by Anna Campbell
I've just got home from a week away in Brisbane, my local big smoke, a couple of hours away via public transport.
I had to go down for the Brisbane Writers Festival where I ran a workshop on Writing a Romance that Sells with my friend Christine Wells (sold out which was nice). I also did a signing on Wednesday night at one of the big bookshops in town. In between, I got to catch up with my oldest friend and celebrate my birthday that had occurred the previous week when I'd been head down to meet a deadline on my latest story.
So as a belated birthday celebration, my friend and I went to the Gallery of Modern Art on Brisbane's Southbank to see the Valentino Retrospective. GOMA is the only Australian venue for this marvellous exhibition of high fashion so I felt very lucky that I was in town to see it and that it was in town to be seen!
I hope you enjoy the pictures of these incredibly glamorous gowns. It was interesting - he worked with a limited palette of colors. Lots of red (the famous 'Valentino' red), pink, black and variations of white. In the 60s, he also used a lot of animal prints - very swinging 60s indeed! There was one ice-blue dress - it turned out that it belongs to the collection his successors put together after his retirement in 2008. It was almost shocking to see the blue once my eyes had adjusted to the other colors!
There were some famous dresses in the collection. Jackie Kennedy's dress for her wedding to Aristotle Onassis in 1968. A surprisingly simple cream number cut above the knee, high-necked with long, gathered sleeves. There was the extremely elegant black and white dress Julia Roberts wore to the Oscars when she won her best actress award for Erin Brockovich. There was a luscious creamy dress that Cate Blanchett wore when she collected her Oscar for The Aviator.
Most of the clothes were what I'd classify as evening wear. Not a lot of stuff you could imagine slipping down to the local supermarket in! Some of the 60s designs were accounted day wear, but I suspect that would only be if you were Verushka or Twiggy or Jean Shrimpton!
Actually speaking of Twiggy, I think you needed a particular sort of figure to carry these dresses off with any aplomb. A VERY long waist - a lot of them featured beautiful ruching around the waist so someone short and short-waisted like me would have looked a little like a bag tied in the middle with string if I'd worn them! You'd need to be tall and not terrifically heavy up top. In fact, heavy anywhere probably wasn't going to be suitable!
All the mannequins they displayed the clothes on had outlandishly long necks. This made sense when I saw some of the archive films that were part of the show - the models looked rather like high-strung thoroughbreds with long, LOOOONG legs and swan-like necks on which perched small, neat heads. It's a very distinctive look and it certainly suits the lovely clothes!
It was wonderful being able to get really close to the dresses and see the level of detail that went into constructing these beautiful shapes. Gussets and darts and bias cuts galore, as you can imagine. The fabrics were also luxurious beyond the dreams of mortal women. I kept saying to my friend, "Wouldn't you feel like a princess in that?" For example, look at this beautiful rose pink fantasy of a gown on the left. Cinderella would have been happy wearing that!
Something I love about the dresses is also apparent in these pictures. Many of them are extremely feminine and romantic. More of the princess look! There's a lot of flower detailing in the gowns - look at that spectacular red dress with the coquelicot poppy train. Isn't that gorgeous? But the florals and the floaty fabrics in many of the designs - tulles and organzas and silk voiles - make the dresses themselves seem like flowers. Definitely hothouse blooms!
As I think you can tell, I had a wonderful time living in this glamorous world for a few hours. It actually made me think of the Regency where women from the highest echelons of society would commission gowns of this caliber for the London Season. The level of craftsmanship on display certainly harked back to an earlier age.
So do you have a famous glam designer? Do you have memories of a dress that appeared at an awards ceremony that you either hated or loved (Bjork's swan outfit at the Oscars a few years ago springs to mind!)? Do you think fashion belongs in an art gallery? Let's talk the girly stuff!