Posted by Nicole in 1800s, Exhibitions

If you haven’t seen the Fashion Detective exhibition, currently on at the NGV Ian Potter Centre until the end of August, I thoroughly recommend it.

The NGV team has outdone themselves this time, combining not only historical 19th century fashion but providing insights into their forensic work to determine the origins and construction of items. You’ll see and read details within the – sometimes deadly – fabric. They’ve also applied a criminal element, collaborating with crime writers to produce fiction.

Entry is free so there’s no excuse not to see it! I didn’t manage to get through it all when I was there so I’ll be back as soon as I can. Here are some pics, hope you like.

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Posted by Nicole in 1800s, Calendar, Exhibitions 6 Comments

An exciting new exhibition opens at the National Trust next week:

If today’s technology had been introduced in the 19th century, what would the world look like? The Antipodean Steampunk Show attempts to answer this question in a fascinating mash-up of past, future, and fantasy.

Born in literature in the 1980s as a response to the sci-fi ‘Cyberpunk’ genre, the visual richness of Steampunk work soon transcended the page. Its influence can be found in film and fashion, as well as in the workshops of scores of hobbyist tinkerers and professional artists alike. The dynamic works to be exhibited include jewellery, shoes, time machines, ray guns, photography and music players, all modified to reflect 19th century aesthetics.

The artists come from a range of cross-discipline backgrounds including engineer-sculptors, artist-scientists, shoe-makers, jeweller-taxidermists, writers, performers, photographers, film-makers, tinkerers, designers and hobbyists.

In addition to contemporary works, the exhibition will include examples of historical machinery, books and films that inspired Steampunk, including nautical, aeronautical, musical and navigational equipment, sourced from the National Trust Collection.

What: The Antipodean Steampunk Show
When: Monday 30 June until Friday 8 August 2014, 10am to 4pm each day
Where: National Trust Victorian headquarters, Tasma Terrace, 6 Parliament Place, East Melbourne
Cost: $10.00 Adult, $ 7.50 Concession, $ 5.00 Child or National Trust member
More information click here
There’s also an interesting programme to accompany the exhibition.

Here’s one of Kate O’Brien’s artworks – this image isn’t in the exhibition but there are other ones.

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Here are some images of the costumes in the exhibition. Photos reproduced courtesy the National Trust (Victoria).
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Posted by Nicole in 1800s, Architecture, Circa event, General 1 Comment

I have a complicated relationship with the past.

It’s always there for me: old houses, cars, furniture, music, books and of course – fashion. It’s my whole life and I’ve never known anything different – I appreciate that there are those who love to have new things but for me, old is where it’s at.

At various times I’ve dressed head to toe in a particular era – like the purists do – and I’ve also moved through many sub-cultures including mod, rockabilly and goth – but underneath it all, always were the vintage clothes. Sub-cultures tend to draw heavily on the past for their inspiration, an irony I appreciate as they’re generally the preoccupations of the young – but that’s a topic for another day.

I like to mix it up – and that’s the fortunate position that we are in, as modern women and men. Never have we had so much access to so many things and we can pick and choose what we want from the past and adapt it to our purposes.

I find those adaptations fascinating and love finding the layers in vintage clothing. There’s a temptation to think that a gown was worn once and then put away, for decades, until we discover it and make it our own but the reality is that most vintage clothes have been altered or updated to suit a new purpose or a new wearer – and the older the piece, the more likely it is to have been re-purposed.

So it is with vintage cars, furniture and architecture.

Yesterday I visited Labassa for a photo shoot – it’s always a pleasure to see the Grand Dame, and I was treated to a personal tour of some of the rooms that aren’t open to the public. I love historic mansions and perhaps my favourite in Melbourne is Labassa, built in the French Renaissance style in 1862. Yesterday was overcast and it suited the dark, faded grandeur nicely.

Most National Trust properties spend time in private hands, the homes of well off families and are handed down through inheritance before eventually finding their way to the NT. Labassa, on the other hand spent most of the 20th century neglected. Like many big old houses, it was broken up into flats in the ’20s.

Thankfully the original features and room sizes were retained but left to fall into disrepair. It provided cheap dwellings for those who appreciated its good location and opulent fittings. Many of the tenants were artists, writers and performers and it’s this period that I find the most interesting.

I like to imagine what it would have been like, living in one enormous room of this fabulous house, perhaps with a rough bathroom fashioned out of a maid’s closet or a lean-to attached to the side of the mansion. Perhaps coming out in that fabulous hallway in the middle of the night to bump into another resident. They must have shared a great sense of community, the people who lived in this rather unfashionable old house with its difficult to heat high ceilings and wide corridors.

Originally the mansion probably sat in the midst of large gardens, as Rippon Lea and Como still do – but they were sold off and developed, so the house is now crowded on a small block with houses around it. It could be worse though – the magnificent frontage used to be obscured from the street by a house. Thankfully there was a campaign to buy it and it was duly demolished.

Image Source.

There must have been a lot of cheering when that came down!

I find it remarkable that so much of the original house remains – I’ve lived in a lot of old houses and flats, and it’s common for features to have been removed. My own home (the Deco War Baby, circa 1942) is unrenovated but previous tenants had stripped everything they could, including light fittings and door knobs. Even some of the doors have been replaced. Thankfully it still has the original fireplace, architraves and picture rails (I’ll post pics one day).

Labassa still has the original wallpaper in many rooms – now faded to brown, it was originally bright gold and some portions have been restored revealing the brilliance. In the ’70s some rooms were covered up with contemporary wallpaper but it has been removed. If you look carefully, you can see the lines where the paper joined. The famous trompe l’oeil ceiling over the staircase was also covered with a false ceiling – that must have been wonderful to discover!

You can still see many signs of the previous residents though – one wall is painted silver (!) and another door has the faded remnants of an union jack paint job. Some bathrooms show fittings from the ’50s. An enormous butler’s pantry is half in one room, and half in another. As much as I love the original features, I also love these more modern adaptations, reminding us of the life that this wonderful house has lived – not just as a museum but as a living home.

When I first saw these tiles, the condition suggested they were ’70s additions installed during the nostalgic revival – but no, they’re the original 1860s tiles, presumably restored. I love the soft colours.

I was pleased to see that I have two small personal links to Labassa – both through poets. I met resident Adrian Rawlings through my husband, Tim Hamilton and my father was a friend of Kenneth Slessor’s, who immortalised Labassa resident Joe Lynch in “Five Bells”.

From “Five Bells”:
All without meaning now, except a sign
That someone had been living who now was dead:
“At Labassa. Room 6 x 8
On top of the tower; because of this, very dark
And cold in winter. Everything has been stowed
Into this room – 500 books all shapes
And colours, dealt across the floor
And over sills and on the laps of chairs;
Guns, photoes of many differant things
And differant curioes that I obtained…”

Labassa is currently gracing our TV screens as one of the settings in “Underbelly Squizzy”, and was also used in “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” and many other productions. A social history of Labassa is being compiled and you can see photos of past residents here – if you have any information please contact Vicki Shuttleworth.

I’ll be appraising your vintage fashion items for a small donation for the National Trust on August 18th, if you’d like to come along and support this very worthy cause and see some of the magnificence of Labassa. I hear that there will be a scrummy morning and afternoon tea too.

Here’s where you’ll find me:

Pic courtesy National Trust – all other images my own.

Posted by Nicole in 1800s, Architecture 1 Comment

I like to bring you lots of images and it’s not always possible – thankfully in this case, there are lots of photos!

One of the things I really enjoy is exploring old buildings – especially if they’re in original condition. When we last visited London in February 2005, we were able to get a peek inside the old Midland Grand Hotel. Built in 1873, it’s the impressive building next to Kings Cross St Pancras Station and the scene of many films and the Spice Girls’ video clip for “Wannabe”. It had been closed for a long time and was in the process of restoration – however as you can see from these photos they hadn’t gotten very far.

Fast forward to today, and I read that next week the newly refurbished hotel is reopening. Now called the St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel is all very posh and international – I’m pleased to see that they’ve done a good job at restoring the public areas but the bedrooms themselves have that generic look that international hotels tend to have.

There’s a link to a gallery here if you’d like to see how it looks now. The wonderful staircase looks better than ever – and I did take an awful lot of photos of it because it’s quite spectacular, although I quite like the faded grandeur of the tiles and wallpapers in my photos. I love the colours of rusty red, teal and gold.


As always, click on the thumbnail to see in full, click again for full size. My camera’s not the best (it was six years ago), a little out of focus for some shots and rather dark in almost all – there was no lighting and it was closed to the public but I hope you enjoy them.

Posted by Nicole in 1800s, 1900s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, Calendar, Costume Collections, events 3 Comments

Hi all,

I’m organising a group to see Loel Thomson’s Costume Collection.

Loel is a private collector who has dedicated her time and resources to the collection, preservation and display of two hundred years of Australian fashion. Many of her pieces were included in my book Love Vintage. I’m sure that she has the best collection of Australian fashion in the country, as well as jewellery, accessories and lace. There’s also an impressive tea cosy collection!

When: Wednesday 17th February at 7pm.
Where: The Costume Collection, 39 Greenaway Street, Bulleen.
What: Tour and talk on 200 years of Australian fashion.
Cost: $5 which Loel donates to a local nursing home.
Bookings: call Circa on 9419 8899

For those who are interested in social history, the history of fashion or just beautiful clothes, I thoroughly recommend this visit. Numbers are limited and RSVP is essential.

Here are some links to photos that I took on previous visits – please note that Loel often changes the displays so you might see some of these but you’ll probably see others from her collection of over 3,000 pieces:
Early 19th century dress.
Victorian era.
Edwardian era.
1920s dress.
1930s dress.
1940s dress.
1950s dress.

1950s swimwear from Loel Thomson’s Costume Collection.

UPDATE 8th Feb: As sufficient numbers have been received to fill the group, we’re now taking names for any one who might be interested in a second tour, hopefully in the next few weeks. Please call the shop on 9419 8899. Thank you.

Posted by Nicole in 1800s, 1900s, 1920s, 1950s, 1960s, Calendar, Exhibitions 6 Comments

I’m pleased that the oldest piece in my personal collection is now on display at the City Museum for an exhibition on womens dress.

What: What Women Wore: Fashion at a glance 1820-1960
When: October 2009 – February 2010
Where: City Museum, Treasury Building, Spring Street (top of Collins Street) Melbourne
Cost: Adult $8.50 Concession $5

I acquired this in 1989 from a Sydney private collector, the crimson silk gown dates from the late 1820s – for twenty years I had thought it was the 1830s but when I recently unpacked it from the hundred or so layers of acid-free tissue paper in which I bedded it down in 1991, I looked at it with new eyes. I now consider that it is a bit earlier – it has the very full sleeves of the 1830s but not quite full enough and also a higher waistline and slight bustle at the rear formed by tightly stitched cartridge pleats.

Pre-dating the sewing machine, the entire gown is hand stitched and trimmed with piping. The lining is a fine linen and it secures up the back via hooks and eyes. Apart from a small bit of silverfish damage (which arrived before we met) and a fraying hem (suggesting it was too long for it’s last wearer) it’s in excellent condition. I have a few gowns from around 1860s-1880s and they haven’t fared as well as this one, which I find remarkable. The gown itself is both small and tall for the time – I suspect it was worn by a tall adolescent as it has very little bust shaping, it may have gone on to be worn by a second wearer, who was less tall. It’s currently displayed on a mannequin sized for a five year old child and it’s too small to do up properly at the back.

I’m still stunned to find such an early garment in Australia – even now with the wonders of collecting via the web, these items are hard to find. This is the first time it’s been displayed and I shall be keeping an eye on it – although the exhibition goes for six months, this gown will be evaluated for light fading and may not stay for the whole exhibition.

Next up in the small but striking display is an amazing blue and silver gown from the 1860s – this is from the wonderful collection of Seams Old. I love the strong colours of this one, and the condition is remarkable, almost perfect. It stands in glorious contrast to the simpler gown of the earlier time. Then we have an oyster silk gown from the late bustle era, 1880s. The detailing is wonderful, and it reminds me of the paintings of Tissot – this one too is from Seams Old, as is the 1890s silk mourning gown that you will see next.

In the next room you will see some gowns of the twentieth century – a silk devore from the ’20s (as featured in Love Vintage book) and a hand-embroidered Chinese silk coat. I wore this to the opening of the NGV’s Black in Fashion exhibition last year, where it caught the esteemed eye of Zandra Rhodes.

The 1950s are represented by one of my personal favourites: a couture silk twill polka dot dress from local fashion house Le Louvre. This dress is also featured in Love Vintage and has impressive quality and construction. I suspect it originally came with a matching belt – I love the way that pieces of spotted fabric are centred over buttons, and it has a self-cravat (which can be tied in a small bow or left loose like this).

As for the 1960s, you’ll have to pop down to the City Museum to see what’s in store!

As well as Circa having some gowns on display, the Love Vintage book will be available for sale at the gift shop and I will be doing a couple of talks about vintage – Friday February 19th at 6pm and Thursday February 25th at 1pm. More news about them will follow as details are finalised.

Posted by Nicole in 1800s, Calendar, Exhibitions 3 Comments

This week the National Gallery of Victory unveil a new costume exhibition –
Persuasion, Fashion in the Age of Jane Austen.

The two earliest garments in my collection are from the 1820s – a white cotton chemise and a crimson silk gown with puffed sleeves and petal collar. I’ll see if I can dig up photos of them for you. In the meantime, go and see the beauties on display at the NGV.

Where: National Gallery of Victoria, International (St Kilda Road)
When: May 22nd to November 8th.
Cost: free entry.

From the NGV’s website:
Persuasion: Fashion in the Age of Jane Austen looks at the changes in fashion that occurred over Austen’s lifetime, with a focus on English women’s fashion during the first two decades of the nineteenth century. Drawing on work from the National Gallery of Victoria’s holdings of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century fashion, prints and drawings, decorative arts and paintings, and complemented by key works from other Australian institutions and private collections, Persuasion broadly surveys the years from the 1770s to around 1830, one of the most dynamic periods in fashion.

Photo courtesy NGV.

Posted by Nicole in 1800s, Exhibitions

You may recall that late last year I visited Charlotte Smith and the Darnell Collection of antique and vintage clothing (you can see my previous post and a few snapshots here).

Quite a few people expressed interest in seeing the Collection, so I’m pleased to report that the Bendigo Art Gallery is about to open an exhibition of Victorian garments from the Collection, called “Fashion in the Age of Queen Victoria”.

Trousseau Dress, 1881 from the Darnell Collection
Image shamelessly stolen from the Bendigo Art Gallery’s website – Trousseau dress 1881.

Where: Bendigo Art Gallery
When: 17th May to 20th July 2008
Admission fees apply.

This exhibition features a selection of Victoria era fashion showing the development of women’s clothing from crinolines to bustles towards the more liberated body shapes of the twentieth century. Curated by Tansy Curtin, this exhibition is exclusive to Bendigo Art Gallery.

The exhibition is accompanied by some special events including a talk by Charlotte, another by Tansy and also a screening of “Gone With the Wind”. Definitely worth a trip to Bendigo – further information can be found here at the Gallery’s site.

Posted by Nicole in 1800s, Costume Collections, Exhibitions 1 Comment

Part Three of our visit to Loel Thomson’s Costume Collection.

Loel has a wonderful collection of garments from this era, it was hard to pick just a few. The bold colours of the silks have been well preserved and are still striking after all these years. Loel researches all details thoroughly and styles the hair and mannequin to match each era.

1850s Crinoline

Click on the link to see more photos… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by Nicole in 1800s, Costume Collections, Exhibitions 2 Comments

Part Two of our visit to Loel Thomson’s Costume Collection.

Here is a shot of part of the exhibition space:
Costume Institute

I must admit to focusing on twentieth century costumes, and now wish I took more of the early pieces – here is an Empire line gown from about 1810 and a couple of Regency era costumes from about 1820.


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