Sidney Sernack, retailer who introduced bikini and Mary Quant label to Australia

Sidney lingerie manufacturer Sernack was a leading fashion manufacturer and retailer in Sydney over five decades. He brought the Mary Quant label to Australia and introduced the all-weather ladies’ coat to the Sydney retail sector. He also brought the A-line dress, the bikini, patchwork denim, boucle and polar fleece to the country.

He traded under the labels wholesale bikinis Rain n’ Shine, London Look, Mr Strange, Body Shop and Tussi and was known as the Man For Your Wardrobe. Together with other family members, he operated the retail outlet Quibbs in Rozelle, Paddington, Bondi Junction and the AMP building, Wholesale Cash and Carry in Pitt Street, and The Underground boutique on Wynyard ramp.

Sidney Sernack was born in Marrickville underwear manufacturer in 1918, the second son of Marjorie and Jack Sernack and younger brother to Max. He was educated at Coogee and Clovelly Primary Schools, Randwick High School and Ultimo Trades High School at Sydney Technical College. He left school at the first opportunity to get a job and earn money, promising his mother he would continue his studies at night.

Sernack enrolled at East Wholesale Babydoll Lingerie Sydney Technical College in art and design classes taught at night by the redoubtable Miss Phyllis Shillito, and worked during the day at David Jones’ Market Street store. His artistic flair soon expressed itself in fashion. However, as events in Europe began to affect the small and vibrant Jewish community in Sydney, he volunteered his services to the Jewish Welfare Society to help settle Jewish migrants arriving in Australia.

With the growing signs Wholesale Plus Size Lingerie of war in Europe, he enlisted in the Australian Army Service Corps in 1938 and received his commission as an officer in the 2nd AIF in 1941. He subsequently joined the newly formed 2/110th Australian General Transport Company and was immediately given the task of recruiting 120 men to the unit from rural centres around NSW. The 500-strong 2/110th unit was designated for service overseas in March 1942.

To his intense disappointment, Sernack’s unit was rerouted to service in Alice Springs in support of the war in the Pacific. Alice Springs was the hub for the supply of aviation fuel and tyres to the air force base outside Darwin supporting both US and Australian troops. The 2/110th unit operated the supply line to and from Darwin and all points south for the duration of the war. It comprised day/night convoys of trucks and semi-trailers up and down the dusty track in ferocious heat and torrential floods.

None of the convoys were recorded in the daily logs, a situation Sernack worked successfully to redress in 1996 when the Federal Labor Government formally recognised the contribution of the surviving members of the 2/110th unit through the award of the Returned from Active Service Badge and veterans’ entitlements.

Following his demobilisation at the end of the war, he worked as a song-plugger promoting new sheet music and as a bookmaker’s clerk before entering the fashion industry. During this period he met the Jewish princess of his dreams, Nita Davis, the second daughter of Teddy Davis, a bookmaker at Royal Randwick Racecourse.

The couple married at the Great Synagogue Sydney in 1944 and embarked upon life in the volatile but highly lucrative rag trade. Sernack rented premises in the Goldstein Building for 25 shillings a week and commissioned garments from the small local cut, make and trim factories, expanding to premises in Clarence Street, then to his factory in Riley Street, and finally to showrooms in Wentworth Avenue.

Sernack’s decision to specialise in ladies’ coats and suits brought instant success. His ability to anticipate the trends, and to source materials and designs from London, New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo, saw his business grow and diversify during the 1970s and 1980s. Despite a number of financial and trading failures, he reached the pinnacle of his fashion career in 1984 when the Tussi label won the After Five section of the FIA awards.

In 1991, after the disastrous acquisition of new premises in Merton Street, Zetland, in 1988, Sidney and Nita retired to enjoy life at Kincoppal in Elizabeth Bay. Most of his energies were spent during this period in advocating for war widows and surviving members of the 2/110th unit and participating in the Jewish Friendship Club, Lapid.

Sidney and Nita moved to the Montefiore Home, Randwick, in 2007. Commencing in 2009, Sidney narrated his life story over the next two years to Linda Bermeister, a volunteer in the Montefiore Life History Program. His autobiography Crossroads was published by the family in 2015 and immediately celebrated as a contribution to 20th-century Australian Jewish, social and military history.dchildren.

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