Fashion Icons and Masterpieces: Art Gallery of South Australia


Commencing with the outfit that started it all, Chrisian Dior’s 1947 “Adelaide Dress” the Fashion Icons – Masterpieces from the Collection of  Musée des Arts Décoratifs  exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia presents the evolution of high fashion, primarily women’s, decade by decade through to the future.

Curated entirely by the Chief Curator of the Paris Museum of Decorative Arts – Musée des Arts Décoratifs – Pamela Golbin, the Adelaide Dress was selected as the opening gown not because the exhibition is exclusive to Adelaide, but because it was the outfit that best reflected Christian Dior’s 1947 post war NEW LOOK.


In contrast to the austerity and drabness of the war years, the dress was made from over 64 metres of black tule, hand made from start to finish and topped with a beautiful white (now cream) silk Bar Jacket, possibly so titled as a fit for the cocktail hour.

Each room of the exhibition is divided into a different decade, making this exhibition a history of fashion for some, a run through memory lane for others. It’s a clever exhibition, with selections made that typify both the fashions and the prevailing mood of each particular era. Not every outfit is from a French fashion house and Italian, Spanish, English and Japanese designers are also featured in the decades in which they begin to gain prominence. A viewing with a tour guide – at no extra charge – is highly recommended, enabling a bit of engaging repartee between the younger students of fashion and the more mature patron-admirers who might have actually worn similar gowns in their day. The richness added to the exhibit by the tour guides cannot be understated. Tour guide Gillian Davis, a former teacher recalled being told by her principal in the sixties “If you are wearing coloured stockings to school, how can you maintain discipline?!” To which the young teacher replied “If my discipline relied on the colour of my stockings I’d have to resign!” And the principal probably wished Gillian did.

Paris musee des arts decoratifs

The gorgeous but unnaturally shaped feminine outfits of the 1950’s that relied on and required the discomfort of corsetry, paralleled with imagery of movie stars of the day sets the tone for the exhibit of that decade. The freedom of the 1960’s is reflected as the fashion of this decade moves to comfort with hats, stockings, gloves and corsets all being dumped by the high fashion houses and more dramatically in Australia, by Jean Shrimpton who scandalized the establishment at the 1965 Melbourne cup with her simple mini skirt and heels look. That is, except perhaps for the experimental works of designers such as Pacco Rabanne who worked with more unusual resources such as aluminium metals and paper.

In the 1970’s, the emergence of the pants suit for women as an everyday dress item coincides with the rise of feminism, sexual liberation and linking art with fashion. Power dressing in 1980’s is echoed in the era’s oversized shoulder pads and ready-to-wear lines. The pieces selected for the 1990’s reflect the rise of the cult of celebrity fashion with outfits made famous by Lady Gaga.

Icons of Fashion Cocktail Revolution Adelaide

There are ninety haute couture, or high fashion outfits in this collection, each gathered into their decade in a separate room or space. Each item is undoubtedly a masterpiece, not only of fashion and the techniques that produced it, but also of the decade from which it was inspired. As an entrée to the far more extensive exhibition of the Paris museum, it is as enjoyable as it is inspiring. And if you’re travelling to Paris, along with a visit to the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Montmartre, the Opera House, the Louvre, the Pompidou Centre and the wonderful array of excellent art galleries, don’t forget to visit the Musée des Arts Décoratifs to see their full collection that more intimately reflects the evolution of fashion.

Or, go to Adelaide and see the visiting collection with a guided tour for an entry of only $25.

If you’ve been to the exhibition, tell us what you thought of it?


See Director of the Art Gallery of South Australia Nick Mitzzevich’s summary of  Fashion Icons




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