This exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria was top of our ‘must see’ list when we visited Melbourne in June. Philanthropist and NGV Foundation Board Member, Krystyna Campbell-Pretty has purchased more than 250 garments since 2015 and gifted them to the NGV in memory of her late husband, Harold Campbell-Pretty. We took our time absorbing the wondrous collection of haute couture garments on display. This was more than just a presentation of beautiful attire, it was a reflection of a changing society and the evolution of women’s roles. The gowns of the Belle Époque, French for ‘beautiful era’ (spanning 1871– 1914), portrayed a diverse range of styles. Around the turn of the century, the exaggerated S-shape was attributed to the diabolical corsetry endured by women of this time.
Callot Soeurs was established in 1895 by four sisters who had previously owned a small shop that specialised in quality lingerie, ribbon and laces.
Charles Frederick Worth, considered to be the father of haute couture, founded the House of Worth in the 19th century.
Around 1906, dresses became more linear and women were freed from their constricting undergarments.
The Jazz Age of the 1920s brought loose fitting, unstructured garments adorned with sequins, beads, lace and fringing.
The Parisian couture house of Boué Soeurs opened in 1899 and was known for its feminine, romantic style. Their 18th century inspired robe de style featured lace, embroidery and ribbon-work flowers. The contours of the wide skirt were achieved with the use of hoops underneath the fabric.
Elsa Schiaparelli began designing her own collections in 1927. This beautiful green evening coat, part of her Speakeasy collection in 1932-33 during Prohibition, had a small back bustle where a flask of contraband alcohol could be concealed. The black silk velvet evening coat was created by Lucien Lelong in 1935, around the time he was elected chairman of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture (the governing body of the French haute couture industry).
In 1854, the U.S. forced Japan to open up its borders to international trade and the French term, Japonisme, encompassed the resulting fascination with Japanese goods. Capes, cloaks and coats of the early 20th century reflected the form of the kimono, often embroidered with Japanese motifs.
Madeleine Vionnet was known as the ‘Queen of the bias cut’, her designs were feminine, streamlined and close fitting.
Formally trained as a sculptor, Madame Grés began producing high fashion in the early 1930s. The art of pleating and draping was perfected in her designs, the bodices were exceptionally elegant.
Jeanne Lanvin’s garden party dress and Jean Patou’s afternoon dress of the 1930s were floral and feminine.
A marvellous display featuring many incarnations of the ‘little black dress’ took centre stage in a gallery among mid 20th century paintings. The inception of the LBD has long been associated with Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel.
Evening dresses of the 1930s exuded glamour and luxuriant fabrics enhanced the female form.
The 1940s brought a spectrum of silhouettes, from evening dresses to dinner jackets and day suits.
Schiaparelli’s afternoon dress seemed remarkably demure next to Molyneux cocktail dresses.
Moving into the 1950s, the evening gowns were nothing short of spectacular.
Christian Dior created thousands of pieces in the ten years he presided over his couture house, continually manipulating hem, bust and waistlines. His stunning, shorter style dresses were in company with those from Rochas, Lanvin and Carven.
The creations of Cristóbel Balenciaga reflect the changing trends through the 1950s and 60s.
Paco Rabanne liked to make garments from unconventional materials rather than cloth. I don’t think I’d like to sit down wearing this metal mini dress.
Through the 1960s and 70s, Yves Saint Laurent presented more contemporary designs with masculine lines and bohemian elements.
His garments from the 1990s returned to more feminine contours, the tribute to his couture house ensemble (on the left) took 700 hours to complete. The rock-crystal and gilt embellishments were all hand embroidered.
The square shouldered, tailored suits of Claude Montana and Thierry Mugler were a sharp contrast to the flowing form of Azzedine Alaìa and golden ensemble of Zandra Rhodes.
Christian Lacroix is known for his opulent, colourful garments and his varied designs reflect fashion history.
The exhibition also included original sketches and drawings, photography and fashion magazines as well as handbags and shoes. Far too many to photograph.