A visit to see The Golden Era of Couture at Bendigo Art Gallery

Finally I got a chance to see the long awaited exhibition The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957 at the Bendigo Art Gallery. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve looked forward to this – and expect to go at least once or twice more before it finishes on March 22nd.

Firstly: some shoes to whet your appetite and then a mix of vintage photos and garments from the exhibition.

All images borrowed from the fabulous Victoria and Albert’s site on the exhibition. Don’t be fooled by the monochromes: there are lots of lovely colours and prints too.

My dates for the day were the very glamourous (and much more suitably frocked) Vintage Verve and Lisa. That will teach me to dress down on a Sunday. Anyway: onto the exhibition.

In brief – the exhibition exceeded my expectations; five or six rooms full of what can only be considered the best vintage clothing on the planet, displayed to great effect under subtle lighting. The first room has several wonderful pieces, and explains the back story of how the masterful Christian Dior (my favourite designer) released his “flower” designs for women in 1947 and gave the fashion world a bit of a well mannered shake.

Over the past 29 years I have read and written a great deal about this period and these gowns, as well as viewing, repairing, cleaning and reconstructing many thousands of the little darlings and their poorer cousins. So what I was looking for were the things that I didn’t know or hadn’t noticed – and here’s what they were:

– The heady Victorian influence – I’ve seen couture gowns with built in corsetry but hadn’t seen how much the haute couture shared with the previous century.

– The softening of the work of Balenciaga – I haven’t seen many of his garments in the flesh so hadn’t realised how much his style changed as the 1950s progressed, from high style to something much softer.

– The scale of the French fashion houses – the large contribution they played in the economy and the numbers of skilled workers required to produce such creations.

– How effectively these garments would have created the desire in the younger generation for something free and easy – high fashion without taking out a second mortgage and so setting the stage for the clothing revolution of the 1960s.

– It was surprising to see that in modern day terms, the couture garments were relatively affordable and good value for money – certainly more so that certain mass-produced made in China designer items are now. I think it was $2,000 for a Balenciaga haute couture suit, and remember that Balenciaga was perhaps the most exclusive of all the fashion houses.

Wonderful! Do go and see it if you get the chance – there are all sorts of associated events too, including a talk by Lynn Savery on March 18, about her collection of wearable vintage.

One comment

  1. It really is a wonderful collection and well worth the four hour round trip.

    Lisa and I felt very spoilt to have you on hand to enlighten us with so many interesting insights into the designs, the designers and different styles.


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