200 Years of Australian Fashion


From the earliest known surviving dress made in Australia — an empire-line Jane Austen creation in white Indian muslin embroidered with metallic thread and worn by the wife of the governor of New South Wales in the early 1800s — to the colorful quirky creations of Linda Jackson and Kenny Kee in the 1980s for their famed Flamingo Park boutique and the sleek contemporary creations of designer Dion Lee, “200 Years of Australian Fashion” is the largest survey of fashion in Australia. Running until July 31 at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and curated by Paola Di Trocchio, the exhibition presents more than 120 creations by over 90 designers and celebrates the country’s unique voice and iconic sartorial moments.

Australian fashion design has been informed by its geography, resources, and migration, notes Tony Ellwood, director of the NGV, and designers have responded to these and international trends with “ingenuity, humor, and irony.”

While early tailors and dressmakers and tailors adapted European fashions to the local lifestyle , it was the nation’s first department stores in the late 1800s, like Buckley & Nunn and Farmer & Co. that played a critical role in disseminating fashionable dresses, offering gowns along with custom-made items albeit still heavily influenced by European designers.

In the 1950s, Collins Street in Melbourne, known for its row of designer stores, would offer glamourous Parisian gowns, and one of the highlight of the exhibition is an entirely restored and stunning 1950s blue feathered ball gown by salon La Petite.

While Australian fashion remained very much influenced by what was happening elsewhere in the 1960s-1970s, including the advent of the mini-skirt and then the return to full length hems in the 1970s, the launch of the Flamingo Park label by Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson heralded the advent of a home-grown fashion style, with local fashion coming into its own in the 1980s, with designers like Jenny Banister, Sara Thorn, Martin Grant and Gavin Brown, encouraged by the Fashion Parades organized by the Fashion Design Council. “It was a great time. There was an understanding (with the FDC) we better look out for youth. The most important message was to give young people a bit of status,” recalls designer Kate Durham, adding “There was quite an angry atmosphere at the slavish-to-European ideas. It was really quite a rebellious little movement.”

In 1995, Collette Dinnigan became the first Australian designer invited to show on-schedule at Paris Fashion Week. The following year, the first Australian Fashion Week presented works by 25 local designers, including Joe Saba, Zimmermann, Alex Perry, Wayne Cooper, and Akira Isogawa.

Today, designers like Kym Ellery, Toni Maticevski, and Dion Lee are known internationally, and the exhibition is showcasing several pieces by these and other contemporary designers like MaterialByProduct, Romance Was Born, Pageant, and Strateas Carlucci, to name a few. For the exhibition, Dion Lee has created a four-meter-tall (over 13 ft.), Swarovski crystal-encrusted sculptural gown lit from within, an extension of a concept he explored in his Fall 16 runway presentation at New York Fashion Week. "Within the commissioned piece I wanted to explore the idea of creating a design that extended beyond clothing,” Lee said.

According to Di Trocchio, Australian fashion has some overarching features such as inventiveness, innovation, ease, and often a sense of humor. “Our designers are incredibly innovative and creative, specializing in different arenas. For example, Strateas Carlucci excels in tailoring, Romance Was Born excels in innovative surface decoration and artist collaborations.”

AS first published on BlouinArtinfo.com