Its trivial, frippery. Right? Hmm, No.
Fashion may seem trivial but clothing’s ability to transform a person, and communicate a message is something most powerful and deeply rooted in human culture and psychology.
Based on the best-selling novel by Rosalie Ham, now a major multi award winning film starring Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Judy Davis, and Hugo Weaving as well as a veritable who’s who of Australian talent in the supporting cast, adeptly illustrates the power of clothing as a tool for manipulation and ultimately revenge.
“The Dressmaker is a bittersweet, comedy-drama set in early 1950s Australia. Tilly Dunnage (Winslet), a beautiful and talented misfit, after many years working as a dressmaker in exclusive Parisian fashion houses, returns home to the tiny middle-of-nowhere town of Dungatar to right the wrongs of the past. Not only does she reconcile with her ailing, eccentric mother Molly (Davis) and unexpectedly falls in love with the pure-hearted Teddy (Hemsworth), but armed with her sewing machine and incredible sense of style, she transforms the women of the town and in doing so gets sweet revenge on those who did her wrong.”
Last night I was fortunate enough to attend the preview of the opening of The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition at The National Trust Victoria’s beautiful Rippon Lea Estate. My invitation was on behalf of my friend Erica of recycled-fashion.com and Nuffnang. Many thanks, it was fab!
Now anyone who knows me or reads these pages regularly will know that this subject matter goes right to the core of who I am and what I’m passionate about. One of the highlights for me was a speech given by Rosalie Ham.
Rosalie was born and raised in the country and first noticed the ability of sewing skills and clothing to transform people in her mother’s sewing room. She observed the way clothing could be used as a disguise, a language and an act of vanity. Clothing can make you belong to a group, create an entrance, and seperate you. Whilst people often believe the message they interpret from your clothing, often the truth is completely different. The language of clothing to the initiated enables you to understand who a person might be as well as how they were feeling when they got up in the morning. Clothing may disguise or enhance physical features but it also accentuates personality sometimes including the faults of a person.
(I tell you it was only decorum that held me back from running up and giving her a big hug! She was so awesome, sooooooo accurate.) I simply have to read the book now.
She also mentioned that she actually witnessed people wearing couture clothing at dusty race meets in the outback. True! Creating the costumes for the book was a great joy, but Rosalie especially loved Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson’s (Costume designers) ability to collaborate with the creative and technical crew to realise these characters and make them authentic.
To finish she made special mention of the moment (spoiler alert) at the end of the film where the ridiculous characters of Dangatar are stranded in the desert in their ridiculous Baroque costumes, the most ridiculous fashion moment in history. A favourite moment – not ridiculous!
Marion Boyce keep her speech short, but expressed whole heartedly her appreciation of her team. The team’s work is truly spectacular, take the time to look closely at these costumes. This is clothing artistry. She also thanked the cast for putting up with the extreme corsetry in extreme heat. A thanks they deserve! Marion’s ability to communicate character and transform individuals is something special. During the night I accidentally overheard a young woman saying, “Marion gave me this to wear tonight”, her friend “Well, you look amazing!”, young woman “yeah, well… She knows what she is doing.” Certainly does. And you looked lovely.
The Dressmaker exhibition first opened in Winchelsea at Barwon Park before coming to Ripponlea and proved to be the most successful rural exhibition held by The National Trust.
Here are some of my favourite elements of the film and exhibition!
Firstly the transformation of Gertrude. Sarah Snook scored some brilliant moments in this film. The absolute stand outs (another spoiler alert!) being her first transformation at the Footballers ball (first after Tilly costume below), and the scene where she runs across the town to escape her fiancé seeing her dressed in the hideous gown of Una’s design that the town’s matriarchs have subjected to. She claws her way into Tilly’s house and emerges in seconds triumphant and resplendent in an incredibly sexy gold gown that clings to her curves.
It is absolutely amazing how an item of clothing can be just that, a nice dress but on the right person… Sensational! This dress on Sarah Snook is a perfect example.
Another of my favourite moments from the film is again thanks to the magical combination of a specific individual and a frock. Marigold Pettyman, portrayed by Alison Whyte arrives at Gertrude’s wedding. As she exits the car, the impact of the particular green against Alison’s skin and hair is nothing short of spectacular. And then there is the cut, those drapes on her petite frame. Bravo! (Get that dress for keepers if you can Alison!)
Another highlight was Hugo Weaving as Sergeant Farrat. Hugo consistently turns in a brilliant performance and he is particularly adept at this type of character, for me it was a greatly heart warming moment when he stepped out of the house in his full Matador costume. Going down in glory Sergeant!
With these kinds of exhibitions, most people are here for all the stunning beautiful, glamorous clothing. What often gets overlooked, (but not here !) is all the amazing work that goes into making clothing become costume. Adding all the richness of the reality of a character. How something has been worn. Where they dropped their toast on their shirt front. Or in the case of Molly Dunnage the years of dirt, sweat, spillage… ew must I go on? But it is actually a painstaking, highly specialised artistic process. So I was absolutely captivated by the displays of Art Finisher Josephine Johnston’s tools of the trade.
Thank you to the National Trust, Rosalie Ham, Marion Boyce and her team, for a fabulous opportunity to get a closer look at their incredible work.
If you love film, fashion, couture, costume, vintage the lot, get thee to The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition.
I’ll be back for another look.