Glynis Jones, Curator of Fashion and Dress at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, has invested years of work into capturing the highs and lows of Fashion Week Australia. The museum has gathered together a stunning array of fashion, memorabilia and audio and video commentary from the past 15 annual Fashion Week displays.
Hi Glynis. What’s your role with the Powerhouse Museum, and more specifically, with the Frock Stars exhibition?
I’m Curator of Fashion and Dress at the Powerhouse Museum. Part of the job for a Curator is to collect objects for the museum, and I’ve been collecting items from Fashion Week to archive over many years. When Fashion Week’s 15th anniversary came up, we spoke to the organisers – and they were very interested in celebrating those 15 years.
I put together the Frock Stars exhibition to celebrate Fashion Week and to highlight the interesting items, the fabulous frocks, the people and the controversies behind the event.
How do you go about capturing not just the items of clothing, but as you mentioned, the interesting happenings and the issues that often occurred behind the scenes at Fashion Week?
By using some of the documents from the time period, for example. The exhibition is trying to set up a sense of what it’s like to attend Fashion Week. Fashion Week is a closed event for buyers and the media, so we’re trying to give people a sense of what it’s like to be there.
I’ve used some of the media reports that came out at the time. Very early on, when Fashion Week first started back in 1996, I think it was quite hard to get people to show any enthusiasm for the Australian fashion industry. There was a bit of struggle around and a sense of whether it was ever really going to work … one media report would be saying, “Oh wow … look at us now! We’re on the international stage, and it’s a big moment for Australia” and then on the other side, there were reports claiming the event was “Fashion Weak”.
I guess at that stage there was some doubt about whether Australian fashion was ready to go on the global stage and be under the spotlight. Buyers at the event would have already been to London, Paris and Milan to view the latest fashion, and were we going to be able to compete with that? There was a lot of tension around.
Also around that era, the editor of Vogue Australia was Marion Hume. Marion came from England – and she called things as she saw them on the catwalk, which was a mix of good and bad. She was quite willing to give advice when she thought something could be improved – and I guess for some people, that was quite confronting. This caused a bit of controversy.
These media reports can be seen as part of the exhibition.
How much work was involved with putting this exhibition together?
We had the archives, and because I was always looking through them and also attending Fashion Week myself, that made it a bit easier. I knew what Fashion Week was like and the processes and people involved … having the Fashion Week organisers on board with us to help us organise the exhibition and to provide interviews about their roles was really important and a big help.
Apart from what you’ve already mentioned, what else is included in the exhibition?
People enter the exhibition on red carpet, to see a catwalk and 15 garments, representing the 15 years of Fashion Week. The highlights include a Zimmermann swimsuit from 1996, right through to a 2010 Ice Blue Knot Dress by Dion Lee. In between, we have the fabulous Iced Vo Vo dress by Romance Was Born, a fabulous ball gown by Michelle Jank and a gorgeous little cocktail dress with feathers by Alex Perry. It’s a mix of swimwear, through to streetwear, evening and cocktail wear.
But people will also be able to sit front row, put on headphones and listen to Kirstie Clements, the current editor of Vogue, as she describes sitting front row at Fashion Week and thinking about how she’d report on the garments for the magazine, while you’re watching footage of the garments themselves being presented at Fashion Week.
You can then go backstage and watch interviews with the show’s producer, who organises the models, hair and makeup that’s happening backstage. There’s also footage from backstage photographer Robert Rosen, who was actually a catwalk photographer in London and Paris during the ’80s, before he came to Australia.
There’s a large AV, which picks out the stories of some of the hundreds of people involved in putting Fashion Week together, from volunteers, to producers and staging people.
It sounds like a very interactive exhibition …
It was quite a different exhibition for the museum. We have tried to make it interactive … you actually go into a recreation of designer Nicola Finetti’s studio. We went into Nicola’s studio to take photographs, and he allowed us to take away a whole lot of things like patterns and samples – and these are actually on open display, so people can browse through them and touch them.
Museums don’t generally allow people to handle things, but we wanted to gather some things specifically as props – because people do want to feel things and look at them closely.
What’s your favourite piece from the exhibition?
There are a lot of favourites! I’m so close to these pieces as the Curator of Fashion … I love Michelle Jank’s Bird Dress. Michelle started off as a jeweller and did fashion design at East Sydney Tech, but she’s now well known as a stylist and does designs for ballet. She’s one of those very creative collaborators, and this piece is a beautiful grey dress, where the jewellery – a large blackbird – has been incorporated into the dress. It’s very romantic and beautiful.
And then there’s Romance Was Born – a couple of young, Sydney-based designers, who are very creative and very offbeat in their approach to fashion. Their Iced Vo Vo dress is quite lovely.
How far and wide is the Frock Stars exhibition travelling around the country?
It’s going to many regional centres in NSW and up to tropical North Queensland, across to Perth – it’s travelling quite a way. We were lucky enough to get a Visions grant to be able to reconfigure this exhibition, so it could travel. That’s been a big job in itself! To create an exhibition that two people can take around the country is quite an art. The exhibition was shown at the Powerhouse Museum from 2010 – 2011, and people really loved it here. The Glasshouse is the first venue for the travelling exhibition – so it will be very interesting to see how it’s received.
Interview by Jo Atkins.
Photo: Sotha Bourn. ©Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.