From 1950s Dungatar to 2019 Canberra, the original costumes from hit film The Dressmaker are now on display at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA). The exhibition features a spectacular range of 1950s and vintage haute couture costumes worn by the film’s stars and takes audiences into the costume designer’s workshop to discover the artistry behind each garment.
The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition celebrates the film’s sumptuous designs, as well as the transformational power of fashion. Audiences can go behind the scenes to explore a diverse range of elegant vintage fashion worn by Hollywood stars and home-grown acting talents including Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook, Judy Davis, Rebecca Gibney. The film’s vision was brought to life by an extraordinary team of Australian creative talents: Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, produced by Sue Maslin, based on the novel by Rosalie Ham and with costumes designed by Marion Boyce, who also curated and designed the exhibition.
To launch the exhibition, the NFSA invited special guests and stars of the film James Mackay and Sacha Horler, as well as producer Sue Maslin and author Rosalie Ham.
The NFSA and Film Art Media also announced that a selection of costumes on display will be generously donated to the NFSA collection at the completion of the exhibition. This is a major coup for the NFSA collection, which already includes items from iconic Australian films including costumes from The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Sapphires, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Moulin Rouge! and many more.
Jan Müller, CEO of the NFSA, said: ‘We’re excited to have a little piece of Dungatar in our gallery, and look forward to welcoming audiences to the exhibition. When they see these costumes up close, they will be impressed by the level of artistry that went into their creation.’
‘We are also proud to announce that these costumes will join the vast NFSA collection. They will be in great company, preserved alongside Muriel’s wedding gown, Miranda’s picnic dress and many other original costumes that have become part of Australian cultural history. We thank Sue Maslin for this generous and invaluable contribution; we will take care of them on behalf of all Australians.’
The Dressmaker is a bittersweet, comedy-drama set in early 1950s Australia. It tells the story of Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet), a beautiful and talented woman who, as a child, was blamed for a crime she didn’t commit. After years in exile, working in exclusive Paris fashion houses, she returns to her remote home town, Dungatar. Tilly reconciles with her eccentric mother Molly (Judy Davis) and unexpectedly falls in love with Teddy (Liam Hemsworth). Armed with her sewing machine and sense of style, she transforms the women of the town and rights the wrongs of the past. Tilly has revenge in her heart and the town’s obsession with couture is their unravelling.
Costuming is key to any film, but fashion took on a profound level of importance in The Dressmaker. The majority of costumes were created by award-winning designer Marion Boyce. Boyce is internationally-renowned for her artistry, having worked across film and television worldwide. The designer was nominated for an Emmy and Costume Designer’s Guild Award in 2008 for The Starter Wife, as well as winning the AACTA for Best Costume Design in a Television Series for Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries in 2014. The Dressmaker also earned Boyce multiple awards including Best Costume Design at the 2015 AACTA awards. To distinguish the character of Tilly, the designer Margot Wilson worked alongside Boyce to create Winslet’s costumes.
Set against the earthy tones of the harsh Australian landscape, the palette of brightly coloured fashion conveys the theme of transformation and underlines the narrative. For inspiration, Boyce researched the work of Parisian couturiers at that time, but added a twist of forward thinking. Every detail was considered, including elements that cannot be seen on camera.
‘We wanted a palette of colours, almost jewel-like, amidst this dusty outback environment to showcase Tilly’s sumptuous designs. The early 50s was a really incredibly exciting time. The sort of fun came back into clothing. There had been decades of restraint and holding back from the war and suddenly the clothes were freer and they made you want to dance again. This period of fashion also celebrated the sensual female form, with small waist and high bust to define the figure. When you get that definition right in a piece, a woman can look amazing,’ says Costume Designer and Exhibition Curator Boyce.
‘Fashion during the 1950s was very exciting because there’d been an atmosphere of restraint, everyone had to be austere during the war years, and then Christian Dior came along and changed everything, and Balenciaga. They changed the silhouette, they used a ridiculous amount of fabric to create what were really works of art, not just clothes,’ says Director Jocelyn Moorhouse.
‘A designer friend of mine once said to me, couture is a weapon and that stuck with me. I like the idea of a woman being able to use her skills at designing extraordinary clothes that can transform the people wearing them, and to use that as a weapon against those people,’ adds Moorhouse.
‘The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition is an opportunity for everyone who loved the book and the film to immerse themselves once again in the world of Tilly Dunnage’s fabulous creations. She not only transformed the town of Dungatar, but also the cinema landscape with what is now regarded as an Australian classic,’ says Film and Exhibition Producer Sue Maslin.
The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition will be open to the public from 18 April to 18 August 2019 at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) in Canberra. A program of special screenings and talks will complement the exhibition for the duration of the season.