Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program 2016

Snapshots: Prue Acton, Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program 2016

0 Comments 12 March 2016


Snapshots: Prue Acton

The Gallery @ Bayside Arts and Cultural Centre

Review by Hannah Kuhar

Australian fashion fans rejoice: Prue Acton has returned home.

Having grown up in Beaumaris, the ‘golden girl’ of Australian fashion is the focus of Bayside Arts and Cultural Centre’s collaboration with VAMFF.

Snapshots: Prue Acton explores the three distinct periods of Acton’s fashion life – the short-skirted sixties, Australiana eighties and her late focus on business attire. With strong emphasis on her distinctly Australian wear – prominent positioning is dedicated to her dark, seemingly office-like ‘Dressmaker’ ensemble, worn at the 1987 Melbourne Cup – audiences are encouraged to acknowledge the significant contribution Acton has made to the Australian fashion landscape.

After all, no modern womenswear designer can disregard the role that Prue Acton has played in forming today’s prêt-à-porter society. Taking us through Prue’s story – born in Benalla, patenting a business at 19, becoming America’s top-selling youth label between 1966 and 1969 – it’s clear to see that without Prue, life as a businesswoman, youthwear marketeer, or simply as a woman would have been a whole lot trickier.

Patrons unfamiliar with Prue’s story need not fear, as lengthy didactic panels provide an entry into the social context of the period. Her indigenous-themed oversized coat, rich in earthy tones and dot motifs, is explained as having been made for 1984 Miss Universe Australia; the subsequent criticism of excessive and confronting patriotism is also well documented. These nationalistic themes continue throughout the exhibition, with the wildly captivating and flamboyant ‘Great Barrier Reef’ loungewear initially noted as a mockery of one of Australia’s prestigious landmarks, before taking off and becoming a fast-selling three-piece. It’s amusing to see garments that would not be out of place at a souvenir shop lauded in a fashion exhibition, however the impeccable handiwork and considered choice in textile and cut warrant a museum in themselves.

Of course, with Prue Acton being known as much for her outlandish nationalism as her ‘entire look’, accessories and extended lines are also showcased. There is something beautiful about the authenticity of the displayed nail polish, with oil split from the cracked marbled colouring, bottle still encased in the original plastic packet. More minute details, such as Prue’s litany of awards, are certainly not forgotten; patrons are farewelled with the triumphant symbol of success and finality in the curved sheep-horns of an Australian Wool Board trophy.

While the exhibition acknowledges all key moments of Acton’s career, there is little wonder why the exhibition goes under the mere banner of ‘Snapshots’. With eleven mannequins on display, plus a few cabinets of accessories and 20 minutes of film, it is hard to justify a trip to the largely patronless (albeit free) Brighton gallery. With a temporary divider wall reducing the size of the expansive, light-filled space, it is a shame that more content wasn’t donated to this well-curated exhibition. With almost all items having been previously exhibited – many from the RMIT design archives and Melbourne Museum – it would have been touching to see some original pieces, especially ones that tie into the beachy fabric of Bayside society.

Nonetheless, if you’re a bit early for a show at the Brighton Theatre, you might as well pop into Snapshots: Prue Acton. It’s a clever little addition to the Festival – after all, to move into the future we must learn from the past.

Snapshots: Prue Acton runs until May 1 at the Bayside Arts and Cultural Centre. Check the website here for more information.

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