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Influence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander textiles on non-indigenous designers
Paperbark woman: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fashion design

The 1980s saw the emergence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander textiles influencing non-indigenous designers.

…freelance curator Anthony (Ace) Bourke staged the first Tiwi Designs exhibition for them (Adrian Newstead and Louise Ferrier of Coo-ee Aboriginal Art) at the Hogarth Galleries in Sydney in 1983. Here six major fashion designers, including Jenny Kee, Linda Jackson, Katie Pye and Robert Burton, selected fabric for the Tiwi people to print, and then made the fabrics up into fashion garments. (Cochrane, 1992: 329)

Linda Jackson
Linda Jackson is one of Australia's most significant designer-makers. In the early 1970s Jenny Kee opened the Flamingo Park frock salon and included in it Linda Jackson's original creations, beginning a highly successful and influential collaboration which lasted ten years. Linda continued with her own design studio Bush Couture. The leading Italian fashion writer Anna Piaggi wrote for Italian Vogue:

The colours, ecology, flora and fauna and paintings of the Aborigines were the fountain of inspiration for one of the most inventive free collections of fashion we've seen in recent times. (Jackson, 1987, 14)

In August 1980 Linda travelled to central Australia, the result was a collection of textiles and garments inspired by that landscape. In June 1982 she travelled to Central Australia again and stayed at Utopia station.

Desert Dress
Desert Dress (1982) Utopia silk ponchos worn with a belt, over a gathered skirt and hemmed with beans. A bush print kimono coat is worn over the outfit. Aboriginal shell and bean jewellery and opal necklaces. (Jackson, 1987: 106) Photo: Fran Moore. Courtesy: Linda Jackson.
Some years ago, I met a group of women from Utopia station, east of Alice Springs. They had learnt the technique of batik and were producing unusual lengths of fabric, interpreting the plants and little animals that lived around them in the bush.

The heat of the desert is an ideal place for the batik technique as the wax is always hot and the fabric dries quickly in the sun. I used some of these fabrics in the studio. Later we were invited back to stay at the station and to meet the other women. It was a chance also for me to show them the clothes that I had made with their fabrics and to photograph them against the desert landscape. (Jackson, 1987: 106-07)

Linda drying mud dyed fabric
Linda drying mud dyed fabric. (Jackson, 1987: 107) Photo: Fran Moore. Courtesy: Linda Jackson.

The Aborigines' rainbow - ochres, yellow, reds, browns, white and black - all pigments obtained from the earth. Another palette for the artist to create from. Painting and printing with these earthy colours conjures up the magic of the land and has led me to discover the arts of the Aboriginal people - their awe for the natural elements found in the decoration of their life and art.
(Jackson, 1987: 113)

Aborigine Waratah
Aborigine Waratah (1987) Using the Aboriginal colours of black and ochre, a waratah printed silk taffeta dress and backdrop worn with Aboriginal string and bark jewellery. (Jackson, 1987: 113) Photo: Linda Jackson. Courtesy: Linda Jackson.

During the last decade Linda has continued her connections with several Aboriginal communities - Yuendumu, Bathurst Island, Hermannsburg, Santa Teresa, Oenpelli. She has also travelled between Alice Springs, Darwin and Broome and more recently far north Queensland painting and designing furnishing fabrics for several Port Douglas resorts.

Jenny Kee
Jenny Kee was born in Bondi in the late 1940s to a Cantonese father and Italian/British mother. She made her way to swinging London in the mid-1960s and made the most of the creative bohemian atmosphere, landing a job at the Chelsea Antique market where she sold and dressed herself in an eye catching mix of ethnic and retro clothes. On returning to Australia in the early 1970s she decided to set up the Flamingo Park frock salon in the Strand Arcade selling retro garments and the work of avant-garde Australian designers including Linda Jackson and Peter Tully.

Jenny also began to create her own unique knitwear and printed cotton and silk garments. Her work drew not only on her love of Australia's unique natural environment and in particular its cycles of death and regeneration, but also on the silhouettes and textiles of traditional Asian clothing.

Her work drew on her experience of living in the Blue Mountains in a home surrounded by native bushland which is frequently ravaged by fire. From the devastation she has watched the bush regenerate with a showing of green shoots, leaves and flowers even more spectacular after their ordeal. Her waratah and black boy fabric was inspired by this process, with the rich reds of the waratahs criss-crossed by the black stalks of the black boy. Black boy is a colloquial term used for any species of plant belonging to the genera Xanthorrhoea and Kingia, thought to resemble a native figure with a grass skirt holding a spear.

Waratah and black boys
Waratah and black boys inspired dressing gown, swimming costume and cheungsam (Powerhouse Museum, 1989: 5) Courtesy: Jenny Kee.

A keen conservationist, Jenny says her approach to both the land and her work has been influenced by her appreciation of the deep spiritual bond Aboriginal people have with the land. In her textile design, Waratah and black boys, she expresses her own close affinity to the environment. "Out of the bushfires around us come the waratah and the black boy - the perfect symbol of Kali - destruction and regeneration" is her description of the design.
(Powerhouse Museum, 1992: 35)

Rebecca Paterson
Rebecca Paterson is a Perth based textile and clothing designer and manufacturer who also lectures in visual arts and textiles. Paterson is best known for her innovative and experimental approach to textile and clothing design and has been involved in this field for over two decades.

In 1980 Paterson established and designed for Nu Rotics a Perth based Art/Punk clothes shop. By 1983 she had moved to Sydney and set up Di Marzio Line, manufacturing and retailing clothing with an emphasis on innovative prints. In the early 1990s she worked as a design and marketing consultant for Desert Designs in Fremantle. It was here that she met Megan Salmon and in 1996 they launched their fashion label SpppsssP, attracting wide acclaim for their showings at Mercedes Australian Fashion Week in 1998 and 1999. Paterson launched her latest label Breathless in 2000 with a range of garments featuring dramatic textiles and bold forms continuing her focus on process, concept and the designing and making of clothes that blur the boundaries between art and fashion.

Paterson did not take the traditional road into the fashion industry via training in fashion and textile design. Rather she studied for a Masters degree in visual arts and it is this background that led her to view clothing, textiles and the body from a different perspective, outside the trend driven mainstream fashion industry.

Before outift Before outift; pants and skirt of rust-dyed and screen-printed silk; robe and shawl of organza with linen netting. Note the use of knotting to create the linen netting. Designer: Rebecca Paterson. Courtesy: Breathless. Photo: courtesy Monty Coles. (Powerhouse Museum, 1989: 57)

Her work draws on an eclectic range of cultural histories and traditions and she successfully juxtaposes ideas and forms from such diverse sources as street fashion, subcultural styles and traditional textiles. Politics, feminism and spirituality have been recurrent themes in her work but they are married with her love of the experimental opportunities contemporary technologies offer in the creation of new textile forms.

Rebecca Paterson's loose, flowing outfit, Before, aims to tell stories of "the nature and history of Australian women". The tunic's delicate screen-printed patterns intermingle some of the first white images of the new land such as maps of Terra Australis with ancient Aboriginal graphics.

Rebecca marble-dyes silk in rust to evoke the gritty texture of a red desert dust storm. Teaching silk screen-printing in Aboriginal communities has enabled Rebecca to gather knowledge of the traditional Aboriginal practices of netting and the extraction of a dye from wattle puffballs. She has used both these techniques in this outfit so "the clothes almost smell of the desert".

The netting is contrasted with a print of lace that recalls the trappings of European culture and femininity which early women settlers desperately clung to in the face of hardship. (Powerhouse Museum, 1989: 57)

Peter Morrissey
Peter Morrissey began his fashion career with Leona Edmiston in Sydney, creating a label, Morrissey Edmiston, that was successful for 14 years. In 1997 they went their seperate ways and Morrissey's growing retail and wholesale fashion business has since been bought by Oreton International.

I want to make a statement that the cultures of Australia should come together and celebrate something unique to us - sexy, individual, cross cultural and rockin'!
(Peter Morrissey, Morrissey Collection Show: Women and Men 2000)

During the 1999 Fashion Week Morrissey sent out

…T-shirts that were a hybrid of the Australian and Aboriginal flags, with the blessing of the latter's originator, Harold Thomas. The T-shirt went on to be a big seller, especially among members of the republican movement… (Epaminondas, 2000: 4)

For the Mercedes Australian Fashion Week 2000, Peter Morrissey

…looked to indigenous art and the colours of Uluru for inspiration, to boomerangs, billabongs and other distinctly Australian iconography… I was just getting a bit tired of seeing kids on the street wearing American T-shirts with words like UCLA and Brooklyn on them. What I'm trying to do is use great graphics from a country I love. (Epaminondas, 2000: 4)

Theresa Chang, project officer for an Aboriginal development unit in Darwin arranged for a range of textiles from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to be presented to Peter Morrissey and Collette Dinnigan. Morrissey was interested and decided to work with Jacinta Numina Waugh, who was trained at Nungalinya College in Darwin. Morrissey chose to reproduce Woman Dreaming, a traditional design of the Anmatjera people north of Alice Springs.

Jacinta Numina Waugh and Theresa Chang Jacinta Numina Waugh and Theresa Chang, May 2000, Darwin, Northern Territory.
Courtesy: Morrissey.

Emboldened by the positive feedback and impressive sales, the indigenous theme was extended this winter (2000) with bootcut pants, skirts and tops imprinted with a spectacular ochre and god design by Aboriginal artist Jacinta Numina Waugh.

For summer 2001… Morrissey restyled the Numina print in three new colourways: hot pink, bright green and deep brown… and experimented with his own locally inspired flourishes. Most striking is what the designer calls his boomerang print… that graces shirts for men, and shirts, skirts and dresses for women.
(Epaminondas, 2000: 4)

Morrissey also used the Numina Waugh design on garments he was commissioned to design for the Oceania section of the Arrivals segment for the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games.

Outfit by Peter Morrissey
Outfit by Peter Morrissey featuring Jacinta Numina Waugh print pants for the Spring/Summer 2000 Collection chosen for the Grand Marnier/Powerhouse Museum Fashion of the Year Selection.
Powerhouse Museum Collection.
A group of garments designed by Peter Morrissey
A group of garments designed by Peter Morrissey using a print by Jacinta Numina Waugh for the Oceania section of the 2000 Sydney Olympics Opening Ceremony.
Powerhouse Museum Collection.

Discuss the issues that may arise when non-indigenous designers use Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander motifs, designs or fabrics in their work?

Is the use of fabrics printed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists a different issue from the copying of traditional motifs?

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