Justin Hemmes opens waterfront, family mansion in aid of public IVF centre

Merivale CEO Justin Hemmes is advancing the hospitality group's push into the Northern Beaches.
Merivale CEO Justin Hemmes is advancing the hospitality group's push into the Northern Beaches. Photo: Anna Kucera

It's not every day you get to hang out in Merivale boss Justin Hemmes' back garden, but the millionaire bar tsar opened up his palatial family home on Thursday for the Bazaar in Bloom - a gala to raise funds for a public fertility and research centre that will make IVF accessible to all, regardless of socio-economic status.

The newly renovated, heritage-listed, gothic-style, waterfront mansion in Sydney's Vaucluse, known as The Hermitage, with perfect views of the harbour needs no enhancing. But dozens were busy at work on Thursday morning in preparation for the 250 guests that will descend on what Harper's Bazaar editor Kellie Hush described as "Australia's answer to the Met Ball".

The pub baron did not make an appearance at the preview event, possibly saving himself for the festivities ahead, but his adorable 11-month-old daughter Alexa Merivale was so enthralled by the goings-on in her back yard, she was carried out by her mother Kate Fowler to take a closer look.

Hemmes opened up his palatial family home on Thursday in Sydney for the Bazaar in Bloom - an annual gala to raise funds ...
Hemmes opened up his palatial family home on Thursday in Sydney for the Bazaar in Bloom - an annual gala to raise funds for a public fertility and research centre. Photo: Peter Braig

The toddler was the main reason Hemmes got involved in the fundraising campaign for a second year in a row organised by The Royal Hospital for Women Foundation and Harper's Bazaar magazine, explaining: "I welcomed my beautiful daughter into the world last year - and as a new father, I appreciate now, more than ever, the importance of all women having access to the very best in reproductive healthcare and treatment."

Roaming the manicured lawns of Hemmes' establishment ahead of the soiree were Akira Isogawa, Rebecca Vallance and Bianca Spender - three out of the 30 designers, who will showcase their couture gowns in the fashion parade. 

Vallance, in particular, said she fell compelled to get involved after her own struggles with fertility.

"My son is an IVF child and my baby on the way is an IVF child," she said pointing to her bump. "It's a cause I am really passionate about. 

"IVF gives people, who could not have children otherwise, [the chance to] to start a family, which is so important and something I am very grateful for."

With 23-month-old Matthias at home and another baby due in March, Vallance shows no signs of slowing down, instead expanding her brand by stocking with Net-a-Porter.

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Getting involved was also a personal choice for Spender, who wanted to help other families experience the same joy she has being the mother of two "gorgeous and wild" boys, aged four and seven.

"I was very lucky and fell pregnant easily," she said. "When I had them it was the biggest gift in the world and seeing friends going through the struggle is heartbreaking.

"Any way that people can support and fund to give every woman that opportunity is such a miracle - it's the gift of life."

Designers Rebecca Vallance, Bianca Spender and Akira Isogawa, posing with their gowns ahead of the fashion parade at the ...
Designers Rebecca Vallance, Bianca Spender and Akira Isogawa, posing with their gowns ahead of the fashion parade at the event. Photo: Peter Braig

CEO of The Royal Hospital for Women Foundation, Catherine Oates Smith, is confident they can reach their fundraising target.

"Last year $180,000 was raised. This year our target is $500,000 - a sizeable jump but it's manageable," she said.​

She is heartened by the donations so far, and outlined the importance a new medical centre will make to Australian families.

Views of Sydney Harbour from Hemmes' Vaucluse mansion.
Views of Sydney Harbour from Hemmes' Vaucluse mansion. Photo: Amy Croffey/Fairfax

"The Royal Hospital for Women is the only public women's hospital in NSW. This money will build a public, holistic comprehensive fertility and research centre, which will be the only one of it's kind in Australia.

"There will be IVF treatments available with a small co-payment, a research facility, and most importantly, preservation for cancer patients - even young children as well," she said.

"Egg freezing has only ever been available in the private sector. IVF is mostly only available in the private sector, we want to make it more available for all.

Hemmes did not make an appearance at the preview event, but his adorable 11-month-old daughter Alexa Merivale did.
Hemmes did not make an appearance at the preview event, but his adorable 11-month-old daughter Alexa Merivale did. Photo: Justin Hemmes Instagram

"It's unaffordable for some cancer patients, who have to take time off work to have intensive treatment. What cancer patients want most after surviving cancer is to be normal and normal includes having kids."

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