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troublemag | September 18, 2021

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The Fashion Force

The Fashion Force

by Inga Walton

Krystyna Campbell-Pretty’s passion for fashion has endowed the National Gallery of Victoria with a substantial number of exceptional couture and prêt-à-porter ensembles, accessories, sketches and studio drawings, photography, fashion journals and supporting textual material over the last several years.

An NGV Foundation Board member, and newly appointed NGV ‘Ambassador to France’, Campbell-Pretty’s unprecedented support of the Fashion and Textiles Department stems from her belief in the transformative power of the medium and its ability to reflect the period from which it derived. “Fashion can be simultaneously artistic, pragmatic, and a crucial physical record of complex construction skills and techniques that are all but gone. It is beautiful to regard and can bring great enjoyment. It reflects the human condition”, she observes. “Today the financial pressure on museums is high, so if I can help I am happy. You give because deep down inside yourself, you feel you have to give … without any other consideration”. 

Philanthropist Krystyna Campbell-Pretty, AM, in the John Schaeffer Gallery in front of The First Cloud (1887) by Sir William Quiller Orchardson, RA (1832-1910). To the right, Widowed (1879) by (Francis) Frank M. Holl, RA (1845-88) with, (attrib.) Chanel, Paris (est. 1909), Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel (1883-1971), designer, Evening Dress (1931), silk (organdie), Collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. (Purchased with funds donated by Krystyna Campbell-Pretty, AM, in memory of Mr. Harold Campbell-Pretty, 2015).  © Chanel, Paris.
(Photo: Eugene Hyland)

It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that Campbell-Pretty’s philanthropy has transformed the fashion collection. The depth of her contribution has been acknowledged with the stand-alone exhibition The Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Fashion Gift (until 14 July, 2019) featuring over 150 of the 250 works gifted by Campbell-Pretty to the NGV Collection over the last three years in memory of her late husband Harold Campbell who died suddenly in 2014. Supporters of the NGV since 2004, together they donated the funds to establish the Schools Access Program for disadvantaged children to attend ticketed exhibitions and Melbourne Now (2013-14). They also provided the funds for the purchase of the painting Don Luis Jaime Antonio de Borbon y Farnesio, Infante of Spain (c. 1774-78) by Anton Mengs (1728-79) in 2014. Campbell-Pretty then sponsored the inclusion of the Chinese designer Guo Pei’s dazzling and opulent Legend collection at the inaugural NGV Triennial (2017).

Patrons attending the NGV’s The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture (2017) may have noticed that the exhibition included eleven ensembles acquired or gifted by Campbell-Pretty, examples often superior to the featured Dior Héritage Collection. Several of these works are on display again including Pré Catelan, dress (1947), Aladin, Cocktail dress (1947), Cavalière, suit (1948), and Village party (Fête au Village) Evening dress (1955) by Christian Dior (1905-57). Making their exhibition début are three outfits, two from Dior’s H-line (1954-55), which presented a more youthful silhouette by raising the bust and elongating the torso. Cuba, Evening dress (1954), was christened ‘the Degas look’ by Vogue in reference to the French artist’s paintings of dancers, and the long, tight ballerina fit. The lightly bejewelled gold bodice and skirt of pink floating tulle evoked romance, femininity and quintessentially Parisian chic. 

Mexico, Cocktail dress (1954) is densely embroidered in gold metallic threads and sequins in stylised overlapping arabesques, and features a dramatic flared collar edged in black velvet. The work echoes an earlier dress, Mexico (Mexique), Evening gown (1951), held by Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, also using exaggerated volume, a favourite design device of Christian Dior. The crisp white Dress and jacket (1956) from Dior’s Arrow (Flèche) line is covered in embroidered white daisies with pink carpels. Dior used flowers as an inspiration for the structure of his garments and as a motif for embellishment, richly decorating the surfaces of fabrics with embroidery, beadwork and patterns. His initial designs were developed at his country home, Moulin de Coudret, near Fontainebleau where Dior would look out over the garden. Dior’s younger sister Catherine (1917-2008), the inspiration for his first perfume Miss Dior (1947), was a horticulturist and worked as a sales agent at Les Halles wholesale flower markets in Paris for many years.

Interspersed throughout the British & European Collection (19th Century), the International Collection (19-20th Centuries), and the 18th & 19th Century Decorative Arts & Paintings Galleries on Level 2 are designs ranging in age from a Dinner dress (c.1889) by the house of Félix, Paris to an Outfit (2019) from Christian Dior’s Resort collection by Maria Grazia Chiuri. “Building and completing … if it’s ever possible, the collection is the whole motivation, because having started, and having really a very, very good beginning, you then become very conscious of what we didn’t have … and I’m still conscious of what we don’t have. It’s a driving force. When I see very important garments I get a sense of great thrill”, says Campbell-Pretty. 

Her desire to secure some of the most exceptional pieces available on the international market for the NGV is reflected in the recent acquisition of seven works by Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008) from the collection of the Kuwait-born socialite Mouna Ayoub. Reported to have the largest private collection of haute couture in the world, and rumoured to never wear the same piece twice, Ayoub auctioned 100 various outfits by Saint Laurent (created between 1988 and 2001) on 23 January this year with the proceeds going to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris and La Cinéfondation, Cannes. An outrageous black and white Evening dress (1990) in an abbreviated traje de flamenca style is the couture equivalent of a mullet. A deceptively simple black silk gazar bodice with shoe-string straps tapers down to form a row of ruffles and a bustle back. A second layer of ruffles in white organza satin spills out to form a long train with a black embroidered latticework of jet beads and pompoms with a large black bow at ankle-level. Further pompoms in various sizes are suspended from the white ruffles around the front, cascading down the sides and back, and fanning out across the train. As if to confirm the adage that money can’t buy taste, it really is one hot mess of a dress!  

Of particular note is the lavishly embellished ensemble Look 113, Hommage à ma maison (Homage to My House) (1990), one of only two versions ever made (the other is in the Musée Yves Saint Laurent, Paris). Referencing the décor of his salon at 5 Avenue Marceau, it was also a tribute to the skilled artisans who realised Saint Laurent’s creative vision; the shimmering rock crystal, glass jewels and the scrolling gilt trim adorning the jacket required 700 hours of work. In an interview in 2010, François Lesage (1929-2011), Director of the renowned couture embroidery firm Maison Lesage, discussed his collaboration with Saint Laurent, which spanned forty-four years. Of Hommage à ma maison he recalled, “He showed me the chandelier that [interior designer] Jacques Grange had given him, which was reflected with the sky in a Lalanne mirror, and he imagined a Ciel de Paris [sky of Paris] embroidery. Morning, midday, or evening sky? ‘The three’, he responded. We made photos, and that’s how the embroidery of Homage to My House was born”. 

Yves Saint Laurent, Paris (est. 1961) Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint Laurent (1936-2008), designer, Look 96, Evening Dress (1990), silk (moiré), metal, lamé, rock crystal (embroidery by Lesage). Collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. (Gift of Krystyna Campbell-Pretty, AM, and the Campbell-Pretty Family, 2019). Installation photography: Inga Walton.

Look 96, Evening Dress (1990) of pistachio green moiré silk has a deep décolleté edged in swirling gold lamé arabesques meeting in a central stylised bow. Echoing the fabulous embroidery of Hommage à ma maison, Maison Lesage is also responsible for the dense pattern of jewels and rock crystal drops that trail around the neckline. The slightly ruched, above-the-knee, skirt gives the long-sleeved dress a more playful aspect and enlivens the ornate detailing. Look 89, Evening dress and Robe (2001) is inspired by the glamour of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s, a reference Saint Laurent deployed regularly in his collections. A heavy silk-satin cream halter-neck gown, reminiscent of those worn by stars like Jean Harlow (1911-37) and Carole Lombard (1908-42), is layered with a diaphanous robe trimmed with delicate ostrich feathers by the plumassier Maison Lemarié (est.1880). One of the last plumassiers in the world (someone who works with or trades in ornamental feathers or plumes), Maison Lemarié also supplies artificial flower creations, and has a tailoring workshop that specialises in smocks, pleats, inlays, ruffles and matelassé (weaving on a jacquard or dobby loom to produce a quilted or padded appearance). 

Since 1985, the House of Chanel (privately owned since 1971 by the secretive Wertheimer family) has progressively acquired many of the leading artisan-lead firms such as Lesage and Maison Lemarié as subsidiaries in their Métier d’Art partner network (under the umbrella company Paraffection). The intention is to preserve and promote the highly rarefied expertise of these paruriers, and the labour-intensive skills of their dedicated workforce. Twenty-six independent ateliers are now part of this fraternity, and also have long histories of working with couture houses to produce many of the splendid embellishments and accessories that are the hallmark of an haute couture garment. The current Métier d’Art circle includes the fabric pleater Lognon (est.1945), glove maker Causse (est.1892), embroiderer Montex (est.1939), specialists in tambour or Lunéville beading, Guillet (est.1896) floral decoration and master corsage-maker, the milliner and maker of hair accessories Maison Michel (est.1936), Goossens (est.1950) jewellers and goldsmiths, bootmakers Massaro (est.1894), the costume jeweller, accessory and button-maker Desrues (est.1936), and the Scottish cashmere supplier Barrie Knitwear (est.1903). 

The exhibition includes sixteen works by Saint Laurent whose designs Campbell-Pretty has a particular affinity for, “I still love my vintage Yves Saint Laurent pieces – I still have my Rive Gauche long trench coat I bought with Harold in 1978, which has timeless design and elegance”, she enthuses. “My mother and I had different approaches [to fashion], as we were from different generations: I was really inspired by Yves Saint Laurent, while my mother thought Christian Dior was the iconic figure of elegance. I still have a clear memory of an issue of Australian Vogue that pictured the model Veruschka [Countess Vera von Lehndorff-Steinort] in the famous Saharienne, outfit [c.1968] by Saint Laurent. Pure design, chic, modern, elegance … this image was a new world to me”, Campbell-Pretty recollects. “There were also photos of many other key fashion developments like Saint Laurent’s critical Le Smoking, suit [1966], the Paco Rabbane ‘chain mail’ dress [1967], even Mary Quant’s chic minis with their paired back simplicity”. Campbell-Pretty would eventually acquire all of those outfits for the NGV, with the exception of a Quant mini-dress. However, a black and red wool Dress (1969) with vinyl details by Pierre Cardin more than makes up for that.

Paco Rabanne, Paris (est.1966), Francisco Rabaneda Cuervo (Paco Rabanne), designer, Mini dress (1967), metal. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. (Gift of Krystyna Campbell-Pretty, AM, and the Campbell-Pretty Family through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gift Program, 2018).
© Paco Rabanne.

Many of the included works derive from the extensive Dominique Sirop Collection, a microcosm of the world of haute couture and international fashion. The Parisian collector and designer assembled most of the works from auction houses and specialist dealers in America, France and London between 1989 and 2014. Sirop is regarded as one of fashion’s great insiders, having been apprenticed to Saint Laurent, and then hired by Count Hubert de Givenchy (1927-2018) in 1978 to be the assistant designer at his eponymous couture house. Sirop later worked for the Japanese designer Hanae Mori from 1989 to 1996, and thereafter established his own couture house. When Sirop decided to sell his collection, 130 works (ranging from 1800 to 2003) by more than thirty different fashion designers, it was offered on the condition that it was purchased in its entirety. 

In 2016, it was acquired by the NGV courtesy of $1.4 million in funds donated by Campbell-Pretty, and represents the most significant French haute couture collection ever to be acquired by an Australian institution. “I knew this acquisition could change the entire position of the NGV in terms of fashion; it could re-shape its profile, and open it up to great future potential for growth”, she stresses. “Fashion is an important area of development for museums globally and represents a field with so much potential”. Campbell-Pretty was certain it was a project that fulfilled the intentions she shared with her husband, “…we had for some time wanted to do more and felt that the right opportunity would arise one day. When the potential to acquire this collection emerged, I felt that even though Harold was no longer with me, he would agree that this was that opportunity”. It was a transformative experience for both Campbell-Pretty and the NGV, “The acquisition of works from Dominique Sirop has changed my life in a significant way: I am working more and more closely with the Gallery. I feel I am now a committed collector of a very unique sort: I am collecting for the state, in agreement with the curators”.

Sirop’s collection also included an outstanding fashion research archive, including rare examples of fashion magazines including Gazette du Bon Ton (1912 to 1925), Harper’s Bazaar (1909 to 1966), L’Officiel (1929 to 2003), French Vogue (1923 to 1954) and American Vogue (1913 to 1969). Original sketches and studio drawings from fashion houses such as Boué Soeurs, Lanvin, Yves Saint Laurent, Hanae Mori, Jean Dessès, and Paquin, including a selection of original workbooks by Madame Grès (1903-93) and Jeanne (-Marie) Lanvin (1867-1946), and in-house photography from Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, Lanvin, Schiaparelli, Vionnet, Grès and Worth round out the diverse trove. These rare ancillary materials form the basis of the Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Fashion Research Collection, an acknowledgement of the growing importance of archival resources within museum and gallery collections today. This specialist fashion archive is now housed under the auspices of the Gallery’s Shaw Research Library.

Grouped in the middle of the John Schaeffer Gallery is a display devoted to the ‘Little Black Dress’, with gowns by Paquin, Maggy Rouff, Lanvin, and five by Chanel (ranging from 1919 to 1929), atop plinths. Interspersed amongst the dresses are bronzes from the NGV collection by the German sculptor Joseph Uphues (1850-1911), French painter and sculptor (Paul-)Albert Bartholomé (1848-1928), Francis Derwent Wood, RA (1871-1926), James Havard Thomas (1854-1921), and of course Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Another black ensemble, the rare ‘Hall of Mirrors’ jacket and dress (1938), was a key work from the Zodiac collection by the Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973), which drew on the two main themes of astrology and the Palace of Versailles. The mirrored archways found in the palace seem likely to be the inspiration for the ornate decoration on the front of the jacket. Schiaparelli frequently visited Versailles and its grounds to call on her friend, the renowned interior designer Elsie de Wolfe, Lady Mendl (1859-1950) who lived there. The outfit was purchased Mrs Vera Worth from Schiaparelli’s London boutique, and remained a prized possession throughout her life until it was acquired at auction. 

Positioned around the gallery walls are works from Maggy Rouff, Maisons Agnès-Drecoll, Schiaparelli, Lanvin, Patou, and a selection of seven dresses (1935-85), and one cape (1970s), by the French designer known as Madame Grès. A further work, the dark brown ottoman silk Hostess dress (c.1948-49), is displayed around the corner in the next gallery. Born Germaine Émilie Krebs, she was formally trained as a sculptor before she began producing high-fashion clothing. Krebs’ thorough understanding of classicism and art is evident in the ‘hand building’ technique she used to create all her gowns on the mannequin. Working under the name ‘La Maison Alix’ from 1932 to 1934 (with her co-worker Juliette Barton), and then under the name ‘Alix’ until 1942, Krebs won first prize for haute couture at the Paris Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair) in 1937. The name Grès is a partial anagram of the first name of Krebs’ husband, Russian painter Serge Czerefkov, and the designer was notoriously secretive about her personal life throughout her long career. 

Grès, Paris (est. 1942-2012), Germaine Émilie Krebs (Madame Grès, 1903-93), designer, (L-R) Evening dress (1946), silk (jersey, crêpe), Evening dress (1980), silk (jersey, chiffon), Evening dress (1976), silk (jersey, organza), with, (second from right, yellow one) Alix, Paris (est.1934-42), Germaine Émilie Krebs (1903-93), designer, Evening dress (1930), silk, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. (Purchased with funds donated by Krystyna Campbell-Pretty, AM, 2015).

Madame Grès reinvented the columnar dress, and perfected the art of pleating and draping, combining panels of various sizes, shapes, angles and curves to flatter the feminine form. Evening dress (1946) shows the complex pleating arrangements she often employed in the bodices of her dresses, using metres of silk jersey to create a self-supporting and deceptively simple form-fitting gown. Grès progressed from the purity of Grecian classicism to more avant-garde expressions in her later years before she retired in 1989. Evening dress (1976) demonstrates the textured three-dimensional form she brought to her designs, using teardrop-shaped coverings of graduating pleated panels to conceal the breasts. The radically bare bodice is anchored to a gored skirt with a pooling hemline that follows, but does not cling, to the body. When grouped with earlier Grès gowns, the aesthetic and structural similarity is remarkably consistent. Nonetheless, the influence of disco and the nightclub scene, as well as changing attitudes to women’s physical expression and sexuality in the 1970s, occasioned a subtle shift in the designer’s response to the ‘liberated’ female silhouette.      

Amidst the European designers, there are several examples from British couture at the highest level. The Dominique Sirop Collection brought with it a number of works from the man widely considered to be the ‘father of haute couture’ Charles Frederick Worth (1825-95), including a vivid orange Afternoon dress (c.1890) of silk satin and cut velvet. Worth was born in Lincolnshire and worked in two London department stores before leaving for Paris in 1846, where he found employment at the prestigious textile firm Maison Gagelin-Opigez, Chazelle et Cie. Worth soon made himself an asset at the company, and established himself as a taste-maker, by exhibiting prize-winning designs at both the Great Exhibition (1851) in London, and the Exposition Universelle (1855) in Paris. Together with his young Swedish business partner, Otto Gustaf Bobergh (1821-82), Worth set up his own establishment in the rue de la Paix in 1858 under the name Worth & Bobergh. Social success, and Worth’s entré into Court circles, was achieved in 1860 when a ball dress he designed for the influential Princess Pauline von Metternich (1836-1921) caught the eye of the Empress Eugénie (1826-1920), who summoned Worth the following day.

Worth’s position as official dressmaker to Empress Eugénie soon led other royal clients, such as Empress Elisabeth (‘Sisi’) of Austria (1837-98), to seek out his services. Although his most prestigious clients expected Worth to attend on them, his aristocratic and well-to-do customers visited his salon for a consultation and fitting, thereby turning the House of Worth (as it was by 1871), and the street it occupied, into a social hub. Worth revolutionised the business of fashion in several important ways: making clothes better suited to everyday life by tempering the line and length; using house models to parade his garments so clients could appraise them on the body; sewing ‘branded’ labels bearing his name into the clothing; and raising the status of ‘dressmaking’ in such a way that the designer-maker became a fashion arbiter. 

Worth, Paris (est. 1858), Charles Frederick Worth (1825-95), designer, Afternoon dress (c.1890), silk (satin, cut velvet). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (Purchased with funds donated by Mrs Krystyna Campbell-Pretty, AM, in memory of Mr Harold Campbell-Pretty, 2015). Installation photography: Inga Walton.

Worth was as skilled at self-promotion as he was at tailoring, craftsmanship and design, so that his fame quickly spread throughout Europe. For celebrities and the socially ambitious, particularly in America, the Worth brand became a by-word for style. By 1874, Worth’s sons Gaston-Lucien (1853-1924) and Jean-Philippe (1856-26) joined the business, ensuring its viability in coming decades. For Campbell-Pretty, these earlier works carry a particular resonance, “It’s the feeling that you are handling something that almost changed history, changed fashion history. I think fashion is exactly that, it’s living history, it’s social history, it’s how people lived. I’m obviously collecting women’s fashion, it’s how women were regarded”.   

Another Englishman whose salon, in rue Royale, attracted European royalty, high society, and any number of pre-eminent stage and screen stars was Captain Edward H. Molyneux (1891-1974), a cousin to the Earls of Sefton. Appropriately enough, he started out as a sketch artist for the magazine Smart Set, and attracted the attention of the celebrated couturière Lucile (Lady Duff-Gordon, 1863-1935). Molyneux was hired to work in Lucile’s London salon in 1910, and was quickly promoted to assistant designer at her Paris branch. After his service in World War I, during which he lost the sight in one eye and was invalided out, Molyneux established his own fashion house in 1919. In 1922, he relocated his salon above the world famous restaurant Maxim’s, and would subsequently open branches in Monte Carlo (1925), Cannes (1927) and London (1932). Molyneux’s impeccable and refined designs, with their restricted palette and noticeable lack of superfluous decoration, suited denizens of Parisian café culture and the international jet-set.     

Molyneux designed the costumes for the play Private Lives (1930) by his friend Sir Noël Coward (1899-1973), but his most famous commission was probably the white silk and silver lamé brocade wedding dress of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark (1906-68) when she married Prince George, Duke of Kent (1902-42), fourth son of George V, in 1934. Molyneux had also supplied the trousseau for the new Duchess, the last foreign-born princess to marry into the British Royal Family. Princess Marina was widely admired for her beauty and sophisticated style, a contrast to the more traditional fashions favoured by her mother-in-law (and godmother) Queen Mary, and sister-in-law the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth). Before his semi-retirement in 1950, Molyneux’s couture designs adopted a more light-hearted and romantic note exemplified by a strapless Evening dress (1949). In lustrous red silk taffeta, petal layers and soft scalloping at the bodice parts to a straight sheath beneath. An otherwise streamlined navy strapless Cocktail dress (c.1949-50) is enlivened by a double ruffle at the top of the bodice. 

Molyneux, Paris (est.1919-50), Edward H. Molyneux (1891-1974), designer, Evening dress (1949), silk (taffeta), metal (fastenings). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. The Dominique Sirop Collection. (Purchased with funds donated by Krystyna Campbell-Pretty, AM, in memory of Mr. Harold Campbell-Pretty, 2015).

When the engagement of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer was announced in February, 1981, British Vogue invited “six of Britain’s best designers” to sketch ‘Wedding Dresses of the Day 1981’. Unbeknownst to the fashion fraternity, Lady Diana had already made her choice in early March of the comparatively inexperienced design duo of David and Elizabeth Emanuel. The notorious crinoline dress in ivory silk taffeta, that looked like an unopened parachute with its creased 7.62 metre train, was quite close in style to the design they had submitted to Vogue, and would haunt bridal fashions for decades.

One of the other five designers tapped by Vogue was Dame Zandra Rhodes, RDI, who then created her Renaissance collection, also known as the Gold collection in response to widespread public interest in the royal nuptials. Inspired by royalty, sixteenth-century Elizabethan dress, and eighteenth-century panniers, the collection evoked a sense of occasion. A bronze lamé Evening ensemble (1981), with its oversize pleated sleeves and fanned skirt, was purchased by Claire, Lady Hesketh, wife of the 3rd Baron Hesketh. The new Princess of Wales would later purchase at least two outfits from Rhodes: a white silk chiffon dinner dress (1985), worn in May, 1987 to a charity benefit in London, and a pink silk chiffon dinner dress (1986), worn to a banquet in Kyoto as part of the State Visit to Japan that year, both sold at Christie’s in 1997.

Five outfits by (Lee) Alexander McQueen, CBE (1969-2010) explore his volatile and often polarising fashion narrative of ‘sabotage and tradition’. McQueen’s Scottish heritage was very important to him; his father Ronald was born, and had ancestral roots, in Skye. He drew on Scotland’s fractious history of internal clan divisions, and protracted conflict with England, for a number of his collections including Banshee (1994) and Highland Rape (1995). Look 30, Dress (2006) is from the Widows of Culloden collection (2006), which presented a suite of outfits in the distinctive black, red, and yellow McQueen tartan alongside other signifiers of Scottish and Victorian-era dress such as lace jabots, bustles and underpinnings. 

The collection was inspired by the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745, where the forces of the ‘Young Pretender’, Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1720-88), were defeated by the forces of George II, led by his third son Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (1721-65). McQueen reflects on the persecution and punitive penalties introduced in the aftermath, including the Dress Act of 1746, which made it illegal to wear clan tartan or kilts (repealed in 1782), and the Highland Clearances (1750 to 1860), which evicted tenants from land they and their families worked. Two toiles from this collection – a trial garment typically used by the maker to test the design, cut, fit and drape of the cloth – give an insight into McQueen’s design process. Usually they are made in inexpensive calico, but McQueen made his toiles with the fabrics he used in the final collection. 

Alexander McQueen, London (est.1992) (Lee) Alexander McQueen, CBE (1969-2010), designer, Look 3, Dress and Boots (2010), silk, metal (thread), leather, plastic. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (Gift of Krystyna Campbell-Pretty, AM, and the Campbell-Pretty Family through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2017). © Alexander McQueen, London.

McQueen was appointed to the house of Givenchy (1996 to 2001), although it was an uneven tenure that seemed to be at odds with his wilder creative inclinations, and he chafed under the media and corporate pressure. Three pieces from his Givenchy period are displayed, including Ensemble, Look 40 (1997), a high-waisted skirt and heavily embroidered matador-style jacket, from his début collection, The Search for the Golden Fleece (1997). It used a palette of gold, white and silver to reference both the house logo and Grecian mythology, but was not well received, and McQueen himself described it as ‘crap’. Look 3, Dress and Boots and Look 4, Dress (both 2010) are from the posthumous Angels and Demons collection which was about eighty percent completed at the time of McQueen’s suicide. It was conceived and draped on the stands, but completed by the atelier under the direction of his long-term assistant Sarah Burton, OBE, and shown in a series of intimate presentations. Poignantly, the works explore themes of religion and the afterlife, inspired by the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450-1516), and the type of heavy three-dimensional gilt embroideries typically seen on ecclesiastical robes.

A selection of nine Lucite handbags from the 1950s, now highly sought by collectors, shows how thermoplastics were embraced by the world of fashion and interior design after World War II. Lucite was created in 1931 by the US chemical company DuPont as a durable acrylic material made from polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). Three novelty handbags from Dolce & Gabbana are more akin to small-scale works of sculpture than anything practical you might actually use. Handbag (2019), adorned with painted resin roses and giant crystals around the handles bears the sign ‘Do Not Disturb! We Are Creating…”. Handbag (2018) is in the shape of an entire basket of red painted resin roses, and Handbag (2017) expresses a resoundingly Baroque sensibility with its ornate gold hardware. Three arched windows like a church are inlaid with diamantés, simulant pearls, and resin flowers, the central space features a floating cherub. At the touch of a button the windows light up with a colourful array of changing hues, the campy display augmented by gold padlocks. “Oh I love Dolce & Gabbana! Their style is about life and joy: flowers, colours, femininity and glamour”, coos Campbell-Pretty. “I love them because their fashion makes you happy; they make you smile. That’s something I appreciate very much…”.

Dolce & Gabbana, Milan (est. 1985) Domenico Dolce & Stefano Gabbana, designers, (l-r) Handbag (2019), leather, resin, plastic, metal, silk (swatch). Handbag (2017), painted resin, LED lights, plastic, leather, metal, glass, diamantés, simulant pearls, cotton. Handbag (2018), painted resin, leather, metal (fastenings). Collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. (Gift of Krystyna Campbell-Pretty, AM, and the Campbell-Pretty Family, 2019). Installation photography: Tom Ross.

Campbell-Pretty is now more comfortable in her philanthropic role, and energised by her success thus far, “Let’s be clear, I am not shopping; rather, I am in a permanent dialogue with the curatorial team about eventual acquisitions that could enrich the collections of the Gallery”, she asserts. “Collaboration is the word. And for me it is also about learning; everything is interesting to me… It would be a mistake to impose my taste or my choices. I am here to listen to the needs of the curatorial team, and to help elaborate strategies in order to enlarge the fashion collection”. 

Campbell-Pretty has her attention firmly focused on an upcoming generation of potential designers, connoisseurs, curators and fashion fans she hopes will be inspired by her contribution. “What I hope students will learn is the wide range of experiences women had, the wide range of ways that they presented themselves, and perhaps if they can be given some help from teachers and curators to understand how the various phases of female development and emancipation walked alongside these fashion trends”, she explains. “Everything is inter-related. I hope that they feel uplifted, challenged, surprised, and that they leave with a sense of having discovered something new, and perhaps something about themselves”.

The Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Fashion Gift, National Gallery of Victoria (International), 180 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne (VIC) until 14 July, 2019 –

Trouble congratulates Krystyna Campbell-Pretty on being appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, 2019.