A Sunday drive – The Dressmaker Revisited

Driving along the scorched, dusty highway towards the town of Winchelsea, past the Bellarine peninsula and on the way to Colac, you could be forgiven for thinking we were driving through a deserted outback town of Australia….we were not. But it was a particularly hot day and we seemed to be the only ones on the road save for a few trucks and idle motorists that would pass us by, out for their Sunday drive, or perhaps trying in vain to escape the heat as we were?

Either way, I was now beginning to question the pilgrimage I had begged so much for Matt to take us on, in the spirit of adventure and an innocent Sunday drive. The dressmaker film had taken me quite by surprise and having not read the book by Australian Author Rosalie Ham, I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed the storyline, characters and of course the costumes, so it made sense to want to go out and see the exhibition, even if it meant driving and hour and a half out of Melbourne. After all, How far could it be?

Barwon Park Mansion stands literally in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by dirt yellow bush and dried scrub, the ‘driveway’ winds alongside dry paddocks baked yellow from the heat of the mid-summer afternoon sun. Built in 1871 for a pastoralist and philanthropist, Thomas and Elizabeth Austin created a lavish and luxurious Mansion boasting 42 rooms, a magnificent entrance hall and stables reminiscent of a history rich with old world English heritage and charm.

Marion Boyce, costume designer for the film speaks fondly about the story and reflects on the costumes being one of a ‘personal journey and transformation’ for the main protagonist; Tilly Dunnage (played by actress Kate Winslet), now a successful designer/couturier returned from the high fashion ateliers of Paris to the harsh and unforgiving landscape of her outback hometown of ‘Dungatar’. The beauty of this juxtaposition highlighted by Tilly’s amazing costumes allows for some absolutely stunning cinematography and such magical storytelling that you are instantly transported back in time to the era of the 1950’s silhouette.

As Tilly uncovers the truth, we see her transform the ghosts of her childhood past into vivid and wildly colourful dreams re-imagined, brought to life by the extravagant garments she creates for the eccentric town folk. The dressmaker costume exhibition evokes a sense of make-believe and glamour, revisiting a time when clothing represented power and femininity. Walking through the rooms, you get a sense that the characters from the film are somehow real and portrayed with such warmth, humour and vibrancy that the costumes become living, breathing artworks in themselves…

If you missed The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition in Melbourne, it is now on at The Ayers House Museum in Adelaide from 1 Sept – 11 December, 2016. Otherwise, if you haven’t already seen the film it is an absolute must-see for fashion, vintage and art lovers alike!!

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