Tag Archives: sydney design 2010

Design underground #3- Bootilicious!

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Photography by Sotha Bourn © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved

The Bootilicious behind-the-scenes tour revealed stories of everyday, famous and infamous Australians through looking at what they wore on their feet. On Monday August 9, as part of the events, talks and tours program for Sydney Design 2010, I teased out some of the more unusual background stories in an extended tour for a group of 11 footwear enthusiasts.

I started the tour with the theme of weddings and childhood. The 1882 marriage of Hannah Palser Prior to Alfred Adlam was related through her wedding shoes and wedding dress. The Museum is fortunate to have her complete outfit, including accessories that demonstrate what a 19th Century woman wore to get married. Touching briefly on Anna Blaxland’s wedding shoes I commented on how the stories relating to Anna were all told from the perspective of whose daughter, wife and mother she was rather than any of her own achievements!

Generations of Australian children entered a world of make believe wearing costumes from A L Lindsay and Co, including super heroes, characters from the Wild West and their favourite TV programs. The Lindsays ensured the fantasy life of girls was well catered for in costumes such as this Annie Oakley outfit.


Photography by Sotha Bourn © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved

This set of doll’s clothing and matching shoes, were made by Zelmer Steeper for her daughter Beverly’s doll Hannah, a much treasured childhood possession. The doll’s clothes are part of a much larger collection which includes outfits, lingerie and accessories made by Zelma for Beverley’s wedding and lovingly preserved by Beverley to document her life.

I showed the group a photograph of Elsie White, aged 29 wearing her rollerskates in 1913. Again these rollerskates are part of a collection of outfits and accessories which tell the story of generations of the White family at Saumarez homestead in Armidale, now a National Trust property. The feisty Elsie ran the property after the death of her father until her own death in 1981 at age 97, preserving both the contents of her house and her family’s life.

A tour of the footwear collection is not complete without mention of the Joseph Box collection represented this day by shoes worn by Queen Victoria’s sons Prince Arthur and Prince Albert Victor. The group inspected the shoes in detail, impressed with the fineness of the stitching and quality of the craftsmanship.

A whistle-stop tour of the more famous residents in the collection began with Queen Victoria’s innovative gusset boots. These prototype boots with their tightly coiled, cotton covered, wire gusset, (patented in 1837) were presented to Queen Victoria by their inventor, the shoemaker Joseph Sparkes Hall. Unfortunately for Sparkes Hall, the invention of vulcanised rubber in the 1840s ensured the demise of his design for elastic sided boots. Blundstone lovers everywhere owe him a great debt of gratitude.

I showed the group more footwear with famous connections, such as cricket boots signed by Don Bradman, the Ugg boots worn by Michael Caton as Dale Kerrigan in the film ‘The Castle’, ‘Million Dollar Mermaid’ Annette Kellerman’s ballet slipper, shoes from Mardi Gras costumes worn by Philipa Playford and Ron Muncaster, platform boots worn by food journalist Cherry Ripe in the 1970s, aviatrix Lores Bonney‘s boots and the Pink Diamonds outfit and shoes worn by Nicole Kidman as Satine in ‘Moulin Rouge’. The diversity of the Museum’s collection embraces not just design and fashion but an extensive collection of material relating to performing arts and people who have made a significant impact upon Australian life.


Photography by Sotha Bourn © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved

Prefaced with a language and nudity warning, I showed photographs and spoke of the unusual collection belonging to Elizabeth Burton, (no not that Elizabeth Burton), Australian burlesque dancer and strip-tease artist known for her signature act, ‘Miss Modesty’. The Moulin Rouge costume shown to the group is accompanied by a pair of high heeled mules described by Ms Burton as ‘follow me home and f*** me shoes’.


Photography by Sotha Bourn © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved

A favourite with the group was the material relating to the knitter Myra Mogg. The fineness and regularity of the stitching in her prize winning outfit and shoes was much admired by the group who were also amazed by the tale of her walking the seven miles to and from work in Mudgee every day in the 1930s, knitting as she walked!

The tour finished with a sobering story and a frivolous one. I showed the group the boots and performance costume of William Shakespeare; 1970s Australian pop star and beloved of Countdown watching female teeny boppers. While his costume and platform boots are a classic example of the excesses and high camp of 70s glam rock, his career is a salient reminder to blink-and-you-miss-it stars of television talent shows how transitory fame is and how quickly the public forgets.

To the cries of ‘Show us what’s in the box’ I also unveiled……… the costume worn by Tina Sparkle in ‘Strictly Ballroom’. With sequined dancing shoes and an over the top outfit, the ‘Fruity Rhumba’ costume seemed a suitably fun and life affirming way to end the tour.

Rebecca Bower, Curator

Editor’s note: I received a very nice email from one of the tour participants who informed me she has also written a blog on Rebecca’s ‘Bootilicious’ tour. You can read her take on the ShoeMistress website here.

A Fashionable Idea: Shaping Expression

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Photography © Alex Perry. Image courtesy of Black Dahlia

This Saturday 7th August, as part of Sydney Design 2010, the Museum is hosting Framed! – an all-day photographic shoot exposing the ins and outs of creating ‘the look’. In this post, wardrobe stylist Anna Raju of Black Dahlia, explores the role two key Australian fashion designers have had both on her work and the Australian fashion industry as a whole – Alex Perry and Gail Sorronda.

For most of us, the world of fashion is shrouded with intrigue. There is a mystique and a yearning to be part of it or have the opportunity to experience it from its margins. The visual explosion of colour, texture and form of the garments and subjects invokes myriad fantasies seeped within us when the ensemble is framed in a stylized setting – the creation of the fantasy world. Beautiful fashion spreads conceal the meticulous process taken to capture that moment which tells a story, the vision of the team and for me as a wardrobe stylist, I pay a tribute with my styling to the creations of the designers showcased.

Framed! brings forth the opportunity for everyone to view that process and watch the various roles played out in a creative team and we (the team), in turn, bring to life the magic of couture inspirations that have graced the pages of profiled magazines. In styling for Framed! and Captured!, I was inspired by two influential Australian designers, who in their journey, have augmented Australian fashion to greater heights and added to the movement of experimental designers.


Photography © Alex Perry. Image courtesy of Black Dahlia

Alex Perry; the creator and brand synonymous with luxury, prestige and quality is one of Australia’s renowned ateliers and reigns at the helm of high fashion. His shows display high voltage glamour attracting a mega following and the key to his continuing success is his keen understanding of making a woman look and feel a million dollars. Perry’s garments enchant their viewers with a captivating flow of dazzling detail setting the bar for masterful design. Behind his enamouring personality lies the potent artistic mind that augments splendour and showcases beauty in its many forms. From the delicate princess to the formidable queen, his designs answer womens’ desire to express themselves in exquisite style. And so it is appropriate that a tribute to one of Australia’s designer royal is paid by featuring his creation in Framed!.


Photography © Little Hero. Image courtesy of Black Dahlia

The poetic approach to fashion is encapsulated none better than with Gail Reid who designs under the name Gail Sorronda (Sorronda being her mother’s maiden name). Her non-linear meteoric rise in the fashion world started with the debut of ‘Angels at My Table’.


Photography © Little Hero. Image courtesy of Black Dahlia

Behind each yearly collection showcasing her trademark look, the dramatic contrast of black and white, is a philosophical idea questioned and examined leading to creations cementing Gail as the fashion vigueur à compter. The voyeuristic alter-ego exploring opposite and equal reactions continuously experiments with silhouettes, bringing opposite textures together with a continuation of ‘noir romanticism’. The garments surprise its viewer for its sense of exaggeration balanced by a temperate restraint. This gives voice to Gail’s mantra for design discipline. Herein lies the artist who merges thought with beauty and grace with her whimsical designs and her blog shines light to the arresting mind that conjures up such creations. Gail Reid or Gail Sorronda, the label to me is a beacon for contemporary high fashion, a force that unites impression and premise and a vehicle for an appreciation for the many faces of art.

Anna Raju, Stylist

Design underground #1 – In the fashion vault

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Photography by Sotha Bourn © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved

Yesterday afternoon we kicked off the Design Underground tours as part of Sydney Design 2010 with an insightful, behind-the-scenes look at the expansive storage facilities of the Museum’s costume and accessories collection. Led by Suzanne Chee, the tour started with an overview of conservation work at the Museum and the breadth of the fashion collection. The first garment the group encountered was a crocheted dress designed by Romance Was Born and worn by Cate Blanchett at Federation Square, Melbourne in September 2009 (see image below). Dubbed by some as the ‘old-school granny rug’, the dress certainly turned a few heads among the group!


Collection: Powerhouse Museum

But, in order for garments like this to be kept in good condition, you need to ensure the correct climatic and humiditiy conditions and appropriate storage measures. Compared with the display of objects in exhibitions where the temperature is maintained at around 20 – 22 degrees, the long term storage of textiles requires a slightly cooler and constant temperature of 18 degrees (with a 50% relative humidity). When the store was setup in the 1980s, it was modelled on the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and The Kyoto Costume Institute (which have lots of hanging space). But, overtime, the Museum has increasingly opted to lay garments flat as this reduces the pressure placed on the shoulders and the seams created by hanging. This is moreso the case for the ‘heavier’ garments of the 18th and 19th centuries.


Photography by Sotha Bourn © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved

Textile lengths, rugs and yardage are stored on aluminiuim rolls protected and covered with acid free tissue paper which can be easily moved about for study and display. Accessories, such as shoes, bags and gloves, are displayed flat in trays and filled with padding to help retain the object’s form.


Photography by Sotha Bourn © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved

In the above image Suzanne shows the group how hats are stored and cared for. This is a Rugby League cap dating to 1914. It is placed on a wooden hat stand with a padded support shaped exactly to the size of the cap (if it was going to be displayed, it would be on an acrylic stand instead as it is slightly more pleasing to the eye!). The hats, as with a large part of the dress collection, are stored in compactus units, as you can see below.


Photography by Sotha Bourn © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved

Following the tour, Suzanne showed the group how to make their own padded coathangers (of Museum standard!) to display their own precious garments over light refreshments. Everyone was particularly impressed by Suzanne’s ‘textiles-inspired’ cupcakes which were devoured in no time!


Photography by Sotha Bourn © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved

If you’d like to take part in any other upcoming Design Underground tours, please click here or download the Sydney Design iPhone app here. The next tour we’ll be blogging about is ‘Telling Stories About Textiles’ with Principal Curator, Design and Society, Christina Sumner.

Suzanne Chee, Conservator and Melanie Pitkin, Curator

Radiogram by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni

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Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Castiglioni is a name surely synonymous with “cool”?!

Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni designed this radiogram for Brionvega in 1966. It was based on their approach that design must restructure an object’s function, form and production process and following this led them to reinvent all the products they were commissioned to design. This didn’t stop their products being fun, however – the designers of familiar icons such as the arching ‘Arco’ lamp and the tractor-seat stool ‘Mezzadro’ gave their design a playful, yet stylish form and mix of materials. For example, the RR 126 radiogram, which has just gone on display at the Powerhouse Museum as part of Sydney Design 2010 and the upcoming guest lecture to be presented by Achille’s daughter, Giovanna, exudes high-tech and superb quality, while at the same time smiling at its observers through its playfully arranged dials and knobs, which form a face. The speakers can be easily hung on the sides of the body (as displayed in the photo here) or the generous wiring allowed them to be placed elsewhere on the floor to best suit the listener. The original white colour has mellowed to a cream, but the original contrast with the brown ‘seams’ on the edges still shows the original intent.

The brothers’ imaginative and uncompromising approach to design has made them a powerful and influential force in design and their products are represented in museum collections all over the world. In particular, their incorporation of ready-made utility items such as a tractor-seat, bicycle seat or car headlight lent their work a thought-provoking air of the subversive artist, such as Marcel Duchamp. Philosophical maybe, but while considering our surroundings – listening to 60’s LPs, or standing on the set of a James Bond movie, there’s no doubt about it – this radiogram is groo-vy baby!

You can read more about Achille Castiglioni and the breadth of his work on the Museum’s online design resource, D*Hub, here. The RR 126 Radiogram will be on display in the Museum during Sydney Design.

Sydney Design 2010- Featherston ‘Stem’ chair

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Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Sydney Design 2010 starts on Saturday and runs until August 15. For the next two weeks, we will be blogging exclusively on design, everyday, under this year’s theme ‘Tell us a story’. As a taster, you’ll be able to discover more on Achille Castiglioni and the RR 126 Radiogram, the ‘Creating the Look: Benini and fashion photography’ exhibition, the Australian International Design Awards, the unique jewellery pieces of this year’s design travelling scholarship winner, Liesl Hazelton, designer-makers featured in our ‘Young Blood’ markets, SD10 events, talks and tours as they happen and in this post, the Featherston ‘Stem’ chair.

In fact, we begin with the ‘Stem’ chair because it will be on display in the Museum’s foyer from tomorrow (and, I must say, it’s well worth a look!). The chair belongs to a 5-piece setting designed by influential Australian post-war designer Grant Featherston, and his wife Mary, in Melbourne, 1969.


Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The chair signifies the innovative use of new plastics technologies in Australian furniture, which Grant and Mary had already started experimenting with in their earlier Expo 67 chair. This chair was commissioned by Robin Boyd for the world exhibition in Montreal, Canada (which ran from April 28 – October 29, 1967) and was formed from a polystyrene shell upholstered in polyurethane foam and wool.

Although plastics were widely used in the 1960s, they were not common to furniture production. The ‘Stem’ chair, made by Aristoc Industries Pty Ltd, was formed from a rotationally-moulded, high density polyethylene shell. Its innovative design and use of new technologies foreshadowed the move to making integrated one-piece plastic chairs (this honour can arguably go to the ‘Selene’ chair by Vico Magistretti, produced in Italy in 1969, and in Australia, the Sebel ‘Integra’ chair of 1973) and helped to revive the local furniture manufacture industry at a time when they were under threat by foreign imports.

The ‘Stem’ chair took 18 months to develop from concept to production. Its design was inspired by the organic forms of flowers, seed pods and shells and references Eero Saarinen’s earlier ‘Tulip’ chair of 1956.


Collection: Powerhouse Museum

In 2006, the Museum’s former Curator of Architecture and Design, Anne Watson, interviewed Mary Featherston about the highs and lows in the development of the ‘Stem’ chair. You can read this interview and more about the influential work of Grant and Mary Featherston here.

The ‘stem’ chair will be on display in the Museum’s foyer throughout Sydney Design.