Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program 2016

200 Years of Australian Fashion at the NGV, Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program 2016

0 Comments 04 April 2016

200 Years of Australian Fashion
The Ian Potter Centre, NGV Australia, Federation Square
Review by Vanessa Gerrie

Fashion is a reflection of the current zeitgeist; this is a well-known fact. It emulates the shift in politics, changing environmental factors, and specific cultural happenings – such as music and art – of a time. I was wide-eyed as I walked into the Ian Potter Centre, the idea of this much fashion history in one space was overwhelming and 200 Years of Australian Fashion did not disappoint.The exhibition is a comprehensive presentation of Australian fashion, the first of its kind, taking place at NGV Australia and coinciding with the 20th anniversary of VAMFF. It comprises 120 pieces from more than 90 designers who have worked over the past two centuries, from Victorian dressmakers and tailors to the saturated work of Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson, right through to the designs of contemporary artists such as Romance Was Born and Toni Maticesvski, to name but a few.

As you enter the exhibition space you are immediately cut off from the outside world by white translucent drapes propelling you into an overstimulating world of condensed fashion mastery. 200 Years of Australian Fashion’s strength was the escapism it oozed. Every room flowed on from the other with a sense of awe and surprise. Although each room was traditional in presentation in terms of the thematic and chronological order, the way the clothes were presented was entirely original. Ornate mirrors and curtains adorned the walls in the Victorian dress section alongside a suitably impressive collection of fine millinery. The mannequins were customised, personifying the era and the ideas of the time in every detail, which enriched the clothes with life. In the ‘Salon’ section the mannequins had exquisite millinery and fluid poses as though in an haute couture presentation, while the models in the obviously themed eighties room danced at random on a disco stage in designs of the time. This comprehensive thematic curation exemplified how the exhibition designers and curators really wanted to create a context for the clothing rather than display them in a static white cube. By doing this, they most certainly succeeded in setting the scene.

Antipodean fashion punches above its weight, isolated from the major fashion centres; which you can see in the designs, particularly from the second half of the 20th century onwards. This drive for individuality, seen expressively in the work of designers such as Jenny Bannister and contemporary label Di$count Universe. The beautifully curated rooms reflected the eras with which the designers were working in, taking into consideration the environment, socio-political and cultural happenings right down to the soundtracks playing in the background. Flowers were strewn across the floor at the feet of five mannequins dressed in textured mini-dresses. Above these, stories of the Jean Shrimpton-Flemington Races scandal streamed on a screen giving a radical sixties context to the clothing. The rich displays were interspersed with archival footage of past fashion shows, photographs and interviews with members of the Fashion Design Council and other key fashion doyennes. This addition helped break up the sensory overload of designs and displays, anchoring them with cultural and historical context.

From colonial fashion through to the modern urban shopping of department stores; the influence of French haute couture to the radical sixties; 200 Years of Australian Fashion is an intensive catalogue of the chronological history of fashion in this country. It is fashion escapism at its best, as well as a crash course history lesson. Presenting costume and clothing as what it really is, a reflection of a nation’s identity and context as well as true works of sculptural art, the exhibition is a sure success. The one let down for the exhibition as a whole however, was the exclusion of indigenous fashion designers in the line-up, as the nation’s first people and with the wealth of young talent out there, the exclusion is palpable.

200 Years of Australian Fashion runs until 31 July 2016 at the Ian Potter Centre, NGV Australia at Federation Square. More details here.

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