This is going to be good.

Words by

Veronica Jenkinson

This month marks the start of some pretty serious fashion loving in Melbourne. Not only does the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival kick off but the National Gallery of Victoria is also unveiling its latest exhibition 200 Years of Australian Fashion

Two hundred years is a long time, even more so by fashion’s standards. So we sat down with exhibition curator, Paola Di Trocchio, to learn about her take on Australia’s fashion industry, how 200 years has changed fashion and what an exhibition like this involves.

In a broad sense, because it’s not any easy thing to describe, how would you describe Australian fashion? 

We kind of follow international trends, but we’re always that tiny but different or that tiny bit odd. We do have a lot of creative designers, like DI$COUNT, who are otherworldly. And you just don’t get that a lot abroad, especially in America. But Australians are very brave in the way they use colours, patterns and designs. We’re definitely more adventurous. Europe is known for being classic, America is known for being conservative but Australia’s just like ‘well, we’ll do all the cool stuff then.’

There is definitely that attitude of ‘yeah, we’ll give it a go.’

How long does it take to set up an exhibition of this size?

Well, we installed for most of February, but in terms of the preparation time, we have been working on this collectively as a team for about two or three years.

And it’s quite an interactive exhibition...

We’ll have a symposium on the Saturday (March 5) and we’ll be doing designer talks on the Sunday (March 6). And then, throughout the exhibition, there will be various floor talks and things. 

It’s really good, because the exhibition is quite dynamic. 

Are there pieces from the exhibition that require more care or maintenance than others?

Yes, the ostrich feather dress in particular underwent quite an extensive conservation treatment because it had lost some of its feathers, which happens I guess.

And there is a few other pieces, which our conservators have done an amazing job in supporting. With old silks and things, sometimes they’ll split, so [the conservators] will come in behind it and put an adhesive piece of fabric [there]. But everything our conservation team does is reversible.

And there’s a contemporary designers section as well isn’t there?

Yes, at the end of the exhibition. 

Throughout the exhibition we’ve focused on the overarching ideas in each era. When we get to the contemporary section it’s about focusing on each individual designer, because each individual designer has really got their own signature. Toni Matičevski looks different to DI$COUNT, so you can’t put them in the same category. 

And that, I guess, is one of the evolutions of Australian fashion, this real strength behind the individual signatures of designers.

How else do you think the fashion landscape in Australia has changed? What has changed the most?  

Well I think it’s just getting stronger and stronger, and I think a lot of that has to do with the continuity of it. What was really interesting about looking at the designers’ biographies is that in the ’70s and ’80s they were going overseas to train and learn.

Now there’s more of a culture of [designers] staying here and learning from each other. For example, Romance Was Born took inspiration from the work of Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee a lot. It’s like the sophistication that each generation is achieving is passed on to the next, which makes [Australian fashion] stronger and stronger.

Do you think we’re coming back to the notion of making things to last and being sustainable?

I think that’s reflected in the wider realm and across fashion culture that’s definitely a theme. But I  also think that’s one of the strengths of Australian design. We’re one of the few countries that have a high proportion of small studio-based practices. 

So people like MATERIALBYPRODUCT are making products here on shore in their own studios. Strateas Carlucci are working with local knitters in order to have their textiles made and Romance Was Born used to do a lot more on shore, but still do a lot on shore. Those kinds of small specialist collections are what Australian designers tend to specialise in. It’s limited but strong, very artisan based.

Do you have a favourite designer or one that features heavily in your own wardrobe?

I can never pick a favourite, but in terms of my wardrobe I’ve got MATERIALBYPRODUCT in there, I’ve got Romance Was Born in there and Strateas Carlucci. But, you know, I’m always willing to shop.

We hear that.

200 Years of Australian Fashion opens at the NGV this Saturday March 5 and will be on display until July 31. You can grab all the details from the NGV website.


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