Suit, womens, silk, designed and made by Pierre Cardin, Paris, France, worn by Wiska Listwan, Australia, c. 1976
The Wiska Listwan Collection consists of a range of European and European inspired designer clothing and accessories dating from 1950 to 1980. The collection was donated as part of the personal belongings of Wiska Listwan, a Sydney based fashion design teacher, charity worker, and socialite. The significance of the collection lies not only in the quality and range of clothing, but in its representation of the personality and success of Wiska Listwan.
Among the designer pieces included in the collection are clothes by Emilio Pucci, Andre Courreges, Valentino, and Gucci, as well as clothes produced for the fashion labels Christian Dior, Hermes, and Yves Saint Laurent. Many of these pieces serve as good examples of the evolving styles of particular designers, and are indicative of the fashion trends of the 60s and 70s. For example, the silk floral dress designed by Gucci is characteristic of the floral designs popularised by the fashion label during the 1970s. The particular pattern seen on this dress, with its bold spring flowers, foliage, and butterflies, has been recently reissued by Gucci, and has been replicated on accessories and other clothing items with little alteration. The horse-shoe metal buttons also make reference to Gucci's equestrian beginnings. Guccio Gucci (1881-1953), began his career in 1920 when he opened a saddlery business in Florence, Italy. Using equestrian motifs as an inspiration, Guccio established the House of Gucci and opened his first fashion boutique in 1921. During his lifetime, Gucci introduced many of the designs for which the company has become known, such as the bamboo handle handbag and the suede moccasin with a metal bit. After his death in 1953, Gucci's sons continued to expand the company overseas, using their father's initials to establish the famous GG logo. Although now under the direction of new designers, The House of Gucci remains the best selling Italian brand, and certainly one of the most easily recognisable brands in the world.
Wiska Listwan (OBE) was born in Cracow, Poland. After living a comfortable childhood as the daughter of a banker, Wiska was forced into hiding when German military forces swept through her home town during WWII. After the arrest of her husband, Ignacy Listwan, Wiska courageously risked her life to rescue him by blackmailing Gestapo officials. Wiska and her husband eventually escaped war torn Europe via the Polish underground, and arrived in Sydney, Australia in 1948. In order to support her husband during his studies as a psychiatrist, she established the Wiska Listwan Haute Couture Academy on Pitt Street, Sydney in 1950. Having received training in sketching, cutting, designing, and fashion drawing during her six years spent at the Kunst Gewerbe Academie in Vienna, Wiska's academy was the only one of its kind in Sydney to teach the French method of cutting, designing and dressmaking. In 1961, having achieved the comfortable living standard she had been accustomed to as a child, Wiska begun to focus her attention on charity work in the hope of repaying the community. On her death in 1984, Wiska Listwan left a reputation as a tireless fund-raiser, having worked with charities such as Foundation 41, the Brain Foundation, and the Cornucopia Committee. The Wiska Listwan collection records a fascinating migrant story linking European history and World War II with Australia post-war settlement, fashion education and philanthropy.
O'Hara, G., 'The Thames and Hudson dictionary of fashion designers', (London: Thames and Hudson, 1998)
Listwan, I.(ed.), 'Wiska: facets of a generous life', (Sydney: The Dominion Press-Hedges and Bell, 1985)