I wanted to be a ballet dancer

I wanted to be a ballet dancer
Carol Saffer

It took Gregory Ladner 20 years to write his memoir. 

A renowned Melbourne couturier, co-owner-creator of a successful fashion accessories business, East Melbourne resident and renovator, and fashion industry survivor of 40 years published A Boy and his Bear in October.

In the days before blogs became fashionable, Mr Ladner worked in Hong Kong and sent emails to friends in Melbourne, regaling them with what he was doing.


During the lockdown, when he had time on his hands, he sat down, collated, and added to all the emails to create his memoir.


Mr Ladner and his husband, Mark Grenville, live in what was previously a Lutheran Church in Hotham St, East Melbourne.

“I thought we could do it up and then flip it,” Mr Ladner said.

“But I couldn’t do that as there is nowhere else in Melbourne that I would live.”

“When I first saw it, in a minute, I knew what I would do with it.” 

“I took the roof off the church and made a garden where the congregation used to sit.”

Like all Lutheran churches, the exterior of the building is very plain and almost invisible in its simplicity among the usual East Melbourne mansions, terrace houses and grandiose renovations.

“East Melbourne is a village, and everyone knows everyone,” he said.

Once inside the front door, the garden and pond in the courtyard whisk you away to another world. 

Each of the enormous stepping stones was transported over the front exterior wall by mobile crane, with Mr Ladner directing the exact positioning of each one.

He grew up in Footscray; his dad was a policeman and “thought I was a sissy.” 

“He had my best interests at heart and wanted to make sure I could make it in life.”

The idea of being an artist or a ballet dancer did not go down well with his father.

Mr Ladner’s career in fashion started when he was four years old and making dresses for Teddy, his toy bear.

His father had a dress designer cousin who drove a bright orange Capri and was doing well financially.


“My dad said to me, ‘this is what you should do.’”


“So, I taught myself how to sew and made dresses for my mother and the neighbours.” 

He studied fashion at what was then Prahran Tech and is now part of the Swinburne University of Technology.

During the last year of the degree, each student had to make three garments for judging and final marks.

“I made 30,” Mr Ladner said. 

“I got better the more I made, and I also made money.”

Historian and Academic Geoffrey Blainey is Mr Ladner’s next-door neighbour.

For the book’s forward, Mr Blainey wrote, “He learned how to combine or contrast different materials and colours in daring ways ... impressive is the way he makes the profession seem intelligible and often fascinating.”

Teddy is still with him. •


Caption: Ted and Gregory Ladner, photo: Carol Saffer.

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