Presented across four large themed galleries, including a French style salon and a 1950’s style department store, The National Gallery of Victoria’s 200 years of Australian Fashion exhibition, at the Ian Potter Centre in Federation Square is described as a “survey”.
It includes 120 items, from the oldest surviving dress dated 1805, to a modern conceptual piece “Aperture”, by Dion Lee who was commissioned by the organisers to come up with a piece that could “hypothetically end a haute couture parade”. This is a masterpiece, made from triple layer black jersey and hundreds of Swarovski crystals illuminated by internal lighting.
The survey also includes millinery and early colonial items made from local pelts such as wombat and platypus, alongside modern pieces including Maticevski’s 2007 kangaroo- fur shoes and shoemaker Andrew McDonald’s Mules whose early pieces (1995) were made from barramundi, snake and perch skins.
The contribution of Australian Department stores is also canvassed, from the earliest in the 1860’s to more recent contributors such as Buckley and Nunn, Georges, Myer and David Jones.
Apart from Dion Lee’s finale installation, another installation highlight is the portrayal of the incident, rather than the garment itself, when the first mini-skirt to be worn in Australia, by British model Jean Shrimpton, famously caused so much offence at the 1965 Melbourne Cup.
Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson’s strong Australian flavours of their Flamingo Park label are another highlight of the exhibition. The early days and growth of Australian Fashion week are covered, too. Not surprisingly perhaps, the modern survey focuses heavily on designers from Melbourne and Sydney, and although Queenslanders Easton Pearson are included, there appears to be a complete absence of any designers from Perth, Adelaide or the island state.
No matter how beautifully displayed, every exhibition needs depth. Although none was available on opening day, we are told that “curators, designers, practitioners and academics will actively engage audiences in programs throughout the exhibition period including design talks, curator’s perspectives, designer-led workshops, a discussion series and intimate behind the scenes: Fashion Collection sessions”. We’re sorry to have missed this dimension of the exhibition, which would have breathed enormous life and great depth into an already beautiful display.
200 Years of Australian Fashion continues until 31 July, 2016. Entry: $15 (Concession $12)