THE NAKED CITY: “I WANNA DIE IN A FRANCO COZZO BED”
If the Minns government have their way, Parramatta Road, one of Sydney’s most infamous
arterial eyesores, will soon undergo a major transformation. The wreckers will move in, demolishing a lengthy corridor of old shops, second-hand car yards and most likely some
people’s houses. In their place expect thousands of new apartments in a somewhat
belated attempt to ease the acute housing shortage we are currently suffering.
Gone will be the last remnants of some of Sydney’s most iconic retailers, like the once
household name of Keith Lord. A former sausage maker and soldier in WWII, Lord worked
as a door-to-door salesman and vacuum cleaner repairer after the war. In 1962, he opened
his flagship store in Ashfield on Paramatta Road, selling both electrical goods and
furniture. By the mid-70s, he had established a string of five discount stores, regularly
advertising on TV, and all offering quality after-sales servicing. Sadly, in 1978, he had a
heart attack during a business trip to America and with a changing retail landscape, the
family business eventually went into liquidation in 1978.
One of Lord’s specialties was the importation of often ‘over the top’ Italian furniture,
sometimes referred to both dismissively and affectionately as ‘wog’ furniture. Elaborately
carved dining room sets, baroque-style lounges and exotic bedroom suites found a ready-made market in the increasing number of European immigrants, particularly Italians and
Greeks. Today, many of these items are regarded as a kind of cultural kitsch, looked down
upon by those who embrace the sleek and simplistic lines of contemporary furniture.
Decades after the demise of Keith Lord, the baroque and rococo traditions were revived at
the somewhat mysterious Royalty Prussia Café in William Street, Darlinghurst. Brimming
with all manner of blinding gold furniture and ornate decoration pieces, it was described
by one Sydney blogger as “a 24-hour, seven day a week party of gilt-dipped, feather-
decked over the top campness. The love child of Liberace and Liza Minnelli. A place where
Michael Jackson could drop $20 million on a royal-style carriage for Bubbles the chimp – if
he was still alive and lived in Sydney.”
Who actually owned and operated it remains somewhat of a secret, but there was
obviously a ton of money involved. The café section of the shop did eventually open, but
as far as I know, the entire business was relatively short-lived and remains one of those
Sydney mysteries for which there is little recorded history. I’d like to think it was a
clandestine operation run jointly by the KGB and Russian mafia, with microphones
concealed in Fabergé eggs, but that is pure supposition.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the king of grandiose furniture retailers, Melbourne and
Australia at large lost the undisputed supremo with the passing of Franco Cozzo last week
at the age of 88. Arriving as a Sicilian immigrant in 1957, he became a cult figure in the 80s
and 90s with his three furniture stores stocked with some of the most insanely
ornamental furniture you might ever see. His Fitzroy store was a landmark, embraced by
the Western Melbourne community at large with his fervour for the local AFL team, the
Bulldogs, only increasing that popularity. He also fathered a remarkable ten children, nine
daughters and a son – the result of two different marriages.
His ebullient TV adverts, spruiked in Italian, Greek and English, were a fixture on late-night
TV, and he was widely celebrated in street murals, a feature documentary and songs like
The Argotiers “I Wanna Die In A Franco Cozzo Bed”.
And yes, those beds! I can remember being transfixed whenever I visited Melbourne
during the 1980s and gazed through the shop window at one of those mind-blowing
bedroom suites. Who wouldn’t want to spend their final hours cocooned up in one of
those fantastic creations? Beats a bland old Ikea assemble yourself anytime!