I never followed fashion, that is, I couldn’t tell you the names of designers or recognise their styles on a red carpet. But
I do enjoy the colour trends that come and go, as well as fabric designs that seem to work on a cycle. Polka dots and 1950’s florals are everywhere at present.
The exception to this would be the 60’s influences when I embraced everything that came out of England: the sounds of Liverpool and Merseyside; Carnaby Street; Mary Quant; pop art; the make-up, hair-dos and Twiggy. Here in Australia, girls dressed in Norma Tullo and Prue Acton (with matching coloured tights). I shopped only at The House of John and Merivale.
When I was a child, my Mother, Vera, made all our clothes. We were well dressed. Often my sister, Donna, and I were in matching outfits. Vera was resourceful. Buttons, zips and fabric off-cuts were re-cycled. Knitted garments were
unwound to a new ball of wool that became another jumper/cardigan. I have many memories of tram trips to the city. Jobs Warehouse for fabric, Myers for patterns and threads.
In my teens, I could show Mum a magazine photo and she could make it. Anything from bikinis, to fully lined coats with covered buttons, ball gowns, beach dresses, shorts and trousers. Call her a craftsman, technician, architect – Vera would create with yesterday’s newspaper spread across the floor, her tape measure, sewing pins and white chalk. She was an extraordinary pattern-maker. This would be followed by several precision measuring and fitting sessions …and lo! The garment.
Vera learned her skills (pre and during WWII) in Flinders Lane, which for several decades was the hub of Melbourne’s ragtrade. She embroidered and beaded as well. When I was a little girl, I was allowed to play ‘dress ups’ in the beautiful
satin embroidered, beaded and sparkling gowns hanging in her wardrobe. I can still see these so clearly.
All this brings me to…. The NGV’s (National Gallery of Victoria) current John Paul Gaultier exhibition.
Gaultier – designer to the stars. That was pretty much the extent of my knowledge, before I visited the exhibition,
although I was aware that he created the conical bra for Madonna.
The NGV curates everything to splendour, and so I expected no less from the Gaultier exhibition. Each space is a new explosion of the senses, and I’ll let my photographs tell some of the story. I was intrigued by the manufacturing, the
exquisite detail, refining of every attention to enhance the shapes and forms. My eyes searched the garments,
recognising by name so much of what Mum had taught me about dress-making (or more accurately, ‘showed me’ as I never mastered these skills). I particularly appreciated reading about the hundreds of hours that went into a creation.
© Photographs of the NGV’s John Paul Gaultier exhibition by tPRo/Pamela Reid
Here’s a couple of photos of Vera strutting her stylish stuff down Collins Street, Melbourne (circa 1940s). Check out her clothes! Also, Donna and I in matching made-by-mum outfits.
Vera: left…and centre.