Viktor & Rolf – When Art & Fashion Collide

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If art galleries are intended as quiet places of contemplation, escape and intrigue than surely the catwalk must be its overly eccentric twin sister who turns the wonder, magic and theatre of dress ups and showmanship on its head inciting our lust for drama, desire and of course designer couture dreams. Put the two of these together and you get a taste of what’s on offer for legendary Dutch design duo Viktor& Rolf’s spectacular collaboration with the NGV.

I must admit, I took my time to go see this exhibition having not been too familiar with their back story they seemed to be a bit of a mysterious fashion anomaly for me, so lured in part by a heady mix of glamour and avant-garde I took the plunge and began to delve a little deeper into the world of exquisite artistry and fantastical couture to discover a history that’s as rich as the collections themselves.

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To begin with, all you need do is look up at the whimsical wall paper art made up of hundreds of their fashion sketches, to realise there is so much to learn and love about the visual aesthetics and raw performance of this exhibition that is at once quite visceral and mesmerising to the viewer. The beauty and ambience of each piece is played out in part with such perfection and precision that you almost forget that all is not quite what it seems and like their stand out opening piece ‘Russian doll’ (which was a favourite of mine) there are many intricate layers to be discovered.

Meeting at Art school in 1988, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren forged a friendship based on mutual admiration and respect for each other’s work but it wasn’t until their first trip to Paris just out of art school, that they decided to take a leap of faith and enter a competition that would forever seal their fate as leading fashion artists and Haute Couture visionaries of our time.

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In their own words, ‘Our work comes from our life, and the experience that we have…our life is not always rosy so, however we are feeling we will take that as our inspiration. Emotions are complex and this means that sometimes we may use frustration as a starting point for our collection. A good example is a collection that was entirely dedicated to the word ‘no’- and the word no was used because we were feeling antagonism towards the fashion system and the feeling of ‘oh my god’ not another season, not another collection.’

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‘We started designing but the word ‘no’ kept popping up and then instead of denying that we decided to use it. ‘We also think it’s very important to push boundaries and see how far we can go…sometimes we go too far but that is always a learning experience. No new ground is being discovered if you don’t take risks. ‘I would go back to the phrase follow your own path or walk your own walk…don’t try to imitate anyone and really try to make a difference by making something that no-one has ever seen before and that is uniquely yours.’

So wherever you sit on the spectrum bridging fashion and art, there’s something so refreshingly real and honest (not to mention comforting) about knowing that somewhere in-between exists ‘Viktor & Rolf’- forever evolving and challenging our notions and pre-conceived ideas of high art and haute couture, embracing change and creating in its place a kind of beautiful, quiet chaos one expertly crafted, de-constructed piece of sequinned tulle at a time…

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NGV Viktor & Rolf’ Exhibition Fashion Artists is now on at the NGV until the 26th Feb, 2017 featuring up to 40 of their signature ensembles and 21 exquisite dolls, handmade by a traditional Belgium doll maker. Don’t miss your chance to immerse yourself in the magical world of ‘wearable art’ and intricately crafted couture!!

 

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Learning with Lace

One of the hardest things to do when you first start sewing is not to berate yourself when you realise that a project is more challenging from the outset than what you first thought, or worse, when you become so frustrated by the hairy bits that you effectively stall yourself and throw a mini hissy fit in front of your half bemused cats. It’s a tricky thing because we all love to get inspired by a look, or design, and then we get so excited by ideas that come racing to mind that we might see in a book, magazine (or perhaps that beautiful piece of random material you find hiding in the remnants bin from your favourite fabric shop) that it’s easy to forget that sometimes things take time to learn and master. There is a process to everything and it’s not always about getting to the finish line. In fact, it’s more about creating the time and head space needed to give yourself permission to just play and have fun along the way.

I know! Sounds obvious right?! This is a MASSIVE lesson in patience and letting go, especially since I’m so inspired by everything and get so many ideas all at once that I often become overwhelmed by the possibilities and run out of steam before the project has even begun. This is exactly why I started a blog and why I have so many un-finished sewing projects and unused fabric stashes lying around the house. I’m a serial starter but crappy finisher because I don’t realise how important it is to SLOW down my thinking and creative process into easily do-able and digestible bite-size chunks. This is also true for anything in life including the way we approach our health, work and daily routines but alas, I digress!

So then how do we approach our creative projects with the same energy, zing and ‘joie de vivre’ that we first start out so wholeheartedly with and maintain the stamina we need to complete them?

Step 1. Get inspired

Set aside 5-10mins a day to think about what you might like to sew, look on Pinterest boards, read magazines, fashion blogs or rifle through your collection of existing patterns and unused fabric stashes, or visit your favourite fabric store…wherever inspiration may take you!

Step2.  Have a plan

This is a good time to assess your skill level and break down the steps required vs. how much time you have to complete or wish to devote to a project i.e. 2 hrs on the weekend? 45mins blocks spread over a week after you finish work/chores/study? Always think about what is realistic and achievable for you and when you will most likely get the opportunity to enjoy a bit of quiet creative time

Step 3. Set your intention

Do you want to learn something new? advance existing skills or simply have an occasion coming up that you would like to make something in time for…either way it helps to set an intention and have a goal in mind for your project.

Step 4. Focus

This is where people (myself included) tend to trip up the most!! Sewing and any kind of creative project demands your complete attention and total awareness of the present moment. Any distractions will only serve to fuel your impatience and cause you to make mistakes (frustrating you even more) so it pays to approach the project with a calm and patient (almost ‘zen-like’) mindset and just focus on completing each step one at a time.

Step 5. Have fun

And remember there is no right or wrong to this. Fashion should be fun, affordable and easily accessible to everyone. Be realistic, start off small with your sewing projects and see how you go. Challenge yourself and don’t be afraid to break out of your comfort zone and ask for help if you get stuck, read lots of forums and blogs like this one and join sewing groups in your local community. One of the very first things I learnt to sew was a pair of pyjamas…(yawn) ‘Boring!’ I thought as I walked into the class with my very basic but fashionable skirt pattern, determined to make this instead before being very kindly reminded by the teacher to ‘walk first, don’t run’. The truth is, it takes TIME to learn, grow and evolve. Don’t be in a hurry to rush your learning. Always be curious, open minded and willing to make mistakes and the rest will take care of itself.

On that note, here is my first humble attempt at a lace project for the blog that I’d like to share with you all so please feel free to follow along and leave a comment as you wish! May the force be with you…(and your sewing machine) x

Read more about my on-going project…

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Sew Slow! The Power of Art and Creativity…

True story: Some of my fondest and most freeing memories of high school (of the PG variety) were made in a classroom. Mr Hines was my favourite art teacher because he wasn’t just any old teacher, he was cool. He wore doc martins like the rest of us and could relate. He didn’t talk down to us and you got the sense that you could tell him just about anything in confidence…well, almost… But that’s what made him so popular!! He encouraged us to channel all our crazy teenage angst and just get it all out onto paper or canvas. No judgements or criticism, just encouragement and a bit of arty farty discourse delivered with a healthy dose of charm, wit and sarcasm (ok, I had a tiny wee crush on him). In that classroom we were safe in the knowledge that we could be or do anything, art was such a powerful statement at that age, an anti-dote to depression and low self-esteem. All barriers were dissolved and nobody cared how popular you were or where you came from. The only thing that mattered was that moment sitting at your desk getting lost in quiet chaos, in total communion with your pastels and paint on paper. Creativity can’t cure cancer but just imagine for a moment if it could?

The same thing happens today when I sit down to draw or sew at the machine or write this blogpost. In the absence of any distractions, my mind becomes fully engaged with what I’m doing in a seemingly endless stream of thoughts and time seems to stand still….and just like that, I’m not myself anymore. I’m transported to another time and place and fully immersed in the moment experiencing an incredible lightness of being and consciously aware that I’m connecting to a pure source of divine inspiration. The Greeks have a word for this feeling…three actually, for the different types of love we experience in any given moment – Eros, Philos and Agape. The first speaks of ‘intimate love’ and for the beauty and passion within, the second speaks of ‘friendship’ and of holding an ‘affectionate regard’ for someone dear or close to us and the third speaks of a higher love, for god or humankind that is unconditional and sublime in nature.

This kind of love, can move mountains and some say is the source of all our creativity and strength, peace and empowerment. But what happens when we deny it? What happens when we grow up and forget the value of its very existence to transform the mundane into the magical, or rather for finding the magical in the mundane? And more importantly how can we strive to get a little piece of it back into our everyday lives?

The answer of course lies within and asks us to simply slow down, to stop what we are doing and take a good look around, to appreciate the beauty, wonder and enchantment in our world just that little bit more, and to worry , fret and analyse a little less. This takes courage and a fearless commitment to discover and be our true creative selves again in a world that is lost to the shackles of time and bound by a conditional clock that tells us we’re always running late, never enough hours in a day or running to chase our tails. That somehow we’re not good enough don’t work hard enough or that there’s never enough money, energy or time left in the bank. We have forgotten what it’s like to simply watch the sunset, see the world through a child’s eyes and remember what it was like to do something purely for the joy or fun of it or how happy it makes us feel in the moment and what’s worse, we feel guilty or care too much about what other people will think when we do.

This is why I sit down to paint seemingly insignificant and erratic brush strokes when I get the chance, the line and colour falling on the page in a range of muddled tones and hues,  or sewing endless rows of neat and tidy stitches with impatient precision and devoting hours to writing this blog in my pyjamas. Because the act of doing so both humbles and humanises me and all the bullshit I feel about life beforehand simply falls away to reveal something more real, honest, meaningful, and alive. We’re not meant to be this perfect whole and complete version of ourselves.

As human beings we are distinctly and beautifully flawed, complex creatures that crave the simple things in life…to live, happy, peaceful and content lives, comforted and confident in our ability to create meaningful connections and share our passion with others.  We are also equally fickle and like to contradict ourselves, it’s just human nature…so although I may not always have the time to do my art, or I may procrastinate when I do, somehow that’s ok too. The brushstrokes might end up half way across the page, my stitches might sometimes resemble spaghetti but hey, I got this, we all do! There are no rules to this either. That’s the beauty of life as in art, you just make it up as you go along and enjoy the process along the way. It’s enough just to be me and like the line in one of my favourite songs goes…’And we’ll all float on ok’ – Modest Mouse

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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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Mandalas and Moonbeams…

‘I am the I’ by Joanna Brown

 A little while back I posted some artwork by Joanna Brown on Facebook (as inspiration for an autumn/winter fashion project) and a random print I found on Pinterest by Don Blanding called the ‘Moon and Stars’. As quite often happens, I get so caught up in the creative process that I forget about some ideas that naturally come and go…but sometimes, they have a way of coming back to you in the most profound and surprisingly meaningful ways.

Lady of the Night Illustration and poem by Don Blanding, c. 1935

I am talking about the unconscious creative collective or dreams that exist in your imagination when you first begin the process of gathering inspiration for a project and the kind of instinctive and intuitive narrative that occurs when you set out to attract that which is in your mind’s eye. In this case, I was imagining what would happen when ‘slow fashion’ meets ‘art’…what would that look like and how could I translate this onto a piece of fabric? The image of a mandala immediately sprung to mind.  It seemed to be a magical amalgamation of contemplative art melding with contemporary fashion and traditional sewing practice. The mandala as a symbol for peace and creativity, and the act of fine art or sewing as a patient meditative practice was both mesmerising and enchanting to me.

When I began to explore this this idea further, it got me thinking about a powerful home truth…That I have never been a patient sewer or creator!! Of course I aspire to this, but hand sewing especially usually has me in tedious fits of rage and hysterical laughter, in-between bouts of chocolate binges that leave me swearing I will never again pick-up a needle and thread. On the other hand, it made me want to challenge this…because once upon a time this is how it all began, with a simple needle, thread and a careful hand.

The true marksmanship of early sewing was born out of patient practice which could not be easily rushed or flawed. History is rife with examples of this and women would sit for hours together with nothing but a needle and thread in hand, the quality of which, would measure their true worth and place in society as an accomplished and refined woman. Moreover, it was this act of sewing that also brought women together in the family hierarchy with sewing techniques being lovingly passed down from Grandmother to mother, aunts, sisters, daughters and cousins. This familial female bond ensured fine sewing survived through the lineage binding one generation to the next, with something far more precious than silk thread. Thus was the power of needlepoint.  So my question is: how far have we really come to value these traditions within the context of slow fashion and fine art, and how much have we lost? As younger generations of women seek to shed the skin of their history and ghosts past, are we also at risk of missing something much more?

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The Dress That Started It All…

‘Beginning as I do at the beginning, and starting as I must at the start, let me show you fate through the round of this ring…’

– ‘Sapsorrow’, Jim Henson’s The Storyteller.

For anyone who is a fan of Jim Henson and is old enough to remember this well known and loved children’s TV series, you will know that it is an absolute CLASSIC and growing up with my brother and sister we seemed to have a healthy appetite for this series on repeat!  In fact, my dad was the biggest fan of all whose favourite episode was always (and still is) ‘The Soldier and Death.’

But they were more than just fairy-tales to me, they were windows to another world where I could escape to often and set my imagination free. I just loved to dream about dresses and drew them constantly. I liked to pretend like any other little girl I guess that I would marry a prince and live in a castle happily ever after, blah, blah, blah THE END…and as laughable and disgustingly cliché as that sounds it’s the truth!!

 

And who doesn’t love the story of Sapsorrow? Or can forget the genius comic stylings of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders as the bad sisters. Inspired by an early German Folk tale, Sapsorrow was originally adapted for the screen from ‘Allerleirauh’ (English: ‘All-Kinds-of-Fur’, sometimes translated as ‘Thousand furs’) first recorded by the Brothers Grimm in the 1800’s. It reminds us of ‘Cinderella’ or ‘The little glass Slipper’ tale more widely known and later popularised by western audiences with origins in French as –‘Cendrillon’, Italian –‘Cenerentola’ and German – ‘Aschenputtel’.

It’s a story at its heart about love, overcoming adversity (and of course, those beautiful dresses) succumbing to the powers that be only to triumph against all odds. Familiar themes of Good vs evil, love and death prevail and the magical forces at work that sometimes come to our aid through hope and faith, transforming darkness into light when we least expect it . Or rather, more of an analogy or anecdote? to real life thinly disguised under the veil of an innocent childhood classic. This is why we all love a good fairytale and why we each of us all have a story lying dormant within us that are just as, if not more telling, moving and riveting than the classics themselves.

Which brings me back to that dress….the one that started it all. The one sewn with a thousand stitches by my own hand, under the guidance and careful skill of my step-mother Judith. The one I stayed up late for, holding midnight vigils for hours whilst painstakingly beading a French lace bodice with the patience of a saint. The one I wore to wed Matt, my now husband in and the one that led me to believe once again in the power and magic of fairy tales, and dreams come true. 

Feather and Sparrow was born out of a love for an art so easily forgotten these days in an age of fast, throw away fashion. The dresses and dressmakers, seamstresses and designers themselves, still exist in my heart and imagination like the well-known characters in our beloved fairytale stories waiting to be retold, revisited, revived and loved again just as they were back in their time.

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Afternote: If you haven’t already seen Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, I heartily recommend it!! Along with immersing yourself in a healthy dose of magic and childhood innocence it will transport you back in time (like most favourite childhood movies and TV shows) to a place where absolutely anything is possible and the world is once again filled with a sense of fantasy and enchantment. Brought to life through the eyes of  Jim Henson’s sometimes macabre and surreal characters, it will have you believing even if just for a moment, in something more ‘Marvellous, more magical…”

 

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