A visit to the Fashion Meets Fiction exhibition.

Recently Rina from Take 2 Markets and I went to see the Fashion Meets Fiction exhibition at Burrinja Cultural Centre in Upwey. I thought you might like to see some pics.

In keeping with the theme of fashion and fiction, all of the displays were to accompany a book: I love reading so this was a pleasure. Whenever I pick up a new book, I always look first to see when it was written, or when it was set, so that I can mentally clothe and house the characters in the correct setting – this meant that there was sometimes a little difference between how I envisaged a character dressing and the display.

The exhibition has thoughtfully been set out in chronological order, so I shall continue that here.

One of the things that fascinates me the most about vintage and antique clothing, are the signs left behind from when garments are altered or updated. Quite a few of the fashions on display showed obvious signs and I itched to turn them inside out and reveal all their secrets.


This dress from the 1850s was an interesting one – although the cotton fabric is original, the bodice shows signs of being a replacement, perhaps made out of the excess skirt fabric (crinoline skirts from this era have an enormous amount of fabric in them and a metre or two would not be missed). The indications were a bodice that is completely unstructured at the back, with no seams or darts, a strangely modern neckline that looks like it needs a collar, or fastening to stop it gaping open, and short sleeves that have been top-stitched with added lace trim.

I would have expected this gown to have longer sleeves, perhaps pagoda style. It also lacked the distinctive shoulder seams of this era, suggesting it was sewn much later, probably post-Victorian era. The skirt shape isn’t quite wide and full enough either, but that’s a display issue, perhaps the proper petticoat wasn’t available – they really were enormous, I have one that I made when I studied costume design, it’s seven metres around and makes you feel like an enormous tea cosy.


This beautiful gown from the 1860s was of a lovely floral silk fabric (hence why you’re seeing a close up). I like how you can see the waist darts have been taken out, perhaps when the wearer’s figure altered or it was adjusted for a new wearer. If you look closely, you can see two sets of darts, and both have been taken out.

This dress also had wonderful fluffy tassel buttons – sadly, they’re hard to see but perhaps it will encourage you to go and see for yourself?


One of the delights of the exhibition is being able to get up close to the fashions – not touch of course! We were there on a quiet morning, so we almost had the exhibition to ourselves. It was wonderful and a joy. This fabulous ensemble is from the early 1890s.

This ensemble from the 1880s is really interesting – if it wasn’t for the bustle, I would not have believed the dating correct. It features a lovely silk paisley fabric insert, probably from India hinting at the British Raj or colonialism. Orientalism started to have a big influence of fashion in the 19th century, with it’s bold colours and rich textures. This one is to illustrate “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”.


Phryne Fisher and her adventures are a feature of the exhibition, and it was wonderful to see some of the original book illustrations included with this sumptuous opera coat of metallic lame and silk velvet – the colours are wonderful! It reminds me of a Margaret Preston wood cut.

Author Kerry Greenwood is speaking as part of the accompanying events calendar, on February 8th.


This was one of my favourites – I just love these floaty tea gowns from the 1930s and this one with it’s soft blue on white print is a darling. They’re so wearable today, if you can find one in good condition, as they’re delicate and need gentle handling.

This one features floaty sleeves and the distinctive bias cut of the era – I love the inverted “v” on the bodice, with the gathering into the neckline. These were meant to be worn quite loosely, and this one shows signs of updating – the somewhat clunky self-belt that hides the lovely seaming of the centre front, and on the back there’s an alteration to the back of the neckline to presumably make it less wide of neckline – perhaps it wasn’t modest enough or was altered for someone smaller?

It’s so kind of exhibitions to enable us to see behind a garment – thank you Charlotte and everyone who set this one up, I really appreciate being able to see all around if I can.


How fabulous are these sleeves? I just love the sleeves of the 1930s, and these are particularly extravagant – how could you not feel wonderful wearing something like this?

Many of the books have been made into films and films are often set in different time periods – it was a little jarring to see “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (written in 1958 and filmed in 1961) displayed with this skirt suit – it wasn’t something I could imagine Holly Golightly wearing – she would have considered it matronly and too grown up and preferred something younger. Perhaps it could have been worn by Patricia Neal’s character instead?

Still, the rest of us are probably delighted to see a real Dior New Look, made of silk faille with velvet trim, late 1940s. I know I was! It was all I could do not to lean forward and touch the silk.

Now here is a dress I covet – it was sold recently at Leonard Joel’s, and I’m sad to say that I bid unsuccessfully on it. Seeing it here makes me wish I had succeeded. It’s made by local couturier Lucy Secor, and comes with it’s own matching stole. I’m pleased to see it’s found a home with the Darnell Collection.


Now here’s a gown to make an impact – beautiful bodice detailing too.


Here’s a close up: the cashmere cardigan is featured in my book “Love Vintage” but I love the diamante clip and fur collar, and the skirt worn with it is sensational – a rich silk satin, printed with an abstract design and flocked in a lace design. I haven’t seen a fabric like this before. Another one I had to restrain the urge to stroke.


A late ’50s printed sundress by UK company Horrockses. I say this all the time, but I can’t get enough of these dresses. This style has been copied a lot by modern designers this season and it never fails to please: fitted bodice, nipped in waist, full skirt. Perfect for a hot day.


A very early ’60s evening gown, love the beadwork and wide cummerbund.


Another personal favourite, this striking late ’60s gown is also featured in my book. I took several shots this time, it looks great from every angle. The hat is great too.


The strength of the Darnell Collection is the couture but there’s also some lovely examples of more every day wear, like this lovely circa 1970 knitted dress. I can imagine it worn with chocolate brown knee high boots, with a bit of a platform.

I hope you enjoyed the pics – this is only a small smattering of what’s on display, and the exhibition is on until February 17th. More information can be found at the official website.

Share!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *