Tongue firmly in cheek and looking ever so very glamorous and avante-garde actor Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis) swanned into early 1929 Melbourne and onto our TV screens in 2012, wearing a cavalcade of captivating costume.
Based on Kerry Greenwood’s novels, Miss Fisher had a fabulous entourage of faithful loyal friends in tow, including a hoped for beau Detective Jack Robinson (Nathan Page). He was kept immediately busy alongside the would be femme fatale who was nobly helping him to fight ‘… injustice with her pearl-handled pistol and dagger-sharp wit’.
Over the two series that we have all come to know them both well. An important aspect of the show has been the ‘art deco’ costumes, which are so integral to setting the scene.
Costume designer Marion Boyce makes the point the show “… is a costume designer’s dream job, and particularly for me as I have an abiding passion for the period… I know from the fan mail we receive, just how much our viewers love Phryne’s wardrobe,” Marion said.
The all-new Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Costume Exhibition 2015 now on show at Rippon Lea, one of the National Trust of (Australia) Victoria’s favourite ‘gold boom mansions’ leaped off to a jazzy start at the very opulent opening night event held in the glorious surroundings of the ballroom.
The exhibition starts today May 1 and is showcasing the costume from Series 3 starting on May 8 on ABC TV.
The room was abuzz, with everyone in a happy and relaxed mood, as in keeping with the show that has captivated so many hearts.
CEO of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) Martin Purslow was certainly looking forward to the evening.
He was very animated and happy about the news just to hand that the show would be travelling to Adelaide, then to Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra following Rippon Lea, spending nearly two years on the road.
This is important, because the National Trust does not receive government funding and the success of events like this on top of the wonderful support and donations they receive from members, sponsors and benefactors is what safeguards Australia’s architectural heritage.
Popular ABC News Breakfast presenter Virginia Trioli from the ABC hosted the evening, inviting Every Cloud Productions Producer and Executive Producer Fiona Eagger and Executive Producer and Head Writer Deb Cox to the microphone, to talk to them about the success of the show.
“Our partnership with The National Trust is very important to the success of the show. It… “…has enabled us to highlight the Trust’s glorious heritage buildings to audiences around the world” Producer Fiona Eagger and Head Writer Deb Cox said.
Costume shows such as this one are a mecca for those interested in historical, social and cultural development about how important costume has been in the past for defining a character and identity on screen.
It also highlights the new frontiers and challenges that committed costume designers face when creating the future of film.
Letting fans in on the secrets surrounding the glamorous costume designed by award winning designer Marion Boyce especially for Miss Fisher’s Third Series, will be sure to bring a big crowd, wonderful for tourism in Victoria.
They will assist the National Trust’s aim of conserving our heritage
Every Cloud Productions uses the nation’s heritage properties as ‘sets’.
This includes Labassa the mansion in the grand manner at North Caulfield, which features in the third series as a London hotel!
Fiona excitedly related a story how she had just been in Italy staying in the countryside where one of the locals admitted to her she had fallen in love with a show from Australia and wondered if she might know it or had seen it…
…little did they know who she was.
It seems Australia’s favourite intrepid lady detective is throwing her net far wider than ever before.
During the 1920’s a simplified and streamlined aesthetic appealed to designers reacting against industrialisation and the horrors of World War 1.
Exotic cultures became the fashionable rage, with many people opting for adding just a dash of oriental magic.
All sorts of fabulous coats and capes were designed most especially for wearing to the opera.
Made of real silk for those seeking haute couture while artificial silk suited the budgets of the all-new working class girl, they covered ‘flapper’ party dresses whose hemline was just below the knees.
Award winning costume designer Marion Boyce also talked animatedly to Virginia Trioli.
They discussed the process of putting the costumes together, which we discovered sometimes taking up to six weeks to track down the materials required for just one outfit for Phrynne to wear.
Happy with the result of the show she said “The National Trust exhibition extends the Phryne experience for fans by allowing them to see, up close, the gorgeous fabrics and intricate details that make costumes so special.
The exhibition also takes visitors behind the scenes to discover the inspiration, research and production that go into making the costumes.”
National Trust’s Cultural Collections Curator, Elizabeth Anya-Petrivna has provided a thrilling show, with numerous themed rooms including interactive displays.
Many of the Trust head office staff had been there all day working hard and the lovely Lucy and Anne had only just enough time to don their ‘Chinese’ inspired jackets before people began to arrive.
Visitors are as promised, able to immerse themselves in the lady detective’s world following clues around the mansion to solve a crime.
As we progressed from room to room we were confronted with a life size image of Detective Jack providing clues for us to solve ‘a murder mystery’!
Woman in Phryne’s age would have loved the swishing freedom of sensuous materials against their newly exposed legs, with glorious evening dresses made of silk, chiffon velvet and taffeta.
Many of the fabulous frocks on display were carefully encrusted with beading or semi precious gems and gave a dazzling effect.
One lovely gem encrusted ‘tabard’ in ‘Tiffany’ Blue had all the girls aglow with excitement.
Phryne’s costume for the show reveals why she instantly gained the ever expanding, and quite extraordinary cult following she has achieved for what the ABC bills as a ‘traditional crime drama’… it is really anything but!
It also contains a dash of comedic charm, a smidgin of smouldering romance, as well as a great deal of dashing style.
Miss Fisher’s ‘playful frisson’ with the not so staid Jack adds yet another dimension!
The fact he doesn’t succumb to her considerable charms or attempts to make him jealous keeps fans coming back for more.
With all those sparks flying about as they both inspire each other many eager viewers are hoping against hope the dynamic duo will beat a hasty retreat to the boudoir – how do they not give in to impulse is a wonder for those in this day and age?
Putting themselves in the same position the viewers can only marvel at the pair’s restraint.
However it was part and parcel with the expected behaviour of the age.
A ‘fallen woman’ was in reality shunned by society.
Talking of boudoir’s…
Hollywood movie stars during the 20’s became guardians of our morals.
The rule was that either the actor or actress had to keep one foot firmly on the floor during the filming of any bedroom scenes.
Fearful of the damaging effects of sunlight and fresh air on their beauty, only ‘risque’ movie girls like Mae West kept blinds permanently drawn and the air conditioner humming in their bedchamber just in case a man wanted to ‘come up and see them sometime’.
Whether they did or not was never mentioned.
However her boudoir had a mirrored ceiling, which is believed revealed all!
Period costume design helps us to believe what we are seeing and is usually all about being authentic, while remaining true to the Director’s guidance and vision.
This is sometimes modified in collaboration with the actor.
Upstairs at Rippon Lea my favourite bathroom with all its original fittings, sported the most glorious carved and painted three fold screen.
It was being used as a backdrop to the most superb silk black and cream lingerie.
The two ladies I was with oohed and aaghed over it for ages examining it from every angle …
In the room adjacent, Miss Fisher’s dressing room was a very special ‘tortoishell’ dressing room set.
Goodness, Essie Davis must love playing Miss Fisher.
The whole house was set up like a girl’s paradise including the delightful mini Conservatory where ‘tennis’ was the theme. Martin Purslow also announced the original main conservatory is coming back to Rippon Lea soon; another story.
For me this show was highlighted by the superb textiles, a hallmark of the quality of the superb costume.
Being an old interior designer myself I must admit textiles certainly do it for me.
The glorious brocades, the silk chiffons, the really beautiful sheer white embroidered organdy ‘house coat’ we all wanted to float around our homes in, as well as the bounteous display of shawls for Miss Fisher to drape herself night or day.
There was also one whole room set up to showcase Miss Fisher’s dazzling bling array, superbly conceived, collected and displayed.
In here too was also a superb selection of evening bags, which had everyone voicing their opinions loudly.
The great touch of having a male mannequin wearing Constable Hugh Collins uniform watching over the her jewels was much appreciated.
There were a number of displays devoted to the men’s costume from the show, reminding me very much of clothing that used to hang in my father’s wardrobe.
One room upstairs is set aside for anyone to ‘Imagine’ that they are the costume designer for the next series and we were surprised at how many people were sitting sketching.
As we were leaving there is a room set aside with two racks of Miss Fisher coats with fur, jewelled dresses, headpieces etc for the ladies to don and have their photos taken.
Outside the porte cochere period cars used in the show were showcasing their gleaming style.
The ladies I was with certainly enjoyed their night and waxed lyrical all the way down the sweeping elegant driveway, which reminds me always of going back to Manderlay.*
This Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Costume Exhibition 2015 certainly deserves to be a huge hit for the National Trust of Australia, who do such a sterling job of safeguarding Australia’s heritage.
And do watch out for Detective Inspector Jack offering you clues to the ‘murder mystery’.
Who knows, you may just solve it. We didn’t, we were far too engrossed in Miss Fisher’s costume. Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015
Rippon Lea Estate,
192 Hotham Street, Elsterwick, Victoria 3185
1 May to 30 September 2015
10am – 4pm Daily
The costumes have been generously made available by Marion Boyce and Every Cloud Productions.
*Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” The opening line to Daphne du Maurier’s most famous novel, Rebecca is one of the great opening lines in English fiction.