Opportunity binge

As we slouch in our slack dacks, galleries flex their fashion cred

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“Grace has played a really important role in shaping our understanding of how First Nations artists and makers can connect with the fashion industry,” says Lauren Ellis, curatorial manager at Bendigo Art Gallery. “She translates community-centred art practices into striking fashion outcomes that resonate with visitors from all walks of life; Hibiscus Sunrise was a very important piece for us to acquire.”

Drawing on traditional construction techniques, the garment was inspired by black and white wedding photographs of Lee’s grandmother. It is accompanied by three custom neck pieces handwoven with beaded details, their striking coral palette evoking tropical northern skies.

“The woven accessories are created through a ‘grasshopper weave’ technique Grace learnt from a master weaver in her Torres Strait community, and the shape of the dress itself is an ode to traditional Torres Strait Islander women’s dresses,” says Ellis.

A closer look reveals the intricate craftsmanship of its hand-painted hibiscus motifs and woven elements, which express powerful personal and cultural narratives. It is an ensemble that says warmth, joy and grace, and the world could certainly use a little more of that right now.

Tube top and Y-front trousers, Dion Lee (Fall 20 Collection), Powerhouse Museum (Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences), Sydney

Dion Lee, Tube top and Y-front trousers, Look 39, Fall 2020.

Dion Lee, Tube top and Y-front trousers, Look 39, Fall 2020.

All the cool kids drooled when Aussie-expat designer Dion Lee sent unisex hip-bone-baring trousers down the runway last year. This teardrop-shaped cutaway – complete with bondage-inspired leather hip-straps – instantly became “a thing” among celebrities and A-listers. A rust-orange pair, with co-ordinated tube top, now sits in the museum’s permanent fashion collection.

“In purchasing this outfit, we wanted to explore how Dion has so confidently and effortlessly moved into creating non-binary, gender-fluid clothing,” says Roger Leong, senior curator at MAAS. “What’s so clever about this outfit is that it’s sexy in its reference to bondage wear, but it’s not sexualised. It’s all about the body beautiful. I’d call it classy bondage outerwear that draws inspiration from lingerie and swimwear.”

Lee, who imbues his design practice with an interplay of form, proportion and texture, was a design student when the Powerhouse first showcased his work more than a decade ago.

The battle axe, DI$COUNT UNIVER$E (Spring 2019 collection), National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

DI$COUNT UNIVERSE, ‘The battle axe’ red silk velvet shoulder dress,  (Spring 2019 collection), National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, courtesy of the artists.

DI$COUNT UNIVERSE, ‘The battle axe’ red silk velvet shoulder dress,  (Spring 2019 collection), National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, courtesy of the artists.

Australia’s favourite “anti-fashion” queens DI$COUNT UNIVER$E created this velvet and tulle number for their 2018 Women collection and it is one of 10 garments gifted to the NGA by designers Kami James and Nadia Napreychikhov. Rebecca Edwards, Sid and Fiona Myer curator of ceramics and design at the NGA, first saw it on the runway at New York Fashion Week.

“This dress, and the whole Women collection, really speaks to what I feel is the contemporary voice of feminism” she says. “It gives an inclusive ‘take it or leave it’ account of what being a woman in the 21st century really means. All of DI$COUNT UNIVER$E’s work is underpinned by strong social, cultural and political messaging. However, set against a framework of the #MeToo movement when all that erupted, I felt Women says something much bigger, something that needed to be represented in NGA’s collection.”

Earning a spot in the NGA’s Know My Name exhibition showcasing the work of female Australian artists, the battle axe’s unapologetic shade of red is sledgehammer-subtle. Add the architectural shoulder proportions, delicately dotted velvet tulle skirt and the word WHORE slapped around its dainty belted waist, and this was always going to be a talking point among visitors. Call it an ironic hoot, a power slogan, or proverbial middle finger to the idea of traditional femininity, it dares you to look away.

Get Mean gown, Viktor & Rolf (Spring 2019 haute couture collection), Art Gallery of South Australia

A model wears the Get Mean dress during the Viktor & Rolf Spring Summer 2019 show in Paris.

A model wears the Get Mean dress during the Viktor & Rolf Spring Summer 2019 show in Paris.Credit:Getty Images

AGSA’s senior curator of decorative arts, Rebecca Evans, was tickled pink when she received an oversized parcel from Amsterdam recently. The sorbet-hued Get Mean gown from Dutch fashion artists Viktor & Rolf’s Spring 2019 Fashion Statements collection practically leapt from its box in a sugar-rush of tulle, frills and rousing letters.

“My director and I had binge-watched Emily in Paris on Netflix last year … one of the episodes parodied Viktor & Rolf’s Spring 2019 collection, which made us revisit how hilarious and relevant these ‘meme’ garments still are,” Evans says.

“We simply couldn’t go past the Get Mean gown, which plays on the notion of fashion and feminism. The idea of women getting ‘mean’ was very much on the forefront of every media agenda in the country throughout 2020, so the gown was relevant for a number of reasons.”

Programmed to lend its sweet sass to an AGSA exhibition next year, the gown’s Get Mean call to action is appliqued like a pop-cult meme onto the bodice’s felt heart, mimicking the heart-shaped novelty lollies one might have gifted a Valentine some moons ago. Its tent-like silhouette kicks out in layers of A-line tulle, while frill-trimmed puff sleeves reference classic 20th-century women’s evening wear.

The eye-wateringly pricey gown (a quick web trawl values a twin frock at around $50,000) will no doubt draw a crowd and inspire some seriously Insta-worthy moments when it officially comes out to play next year.

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