Friday, 3 November 2017

Sunday, 24 September 2017

The World of Dior

Last week I attended the National Gallery of Victoria's exhibition - The House of Dior - Seventy Years of Haute Couture. The exhibition was full of mind boggling eye candy and was extensive. We were there for almost 2 1/2 hours.

Hats off to the curators of this exhibition. They avoided the obvious "Let's put up these dresses in chronological order - from Christan Dior to present". As you enter, you are met by the famous Bar suit, or rather, a reproduction of this iconic outfit.

Tricky to photograph behind glass

Apparently, they forgot to take a photo in 1947 when this outfit became a hit, so they took it several years later. Notice that the model is wearing 1950s shoes rather that 1940s shoes.

These early Christian Dior pieces from the late 40s and 1950s are the stars of the show for me. Just so beautifully tailored -
Mirza, afternoon dress, 1951

And the evening gowns are spectacular.

Mexico - silk evening gown - 1953

Throughout the display, these classic Christian Dior gown are juxtaposed with modern Dior gowns, effectively showing how over the years the House of Dior has continued the original themes and influences which inspired Christian Dior, while still introducing modern elements and remaining relevant to the modern fashionista.

On the left, Journey of the Soul, "Bar jacket" and skirt, from the 2017 collection by the current Dior designer, Maria Grazia Chiuri, pays homage to Christian Dior's legacy, accompanied by a classic Christian Dior 50s gown on the right.

And here, a Christian Dior evening dress shares the podium with a Galliano fantasy.

The large salon with central staircase and mezzanine was a fabulous setting in which to showcase the House of Dior, then and now. Here, Christian Dior's '50s gowns mingled with works by later Dior designers. Thinking in music terms, they could have called the collection "Improvisation upon a theme by Christian Dior". Dior's key codes of influence echo down the decades since his reign - from The New Look to now - the line, the flower, and the eighteenth century. The emphasis on line is obvious in the early tailored pieces and the New Look with the shoulder, wasp waist and full skirt, but Dior continued to experiment with line throughout his brief career.

"The flower" blooms throughout the exhibition - old and new.

Maria Grazia Chiuri's gown of raffia, embroidered with silk flowers. Chiuri's current season, catwalk projected larger than life on the end wall, was a Midsummer Night's Dream of flowers and fairies.
And the eighteenth century? Galliano celebrates this with his typical theatricality .

Galliano's take on the 18th century motif
Christian Dior died suddenly in 1957 after ten years at the helm of the House of Dior. He was followed by Yves St Laurent, who ruled for four years, taking the House of Dior into the '60s. St Laurent's styles became perhaps a little too bohemian for the the House, and he was replaced by Marc Bohan, who led the House of Dior for 29 years, until 1989. In more recent years, Dior designers have been Gianfranco Ferre, John Galliano, Raf Simons and currently Maria Grazia Chiuri.

Yves St Laurent designs

According to the blurb on the display "In 1958 St Laurent introduced youthfulness and contemporaneity".
St Laurent's beaded Cascade dress, and sisters

From 1960 to 1989 Marc Bohan's rule was characterised by "sleek sophistication". I was not inspired by many of his gowns, but I did love the buttons on the back of this one.

Gianfranco Ferre followed, with what the NGV describes as his "lavish and sculptural design sensibility".

But for me, the stand out modern designer is John Galliano, with his fashion as art approach. Okay, some of his designs would not be wearable, but they are amazing. The NGV states that Galliano "revived theatricality and exquisite craftsmanship". He is certainly responsible for  the majority of the jaw droppers.

Galliano - Morticia Addams meets Carmen Miranda

I was standing there scratching my head and saying "Now, where have I seen this dress before?" when a passerby reminded me that of course it was famously worn to the Oscars in 1997 by Nicole Kidman.
Galliano reinvented Christian Dior's wasp waist look via Japan in his Origami collection. Pure Art.

Galliano - Samurai Girls (My name for it!)

We thought this was the end, but wait! There's more! A gallery of Dior shoes and hats beckoned to us.

And the final gallery - a showcase of some famous and inspirational evening gowns, including Miranda Kerr's wedding gown.

Miranda Kerr's wedding gown - Maria Grazia Chiuri

I was fascinated by this gown, probably because I have visited Masai villages in Tanzania and admired their beadwork. The bodice is made entirely of beads, in the Masai style.

Galliano - Kamata, 1997
Raf Simons succeeded Galliano in 2012. This Simons dress is made of tassels which are constructed by threading dried drops of paint onto threads!!

Raf Simons - Look 44
The current designer for Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri, has created a bevy of beauties and has certainly taken on Dior's floral theme in her current collection. The NGV says Chiuri's designs are characterised by her "languid and feminine delicacy".

Chiuri - Silk flowers on raffia

There was also a fascinating glimpse into the Atelier of the House of Dior, showing behind the scenes videos of the construction of this last gown of Chiuri's, painstakingly crafted from tiny silk and raffia flowers. There is also an interesting exhibition about Dior's gowns on display in Australia at David Jones in Sydney in 1948, the first time his collection travelled abroad.

I think the curators of this exhibition must have really enjoyed putting it all together, and also relished the opportunity to showcase the NGV's wonderful collection of shoes to complement the gowns. I certainly enjoyed looking at the shoes as well as the dresses. They did a wonderful job of telling the story of Dior - chronology, personalities, themes and crafting.
I have to take back my only quibble. Apparently, I can't blame the curators for this after all, but the milliner who worked with Galliano, Stephen Jones. An "evocative" cellophane bag on the model's head a la hat?? Really?

Galliano - Look 27, 2010-11
On until November 7th - Don't miss it, and Do try to go early and mid week to avoid the crowds.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Antique Underwear as Outer Wear - Camisoles, Corset Covers and Chemisettes

I've always been a fan of wearing your undies on the outside. Well, someone else's old undies anyway. And I mean really old antique Victorian and Edwardian underwear. It always appealed to the romantic in me - white broderie anglaise and lace adds a beautifully feminine touch to a contemporary look, and looks fabulous with jeans or leather.

Thanks to the lovely Mary Bordelon for these photos, wearing a corset cover from Louisa Amelia Jane, and showing how to breathe new life into antique clothing - and how! Check out Mary's fabulous style on her blog and YouTube channel.

The Old Story

Before World War 1 women wore a lot of underclothing. Although they didn't wear knickers until the end of the 18th century, there were many other layers of undergarments - chemise, corset, corset cover and petticoat seems to be the minimum. Sometimes an underbodice and several petticoats were worn. Check out this reenactment of how a "lady" was dressed in the 18th century from the National Museums Liverpool for a demonstration of how all those underlayers were worn. Fascinating!


The chemise was the first garment, worn against a woman's skin. It was  a loose fitting garment worn to provide warmth but especially to give protection to the skin from the corset. Sometimes a chemise doubled as a nightgown. Underpants were not worn until the very end of the 18th century.


The corset came next. It's purpose was to give a fashionable shape to the woman's silhouette. The shape of corsets changed as women's fashion changed. Ideals of feminine beauty underwent many changes and is still changing - flattened breasts, upraised breasts, the Edwardian pigeon breast, larger bottoms, leaner or curvier silhouettes.

 Corset Cover 

The corset cover was exactly that, a garment to protect the outer garments from the hardware of the corset and to prevent the corset from being seen. Corset covers were often trimmed with lace, crochet and embroidery, which was sometimes seen at the neckline. Sometimes they had short sleeves. 

H. O'Neill & Co Catalogue, 1890-91

I have had quite a few corset covers in the store - it seems I have a weakness for them - and they have proven very popular. Here are a couple in the Etsy store at the moment:

Corset Cover with Pin Tucks & Peplum

Embroidered Corset Cover

This cutie sold last week


Sometimes an underbodice was also worn. This was very similar to a corset cover, and seems to have been used to improve the line of the outer garment. Sometimes the underbodice had long or short sleeves. It was often cut like a detachable lining to the main bodice but in white.


A chemisette was like a dickey front to add modesty beneath a low neckline. It was basically a lacy front, often with a collar, which was seen above the otherwise revealing neckline. Chemisettes were usually just stitched at the shoulders with the sides left open, then tied with a tape at the bottom. Occasionally the side seams were joined.

This chemisette, with side seams, is listed in the web store:

Netting Chemisette with Red Diamante Buttons


Camisoles were a later fashion and replaced the corset cover as corsets were shed by the young in the 1920s. Typically, they were loose fitting and had narrow straps. Only the fabric has changed in the modern camisoles we know today. The very old ones, usually in cotton, make crisply cool summer tops.

1920s French camisole - In the Etsy store

This 1920s camisole, and I have a few slips/petticoats in the same style, is charming in its simplicity. Pieces will still have beautiful detail and hand finishing - such as the embroidery on this piece. Antique underwear often had embroidered monograms. I think the ladies embroidered them for their "Glory Box", the linens that a woman would work on over years to take into her married life.

Drawers, Bloomers, Pantaloons, Knickers 
Now that's a whole other story for another day. And bras? They were invented around about the time of World War 1 - and that's another story too.
Genuine Vintage v. Reproduction
H & M are doing a great line in reproduction antique blouses, taking in the sleeveless corset cover look. However, there's nothing like a genuine vintage antique piece, if you are lucky enough to find one in your size in wearable condition. An authentic piece will not only have a history and secret, only-to-be-guessed-at life of its own, but will exhibit amazing attention to detail and hand finishing that you will never see today outside of couture. I particularly love the fastenings - teeny tiny little hooks and thread loops, tiny shell, porcelain or linen covered buttons, ties and drawstrings. Lace is often inserted into the fabric, rather than sewn over the top, and all those tiny little tucks! For me, there is no comparison.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Breaking News!

 Got a new store. I've been working on Etsy for the last five years and it seemed time to branch out on my own into the big wide world of cyber space. It will be great to be able to post a whole lot of information as well as having the store, and also convenient to have the blog in the same space. So far, I've posted more detailed sizing and garment care advice. Sizing is probably the major concern people have with buying clothing online, so this should help.

The web store will focus on quality vintage women's clothing and accessories. I will be keeping the Etsy store stocked up too. Vintage menswear and linen items will remain in the Etsy store. And of course Louisa's Needle will continue to stock vintage patterns and trims. For locals, Louisa Amelia Jane has a stall at The Vintage Emporium in Tyabb.

We also have some travel plans for later in the year and along with family commitments, I am going to be one super busy woman.

Coming Soon

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Night Life

A while ago now I took a long weekend and ventured down to Winchelsea to Barwon Park Mansion to view the National Trust's Night Life exhibition of formal wear from the 1920s and 1930s. It was certainly well worth the trip and a good excuse for a short break.

The mansion was built by Thomas Austin in 1867 when he learned he was to host the Prince of Wales during the next Royal visit. He was too embarrassed to entertain royalty at his modest homestead, so built the mansion. He died six months after it was completed. Austin is also credited, or rather blamed, for introducing the rabbit to Australia so they had something to hunt besides kangaroos.

Barwon Park Mansion
It provided a fitting setting for the National Trust exhibition. The lighting was necessarily dim to conserve the garments, so please excuse the lack of light in the photos.

The 1920s garments were divine. There were, of course, the elaborately beaded flapper dresses but in some ways I found the other garments more interesting, probably because I've seen so many photos of beaded dresses. This dress is one of my favourites - earlier than 1920s, about 1919 I think. I have discovered a passion for tassels.

Beaded Cocoon Coat

This dress of pearl and silver beads is so heavy that the weight of the beads has torn the fine netting to which they are stitched. These heavily beaded garments are displayed flat in cases to minimise stress to the already stressed pieces. It must have been a challenge to dance the Charleston in some of these dresses. This garment is described as an evening gown but wouldn't it have made a lovely wedding dress!

My other favourite piece in the exhibition is this Assuit shawl. In the wake of Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 everything Egyptian was the rage. This fabric, named after the place in Egypt where it was made, combines net fabric with metal strips in an ornate design.

Assuit Shawl

The 1930s moved away from beading and ornamentation. Dresses were longer, and cut on the cross of the fabric (or bias) to cling to the body's curves. There were several beautiful silk florals on display.

 One of the problems I had at the exhibition was not touching the fabrics. These fabrics are so foreign to what we are familiar with these days. When a fabric is described as glazed silk I want to touch it, but I did manage to refrain.

This interesting 1940s cotton lace dress was the youngest dress in the exhibition.

There were many other beautiful and interesting pieces that I just couldn't photograph properly in the dark, such as a fabulous piano shawl, and a cape with an amazing Art Deco lining.

An interesting section of home made garments made a detour, and visitors could  practise doing tambour embroidery in a hoop if the volunteers were there to instruct.

One day I hope to go back just to look at the mansion as much of it could not be seen due to the special exhibition. I was most fascinated by the servants' areas.

And by the nursery.

The doll's house furniture was fascinating, made with such care in amazing detail. I was reminded of Beatrix Potter's book "The Tale of Two Bad Mice".

Little wood burning stove. I put my bag there for perspective.
Tiny little ironing board and spinning wheel.
The Night Life exhibition dates  were extended but it was moved to Rippon Lea mansion in Elsternwick, Melbourne, where it is a bit more accessible to most visitors. It finishes on July 30, so be quick. There are also a series of spin off events, including a fashion parade and ball.

Night Life at Rippon Lea