The Dressmaker – Tilly’s Haute Couture Reveal at Rippon Lea

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Costume for the character ‘Tilly Dunnage’ (Kate Winslet) at Rippon Lea estate Melbourne, photo by Belinda McDowall

“Watch and learn Gertrude”… it’s amazing what a fabulous frock can do, cautions Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet), in the smash hit award winning Aussie movie The Dressmaker, as she sets out to divert the attention of the local boys on the football field with her version of simple, elegant Parisian haute couture.

Characters from the movies have long been known to generate and inspire fashionable change, ignited by imagination, which is more important than knowledge.

The Dressmaker (2015) a tale of revenge directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse starring Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving and Sarah Snook, is an Australian film adapted for the screen from Rosalie Ham’s best selling novel of ‘love, hate and haute couture’

An Exhibition of the stunning costumes designed for many of the  main characters in The Dressmaker by designer Marion Boyce has moved from the dusty town of Dungatar via Barwon Park to finally arrive at the National Trust Rippon Lea Estate in Melbourne, where it is sure to be a smash hit, especially on Mother’s Day.

The many rooms of this impressive 33-room house are just perfect for a fabulous frock and fashionable hat parade, inspired by the past, which offers a great sense of the present.

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Costume for the character ‘Gertrude Spratt’ (Sarah Snook) at Rippon Lea estate Melbourne, photo by Belinda McDowall

The costume worn by Kate Winslet designed exclusively by Margot Wilson for her character Tilly Dunnage, is part of the display.

Marion Boyce and author of the novel Rosalie Ham, were both on hand at the opening recently, held in the glam surroundings of the ballroom at Rippon Lea.

Rosalie Ham talked about how ‘dressing for the occasion’ was an important aspect of the 50’s, which reflected both respect for others, as well as respect for self.

Each time a woman stepped out of the house it was head to toe haute couture, even if it was DIY.

Costume such as this made from slippery sensational silks, including moire silk as well as exquisite broderie anglaise, rich brocades, soft and floaty chiffon, delicate muslin and more, is very appealing.

The film won five AACTA (Australian Academy Cinema Television Arts) awards in 2015, including the AACTA People’s Choice Award for Favourite Australian Film.

It quickly became one of the top ten most successful films of all time at the Australian box office.

French dressmaker Madeline Vionnet (1876-1975) with whom Tilly Dunnage is meant to have studied, was known as an ‘architect among dressmakers’, inventing the ‘bias cut’.

She also was a ‘Queen of draping’, drawing inspiration for many of her garments from ancient Greek art, with garments that ‘clung to the shape of the body’.

This is feature of many of the wonderful array of costumes that encompass style influences from the 20’s her heyday, to the 50’s and Dior’s day.

Renowned French costume designer Christian Dior (1905-1957) and the couture house he founded, became a huge success followed the deprivations experienced in wartime.

Dior both inspired and wooed women around the world with his wonderful ‘new look’, which was all at once, feminine, glamorous and guaranteed to turn heads.

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Costume by Marion Boyce for The Dressmaker at Rippon Lea estate Melbourne, photo by Belinda McDowall

He gave them just that personal lift they needed by making them look and feel fabulous.

It would be fair to say Dior helped re-invigorate Paris after the war, ensuring it remained at the centre of the fashion world from that day to this.

Sartorial highlights of this glam show include Tilly’s red Italian silk dress at the football game and the fabulous travel outfit Tilly wears when she arrives in Dungatar, causing police Sergeant Farrat (the wonderful Hugo Weaving) to gasp breathlessly, ‘Is that…Dior?”.

I remember this era well. My mother and I spent hours and hours in fabric shops mooning over glorious materials, some we could have never afforded, even with lay-bye.

A dependable Singer sewing machine, just like the one Tilly has in the movie, was always resident on a table on the front verandah where my mother liked to sew because of good light.

Producing a frock with an hourglass shape helped by a bustier style bodice, boned and wasp waisted corset that provided a focus for yards of skirts showcased by frothy petticoats underneath, was always challenge to surmount. The ‘undergarments’ many of which are also on display, helped.

There will special events during the exhibition including the Footballer’s Dance in the final days. Up front however, you can dance the night away in a Pop Up Bar in the Grand Ballroom on Friday nights April 29, May 20 and June 24.

You can also Meet the Makers costume designer Marion Boyce, producer Sue Maslin and author Rosalie Ham.

Costume Design in Hollywood for the Movies now has a long, distinguished and charismatic career in helping to build our view of, and about a character, as well as aid the storytelling

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Marion Boyce at Rippon Lea estate Melbourne, against a backdrop of her designs for The Dressmaker, photo by Belinda McDowall

Today designers have the ability to influence both fashion trends and global culture boosting economies on a scale never seen before.

Designing for the opera also inspired fashion between the wars of the twentieth century, with works such as The Mikado taking its lead from the traditional garment of Japan the Kimono, which was in turn was inspired by Chinese fashion of the 5th century.

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Three Little Maids from School… Costume by Marion Boyce for The Dressmaker at Rippon Lea estate Melbourne, photo by Belinda McDowall

In the final scenes of the movie Tilly designs the costume for the ‘three little maids’ singing the song of that title from The Mikado. They were a big hit with the opening night crowd.

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Marion Boyce with her divine dress for the character Gertrude Pratt (Sarah Snook) in The Dressmaker exhibition at Rippon Lea Estate, Melbourne photo by Belinda McDowall

Then there is the feathered hat and striking mustard coat she wears when leaving Dungatar at the end of the movie..

There is no doubt in my mind however that the glorious strapless frock with an overlay of exquisitely embroidered gossamer netting that transformed Gertrude Pratt (Sarah Snook) from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan and belle of the country ball, will be the frock every girl will clamour to see.

With its golden appliqued roses scattered from the bust line down to the waist, in the flesh so to speak, it is really quite stunning.

It was in 1851 at the Great Exhibition in London, that France’s Emperor Louis Napoleon sought to generate a new interest in luxury goods, sponsoring French firms to exhibit.

The tone was set by “High Society” and exemplified by the great ladies of the demi monde. They inspired the most dazzling creations by major couturiers; hats loaded with plumes, chinchilla capes costing a fortune, with self-confident men wearing tailcoats or frock coats and cravats.

Rippon Lea completed in 1868 is a wonderful example of a nineteenth century self sufficient house and garden estate, one that epitomizes the extravagance of the era driven by the industrial revolution in England and the aftermath of the Gold mining boom in Victoria.

Houses inspired by the Greek classic achievement gave way to Italianate style villas, in which tiled colonnades, columned pergolas and balustrade terraces linked the house to the garden.

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Rippon Lea Estate, Melbourne

As in England a grand estate like Rippon Lea in the classic revival taste represented the pinnacle of material and social achievement. This meant what the women and men wore when in residence or visiting was of major concern.

Dressing for dinner changed during the first two decades of the twentieth century as egalitarian ideals triumphed over aristocratic habits.

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Housecoats served a practical purpose and became a statement for women at home for decades, The Dressmaker exhibition Rippon Lea Estate, photo by Belinda McDowall

The advent and advancement of the automobile also played a great role in changing people’s aspirations, ways of life and costume.

World War I and World War II profoundly changed the role of women in society and therefore the way they dressed when grand mansions were seconded to the war effort.

With men at the front, women drove the ambulances, worked in the fields or factories, farms and offices and constricting bodices, long skirts and elaborate hairstyles were abandoned in favour of practical, functional shorter dressers and cropped hairstyles.

The functionality flowed over to women of the household where a ‘housecoat’ often protected clothes for best worn underneath so they were ready to dash out in an instant.  Eventually they became a ‘look’ of their own.

To show off all the grand features of Rippon Lea, costume shows such as this one are a major contributor to cultural tourism and heritage education in Victoria.

There is certainly something for all the fans of the film to see and enjoy.

The display of hats the women and men wore I found particularly appealing.

For women great millinery was during the 50’s always the finishing aspect of a great dress along with shoes, handbag, gloves and jewellery.

Many of the garments feature yards and yards of material, especially the frocks the ladies of Dungatar wore while floating around the town against a backdrop of country Australia.

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Fabulous costume by Marion Boyce, The Dressmaker exhibition at Rippon Lea Estate, photo courtesy Belinda McDowall

An accomplished photographer has produced many of the wonderful backdrop images of the dusty rock strewn scenery that shows off the clothes in their original setting for the film.

The Dressmaker haute couture reveal now showing at Rippon Lea estate, is certainly a great deal of fun.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition
Now Showing until Sunday July 31, 2016

Rippon Lea Estate

Buy Tickets

Watch Marion Boyce talk about being a costume designer

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