Mum said to me a few weeks ago "Are you going to see that Miss Pretty thing at the Gallery? "Who, what, when?" I said. Then I remembered. My advice to you - If you live in Australia - Go, go, go, and leave yourself plenty of time as it is extensive. It's worth travelling interstate for. And if you're in Australia on holiday, add it to your itinerary. There are about 150 amazing garments from 1890 to 2019 - most of them designer dresses, and the majority are unworn display samples from couture houses in fabulous condition. The exhibition is FREE!! There are also free guided tours available three days a week.
130 pieces were purchased as an entire collection of French haute couture garments which had been on display in the fashion houses and not sold or worn. The purchase was generously funded by fashion lover and gallery benefactor Krystyna Campbell-Pretty. Mrs Campbell-Pretty has continued to add to the collection, which now comprises approximately 250 garments, with about half of those currently on display. The curation is excellent, with the garments placed within the galleries of the permanent collection, often with paintings behind commenting on the period or style.
My passion is for the early garments up the the 1940s, and to see so many of these in pristine condition is just mind boggling.
Here are some of my personal favorites:
This period is dominated by the House of Worth. Worth was the first couturier to put his label on his creations. Many of the evening gowns would have been viewed by ladies in his Salon de Lumiere, a salon lit by candlelight so that ladies could see how these garments would look in the evenings when they would wear them.
Afternoon Dress - House of Worth, 1890
Day Dress - House of Worth, 1895
The collection is dominated by Worth but there is also a wonderful trio from Callot Soeurs, the French sisters with a penchant for lace.
Afternoon Dress - Callot Souers, 1900
This brocade beauty is appliqued with chenille. I was extremely relieved to find that with its minute waist, it was only made to go on a mannequin and not to be worn by a real woman.
1910 - 1919 Fashion
One of my favorite periods - The time of the sinking of the Titanic, The First World War and the Suffragette movement.
Three Evening Gowns - House of Worth, 1912
Jacket by Chanel, 1913-17, Divided Dress by Paul Poiret, 1911, Walking Dress by Jeanne Paquin, 1912
Poiret's divided dress is just that, the skirt fabric runs in a continuous piece from front to back between the legs, a bit like very loose harem pants.
Detail of Paquin's Walking Dress, 1911
Flappers and Jazz - 1920-29
There's a wonderful collection of 1920s dresses. There are no less than five of Chanel's signature little black dresses from the late teens and 1920s.
Chanel - Dress, 1919
I was amazed to read the date on this dress as it looked so 1950s to me. Chanel was just way ahead of her time. In fact, timeless I believe.
Chanel - Evening Dress, 1922
Unknown designer - Evening Dress, 1922
This dress is a tunic style beaded chiffon over layer which is mostly open down the sides and worn over a matching slip. It reminds me of this dress I have, which must date to about the same time.
1920s Beaded Silk Chiffon Dress at Louisa Amelia Jane Vintage
Paul Poiret - Day Coat, 1921
I love the way the curators placed this in front of the Red Coat soldiers in the painting.
Robe de Style - Panniers Anyone?
It was wonderful to see two glorious Robes de Style from Boue Soeurs on display. Having attempted to restore one of these myself and unable to find any advice on line about how to do so, it was wonderful to see them in their full panniered glory. I really wanted to look underneath to see if the boning was whalebone or wickerwork like mine, but of course, tempting as it is, it's strictly hands off.
Boue Souers - Romance, Robe de Style, 1925
Detail of ribbon embroidery
By the way, I digress, but here's my restored Robe de Style wedding dress, I think I did pretty well considering I had to work it out for myself.
Robe de style wedding dress, mid 1920s, at Louisa Amelia Jane
The 1920s collection is augmented by some of the wonderful shoes acquired as a "job lot" by Mrs Campbell Pretty in Paris. A vintage seller can only dream of such a thing. So drool worthy.
Turkish Influence, reflecting the fad for Eastern fashions in the 1920s
Diamante encrusted butterfly heels? Why not?
The NGV's fabulous Old Masters' gallery is home to much of the 1920s and 1930s collection. In this gallery, Madeleine Vionnet and Madame Gres joined Chanel as the major players in this time period, although many others are also represented.
There is a wall of Madame Gres creations, showcasing her signature look, the Grecian drape. Her look changed little over time, and I was surprised to see that when I thought I was viewing 1930s gowns, I was actually viewing her 1980s gowns.
Madame Gres, Gowns, 1930s-1980s
Madeline Vionnet is famous for cutting her garments cross wise on the fabric - or on the bias. This gives garments not only a beautiful drape, but also some stretch. It's a very clingy look for slim women - and fabulous.
Vionnet - Three Gowns, 1930s
The embroidered chiffon gown in the centre is tiny and so delicately worked by Vionnet's specialty embroidery supplier - Lesage of Paris. There's a sample swatch of this fabric on display too. It was specially worked exclusively for Vionnet.
The highlight of this gallery for me was Schiaparelli's famous Hall of Mirrors evening ensemble, inspired by the hall of that name at the Palace of Versailles. It's a silk velvet full length skirt and jacket with elaborate gold metallic thread and mirrorwork embroidery and applique work, and it's just amazing to see it in real life. Elsa Schiaparelli was friends with many arty types, including Salvador Dali, and many of her garments reflect an interest in the surrealists and their art, including this one.
Schiaparelli - Hall of Mirrors Jacket & Skirt, 1938
1940s, 1950s & '60s High Fashion
Madame Gres - Hostess Dress, 1948-49 and Maggie Rouff - Evening Dress, 1940
Dior dominates this period but the master Balenciaga is also well represented.
Christian Dior - Mexico, Cocktail Dress, 1954
Christian Dior - Dress & Jacket, 1956
Balenciaga - Evening Gown & Wrap, 1963
The Youth Market
And then the culture of youth set in. In the latter half of the '60s, when they famously started to swing, the fashion world started to cater to the burgeoning youth market. Paco Rabanne, Pierre Cardin and Yves St Laurent's Rive Gauche line reflect this new direction.
Paco Rabanne - Mini Dress, 1967
'60s meets Gladiator
Pierre Cardin - Dress, 1969
Space Age king.
Yves St Laurent Rive Gauche - Ensembles, 1971
I liked these from YSL, I thought they had a real throwback '40s vibe.
1980 to Now
The 1980s was a time for some amazing fashion, and for some amazingly terrible fashion. Fortunately, not much of the terrible was on display.
Christian Lacroix - Suzanna, 1987
Yves Saint Laurent - Evening Gown, 1990
And I can't seem to find any photos for Issy Miyake, Commes Des Garcons, Alexander McQueen or the other modern and contemporary designers - there's my bias showing through, sorry.
The collection also includes an enviable mass of supporting material - designer sketches, numerous copies of Harpers Bazaar and Vogue from the early years of the 20th century, women's magazines from the 19th century and on. I'm considering posing as a research student so that I can be allowed to don the little white gloves to pore over these fabulous books.
Can I pull it off? Imposter!!
The exhibition is on display until July 14, and did I mention it's FREE? Free guided tours Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.