It is currently hosting an exhibition of historic wedding dresses. Love, Desire and Riches is all about the ‘Fashion for Weddings’ in popular culture.
The development of the fashionable wedding dress and its treatment by key fashion designers of the past century such as English fashion giants Charles Frederick Worth, Norman Hartnell and Vivienne Westwood, America’s legendary Charles James and Vera Wang and French fashion designer Christian Lacroix and the French based John Galliano is significant to the wedding dress and its design evolution.
The show at Rippon Lea spans some 200 years of fashion and collectively the dresses provide a stunning display, reflecting the social status of those newly wed, as well as the superb skills of the workers who fashioned the dresses they wore on their special day.
At Rippon Lea the display includes internationally manufactured haute couture gowns and dresses that have adorned celebrities and princesses on their most special of days.
They were manufactured to the designs of those at the top of their trade.
My favourite was the wedding dress worn by Ethel Florence Quirk (nee Petty) on her wedding day. Pearls have been encrusted all over the panel that covered the façade of the bodice and highlighted the centre of the skirt, the dress being fashioned by Madame Maugas at Paris in 1889.
I didn’t know when I saw it but it turned out that this was the dress that inspired the show as I discovered when later reading the catalogue. As the curator explained the Parisian gown was made and worn at a small church in East St Kilda by a bride of some standing in the community.
There are apparently two dresses by Madame Maugas in the Trust’s costume collection. Madame was renowned as the competition for English Fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) who both vied for the privilege of creating wonderful clothes for European royalty in their day.
The dresses are on display next to celebrity wedding gowns designed by Australia’s Toni Maticevski for Jennifer Hawkins and by Alex Perry for Kyly Clarke.
They are also next to film and television dresses worn by Kylie Minogue in Neighbours when ‘Charlene married Scott (Jason Donovan), as well as when she was a guest star on the TV favourite, Kath and Kim.
The show has been arranged in context by curator Elizabeth Anya-Petrivna to illustrate the ‘changing face of wedding design through the ages’.
The curator particularly noted some have signs of ageing…a tear along the hem or the train, a solitary lost sequin or beadwork making tulle particularly strain under their weight.
The show is not about ‘perfection’ but about showing off the human story attached to their survival so that we may all glean what we will from viewing them.
The dining room fashioned a la ‘Miss Havisham’ provides the fun part. It comes complete with ‘cobwebs’, highlighting the aborted wedding of a significant character in Charles Dicken’s novel Great Expectations from 1861.
On her wedding day, while dressing, Miss Havisham received a letter from her beloved telling her she was to be left at the altar. Sadly she never removed her dress, wearing only one shoe and leaving the wedding breakfast and wedding cake uneaten on the table.
All of the clocks were also stopped at twenty minutes to nine – the exact time she received the news.
Since it became a National Trust house as a wedding event venue Rippon Lea has seen many brides, grooms and their guests pass through its portico.
Today the house in its outstanding setting is a wonderful wedding event venue, perfect for the parade of ceremony, the wedding ‘breakfast’, and the taking the photos.
Much of the charm of Rippon Lea lies in the sensitivity, which has been shown by today’s curators for the garden’s historic origins.
It is one of the few such houses that have survived the vicissitudes of time and onset of Melbourne modernity and our contemporary age
They are there as a reminder of the past helping us to re-imagine the future.
The 33-room mansion is spread over 17 hectares with water subtly pervading every aspect of its garden style, including a stunning ‘deco’ swimming pool.
Magnificent wide lawns sweep down to the man made two-acre lake where there is a fine bridge, made of iron evident of its industrial revolution creation, which has been cast to give the appearance of timber.
The white trunk of the now fully mature lemon scented gum, Eucalyptus citriodora, reflects superbly on the rippling surface of the lake, which is especially romantic, especially in the moonlight or when the mist in the mornings is rising as high as the trees.
There is no doubt Rippon Lea is an ideal place to host wedding events in our contemporary day and age and the perfect place for this wedding dress event, which is truly delightful.
Australian contemporary wedding designed dresses help to reflect their historic counterpoints tale more poignantly. Alex Perry’s heavily jewelled bodice is the perfect foil for reflecting the fragility of handmade ecru lace creations that are breathtakingly beautiful.
The hand-made dresses also reflect the love and commitment of the women who made them, wanting to ensure the bride looked as wonderful as possible in honour of her special day. While many of them may be ‘indulgent’, it goes to the idea that what they cost in real terms is not about the money but how much we still respect and revere marriage as an institution in our day and age.
Marriage is never an institution to be entered into lightly. It is one that is meant to foster feelings of love and hope and to provide a warm place for every member of a family to metaphorically seek comfort and guidance from the parental figures that are at its head.
There are also dresses worn in civil ceremonies, plain and simple in direct contrast to those worn at elaborate events.
These reflect all sorts of conditions people choose to pledge their troth under, even times of war.
There are those that are casual, perfect for outdoor weddings, while others are very formal, with long veils and long trains to trail out behind a bride as she traversed the centre passageway (not an aisle) of a grand Cathedral.
There are also some of the restricting undergarments brides before Word War I.
Australian designer Collette Dinnigan’s gown fashioned in 2007 embellished with ‘Swarovski’ crystals is a tour de force, magic.
Some of the dresses look as if they would be at home in noble dwellings such as English country houses, while yet others were worn in early Australian dwellings fashioned from mud bricks of the earth and roofed with wrought iron.
There’s a gown by French genius Valentino worn by a Greek princess that has acres of flounces and lace to die for, the Chantilly lace also encrusted with pearls.
It took 25 dressmakers four months to make and has a 45 metre train.
Some designers have busily ‘deconstructed’ the dress, while yet others have constructed it like a great building, rising to the challenges fashioning such a garment can mean for the seamstress as well.
Japanese designer Akira Isogawa’s art of the wedding gown means that his garments reflect the serenity of a culture that embraces the outward manifestation of a profoundly held belief that encompasses an experienced sense of spirituality.
He also believes that the luxury of the dress is reflected in ‘the integrity of the design’, which allows for all possibilities.
This is an important aspect of each individual and as he noted to the curator ‘my ideal for bridal design is that you don’t have to become someone else on your wedding day’.
All in all the wedding dress show is a triumph.
Not to forget the men involved, there is a room dedicated to providing a few costumes military and otherwise, that the guys would have worn.
Of particular note is the military costume worn by Alan Rickman who played the role of Jane Austen’s gentle hero Colonel Christopher Brandon in the 1995 production of Sense and Sensibility. As well there is a satin ‘page boy’ suit made popular during Victorian times, this one worn by ‘Mater Toohey’ made of of silk, cotton, metal and diamontes.
It’s very flash indeed.
Don’t forget while you are at Rippon Lea to take a trip into the garden.
There you will find a giant statue of Colin Firth in his iconic role as Mr. Darcy in BBC television series Pride and Prejudice, which has now settled into its new home.
The statue was acquired through the National Trust UK, where it was originally placed in London’s Hyde Park Serpentine Lake before making the trip down under,” said Drew Grove, Commercial Manager for National Trust Victoria.
It’s become an integral part of the National Trust of Victoria’s Love, Desire & Riches exhibition on show until September 30 2014.
Janet Walker our Victorian correspondent and I certainly had lots of fun going looking for him lurking in the lake with glorious intent.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014
The Fashion of Weddings
1st July – 30th September, 2014
Rippon Lea House and Gardens