexander Ambrose Davison (Alec), in 1930, following Henry Walters' death. Alec Davison, born in 1886, had begun his working life at shoe manufacturer Robert Hurst & Co in North Fitzroy, and later worked his way up the shoe manufacturing industry. His first company was The House of Stanley, formed in Fitzroy in 1920. The business went from strength to strength after the purchase of Paragon, and by 1937 employed 260 people. Paragon shoes were retailed through a range of outlets, including Buckley & Nunn in Melbourne and Mabs McQuirk in Sydney. Alec went into partnership with retailer Miladys and opened dedicated Paragon shoe shops, including a large shop at the corner of Elizabeth and Collins Streets. Like other footwear and clothing manufacturers, Paragon looked to international fashion trends to develop new designs. Australian seasons were considered to follow those of overseas. Shoe samples were ordered or collected from Europe and the United States, and visiting company representatives took surreptitious photographs of shoe shop windows, recording new styles. Photographs were cut from magazines and newspapers, and pasted into sketchbooks to formulate new designs. Alec's son Lex joined the business at the age of 19, and continued the business after his father's death in 1945. Lex Davison was also a racing car driver, and died tragically in a car race at Sandown Park in 1965. The business continued, with Lex's wife (the donor, Diana) and later his son playing a significant role in its operation. As fashions changed and new market sectors were pursued, Paragon created new labels for its products. Pierre Fontaine was established in the early 1960s as a cheaper shoe; Parisienne was aimed at the younger buyer; and Belle Chaussure was aimed at a sophisticated buyer. In the 1980s Paragon expanded its range to include bags and accessories. After reaching the height of its business in the late 1980s, with 100,000 pairs of shoes produced per year, Paragon closed in the early 1990s. Many pairs of shoes from the business were sold at the Camberwell Market. The shoes acquired by Museum Victoria were largely made by Paragon, but some were purchased from other manufacturers (including some overseas) to guide new Paragon designs. The donor wore some of the shoes herself; others are unworn. Some were given to her for her shoe collection. References: Diana Gaze (previously Davison), pers. comm. with D. Tout-Smith, 2005 & 2009.G. Howard, 2004. Lex Davison: Larger than Life. Turton & Armstrong, Sydney.The Australian Leather Journal, Boot and Shoe Recorder, 15 Oct 1923, p.580; 16 July 1923, p.231; 15 May 1929, pp. 20-22; 15 April 1930, p.1047; 15 December 1930, p.626; 15 February 1933, p.882; 16 October 1933, p.561; 15 March 1934, p. 1067 ; 1112; 15 November 1934, p. 219 & p.1112. The Argus Women's Magazine, 4 April 1950, pp. 8-9. The Sun, 17 April 1975, p.46.Margaret Leydon (great-granddaughter of Henry Walters), pers. comm. with D. Tout-Smith, 9/1/2010.

Please direct access requests via Museum Victoria's Discovery Centre


1916-1993; Advertising; Australian Design; Australian Manufacturing Industry; Fashion; Fashion design; Footwear accessories; Footwear Industry; Leather Products; Manufacturing; Manufacturing Works; Retailing; Shoes; Women's Footwear

Coverage Spatial

Europe; Victoria, Australia; New South Wales, Australia; United States

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