200 Years of Australian Fashion – Jo’s Trip Down Memory Lane

Fashionable Fillies

AF 12Those words, Australian Fashion.

What do they mean to you?

Well, when I heard the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV Australia) would be showcasing 200 years of Australian Fashion at Federation Square, I did wonder what would be on display, and what Oz fashion really meant to me?

I have been an avid fan of the frock from a young age, visiting Sydney’s Paddington markets on a Saturday afternoon throughout my teenage years.

This was where many young blood designers who couldn’t afford retail space would sell their wares.

I was excited to view this amazing collection.

It’s fantastic to see how our fashion alumni has evolved and grown, especially now so many of them have garnered a world wide following.

For me, it was a trip down memory lane for the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Era’s where bold prints and shoulder pads were the look du jour!

Having been a teenager and young adult through this time I didn’t see the international influences at the time.

However now, looking at these pieces I can see so much more.

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Installation view of 200 Years of Australian Fashion at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. Photo: Wayne Taylor

I’m blown away by the hand printed fabrics, that just scream post-punk Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren.

The mixed media pieces that are all about the burgeoning underground nightclub scene that was taking Sydney and Melbourne by storm.

And silk screening was widely used.


Sixties Installation view of 200 Years of Australian Fashion at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. Photo: Carolyn McDowall

Aussie fashionistas wanted an international look without the price tag.

How best to do that?

DIY naturally!

But it was never a crafty look.

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CARLA ZAMPATTI, Sydney (fashion house)est. 1965 Carla ZAMPATTI (designer) born Italy 1942, arrived Australia 1950 Jumpsuit (1970s)wool, acetate156.0 cm (centre back), 77.0 cm (inner leg) National Gallery of Victoria,

Prior to this we had, and still do, the fabulous Carla Zampatti.

Her black jumpsuit that’s featured is so “on trend” I could have whipped it off the mannequin and strutted out wearing it!

Too sexy for words.

And let’s not forget the influence of Mr John, the label from uber couple John and Merivale Hemmes.

Anyone wanting to look the part in the 1970’s knew a visit to the Antipodean version of London’s ‘Biba” was on the cards.

In fact a good friend still wistfully talks about the groovy body shirts he bought from this institution!

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Linda Jackson born Australia 1950 Models wearing Flamingo Park knits including Big fish dress and hat 1979 Private collection© Linda Jackson

The colour and texture from knitwear queens Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson, finally brought Australia’s colour palette to the forefront.

These two brilliant designers tapped into the hues of our landscape, and the patterns of our indigenous flora and fauna.

Their use of silk and jewel tones was so on trend too.

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MICHELLE JANK, Australia (fashion house); Michelle JANK (designer) Federation dress 2001 (detail) cotton, metal, found objects107.0 cm (centre back) 34.5 cm (waist, flat) National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Designers also swayed towards the “new romanticism” of the mid ’80’s. Westwood again influencing with her pirate look.

A window of softness before the powerful 1990’s charged ahead.

Big skirts, bold colour, prints and the obligatory shoulder pads were everywhere and we embraced it all with open arms.

Fast forward to the next century the 2000’s and wunderkind Michelle Jank made a strong showing with her Aussie Flag dress.

I distinctly remember the frenzy that this frock caused when it cruised down the runway.

It was fresh and new, magazine editors loved it and Jank became the next big thing.

She has since go back to being an in demand stylist.

Seeing this piece in this exhibition, I was reminded of the excitement of this time, and how we were really starting to believe in our home grown talent.

I adored the Alannah Hill flock dress and wanted to sneak that one out too, in fact I’ve been looking for something similar.

It would be fabulous if fashion archives were opened and some of these pieces were remade.

I’d be first in line!

So now in our second decade of the 2000’s, we see a very sophisticated aesthetic.

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MATICEVSKI, Melbourne (fashion house)est. 1999Toni MATICEVSKI (designer)born Australia 1976 Phonetic sweater, cataclysm bodice and serene pencil skirt 2015 triacetate polyester, silk, nylon 80.0 cm (centre back), 82.0 cm (sleeve length) (sweater)33.0 cm (centre back), 33.5 cm (waist, flat) (bodice) 83.5 cm (centre back), 34.0 cm (waist, flat) (skirt) National Gallery of Victoria, MelbourneGift of the artist, 2015

Toni Maticevski, Kym Ellery and Dion Lee all show internationally and we can be proud of these extremely talented designers.

One of my favourite pieces was the amazing coat by Dion Lee in which the lapel morphs into a hat.

The back detail is beautiful, influenced by the architecture of the Sydney Opera House.

Interestingly enough, I spoke with a lovely lady who was also enjoying the exhibition.

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DION LEE, Sydney (fashion house); Dion LEE (designer)Arc coat dress 2013 {Utzon collection} (detail) wool, plastic, metal, silk 99.0 cm (centre back) 69.0cm (waist, flat) 69.0 cm (sleeve) (dress) 97.0 cm (outer circumference) 12.0cm (H) (height) (hat) National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Yvonne Pettengell Bequest

She said it reminded her of the backbone of a fish, and I couldn’t help but agree.

I adore the felting and the gradation of grey into black.

It’s a spectacular piece, one of many in this beautifully curated show.

Aussie Fashion

Installation view of 200 Years of Australian Fashion at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. Photo: Wayne Taylor

So what does Australian fashion mean to me?

It means a sense of pride and evolution in our own personality.

It means a strong silhouette and sophistication that can hold it’s own on the world stage.

It means we are no longer banished to the colonies taking the lead from our european counterparts, we can stand tall knowing we have created world class product.

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Toni Maticevski Photographer – Caroline McCredie

What this fantastic exhibition did for me was open my eyes to our talent, past, present and for the future of Australian fashion.

Personally I can’t wait to see the next decades and only hope I’ll be around for many years to come so I can wear more of our local talent.

CiaoJo Bayley, Fashion Elixir, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

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