Costumier Rose Chong is exactly how I imagined. She loves the colour pink, and wears a pink shirt, pink glasses and has a light pink tint running through her hair. ‘It’s my favourite colour!’ she beams. I’ve always been taken by her corner shop on Gertrude Street with its impressive leopard print façade, and have over the years tried to train my brain to resist the urge to look in the shop window when I drive past and keep my focus on the road. But there’s something about Rose and the world she creates… you simply cannot look away.
Originally from the UK, Rose’s mother was a sewer. ‘I’ve just always done it,’ tells Rose. She trained as an apprentice, went to art school in London and worked as a dressmaker before turning to costumery, and working for a theatre company in Cambridge. In 1973, she moved to Melbourne, Australia.
‘I was lured by a man!’ she explains. ‘And I’m still with him!’ She’s talking about Min Chong, the pair met when he was studying engineering at Oxford University, and they moved so he could complete his PhD at university in Melbourne. ‘He’s a world expert in Turbulence,’ she says proudly. I ask if I can sit next to him on a plane.
When Rose and Min had their first son (they’ve since had three more), Rose decided to start working for herself, and opened her iconic costume shop in 1979. She worked in the film industry for a number of years making costumes before the business evolved into the version of her shop we know today. This year marks her 40th year in business – to celebrate, she appeared on the news dressed in a pink gorilla costume.
The shop has always remained in the same landmark location, but Rose and Min did not move into the residence above the shop until 1996, which brings us to Rose’s good room – which is less of a room, and more of a pool. On. A. Rooftop. In Fitzroy!
‘I do all my thinking up here,’ she says. The decision to put a pool in the sky is an ode to Rose’s mother. ‘At the time we were renovating, I lost my mother in the UK and she left me a bit of money, so I decided to put a pool on the roof because I knew it would make her very happy to see us sitting in the pool.’
Rose designed the rooftop in an all-blue palette. The surface is lined with blue astro-turf and seamlessly connects to the plunge pool. ‘You can see the whole thing on Google Earth’ she says.
The pool has become a central hub of celebration and congregation in Rose’s world. ‘I mean it’s not suitable for high class swimming, it’s only suitable for sitting around, floating on the pineapple and a bit of drinking.’ Rose’s family use the pool all the time, and she regularly hosts ‘very productive’ staff meetings up there.
‘We once had a Christmas party where Min cooked satay prawns and everyone accidentally dropped the skins in the water, a few hours later we looked down and it was like we were swimming in a big satay soup!’ she laughs. The pool also served as the aquatic stage for a theatre production, where a boat floated in the pool while an opera singer performed. ‘Mermaids and mermen danced around it too, it was good fun.’
Rose never misses an opportunity to enjoy her ‘good room’, and says it will be the perfect place to study next year. ‘I’m going back to school to study fine art, because I never actually finished my degree,’ she says. ‘It’s going to be two days a week for two years but at the end I will get a certificate and will be so thrilled!’ I ask if the graduation certificate will go straight to the good room. ‘Of course, we’ll have to waterproof it first’.
The iconic facade of Rose Chong’s costumier in Fitzroy. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.
The fabulous woman herself – Rose Chong! Photo – Amelia Stanwix.
Rose in the good room. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.
A Fitzroy icon for the last 40 years, Rose Chong is every bit as wonderful as you would imagine! Photo – Amelia Stanwix.
Rose Chong’s ‘good room’ – the rooftop pool. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.
Rose tending to her rooftop garden above Gertrude street. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.
Rose’s rooftop garden. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.