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Haute couture hits Canberra

From 1950s Dungatar to modern day Canberra, the original costumes from the hit 2015 film The Dressmaker are now on display at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA).

The Dressmaker Costume 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.

Film and exhibition producer Sue Maslin says it is an opportunity for lovers of the book, the film and fashion in general to immerse themselves 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,’ Maslin says.

The Dressmaker contrasts 1950s haute couture costumes against the setting of a rural Australian township. Photo Kerrie Brewer.

Maslin also comments on how the inherent irony of the novel’s themes and setting was what drew her to the film adaptation.

“When I read it I feel in love with the idea of those couture, ‘50s costumes sitting in the Australian outback, and just the visual irony of that. It was sheer madness.

“So the thought of translating that onto the screen, I couldn’t have hoped for a more wonderful creative team to have brought that vision together and then ending up making a classic.”

Costuming is key to any film, but it understandably took on a profound level of importance with The Dressmaker.

Award-winning costume designer and exhibition curator Marion Boyce’s work on this film received global acclaim.

Boyce says she curated a palette of brightly coloured costumes to diametrically oppose the earthy tones of the harsh Australian landscape.

“The early ‘50s was a really incredibly exciting time. The sort of fun came back into clothing,” she says.

“We wanted a palette of colours, almost jewel-like, amidst this dusty outback environment to showcase Tilly’s sumptuous designs.”

It was announced at the exhibition launch that the selection of costumes on display will be donated to the NFSA collection at the completion of the exhibition.

This another feather in the cap that is the NFSA’s 2.9 million item strong collection, which already includes costumes from iconic Australian films such as The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Moulin Rouge! and more.

After five years without an exhibition, The Dressmaker marks the second major exhibition at the NFSA in the last six months.

Award-winning costume designer and exhibition curator Marion Boyce’s work on this film received global acclaim. Photo Irene Dowdy.

NFSA CEO Jan Müller says it’s imperative the national institution showcase its collection and draw audiences in with dynamic exhibitions.

“As long as people can’t see what’s in our archive, it doesn’t make sense and might as well not exist.

“Exhibitions are an important way for us to tell the stories about our collective memory with the audiovisual material we keep here.”

Müller says they expect to draw quite a crowd with The Dressmaker on the back of the success they had with last year’s Heath Ledger exhibition.

Heath Ledger was pretty successful given it was the first time in a number of years we did something. We had about 30,000 through the door.

“Given the fact that it opened up the place to audiences, we’ll hope to get a bit more this time.”

Müller says The Dressmaker is quintessential Australian cinema.

“It’s a small community in a big country, in the middle of nowhere, where people have their own stories.

“I think that’s Australian cinema – very focused on the characters, but also the characters within those small communities,” he says.

The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition is open until 18 August at the NFSA. A program of special screenings and talks will complement the exhibition for the duration of the season; nfsa.gov.au

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