Saturday, September 11, 2010


by Anna Campbell

I've just got home from a week away in Brisbane, my local big smoke, a couple of hours away via public transport.

I had to go down for the Brisbane Writers Festival where I ran a workshop on Writing a Romance that Sells with my friend Christine Wells (sold out which was nice). I also did a signing on Wednesday night at one of the big bookshops in town. In between, I got to catch up with my oldest friend and celebrate my birthday that had occurred the previous week when I'd been head down to meet a deadline on my latest story.

So as a belated birthday celebration, my friend and I went to the Gallery of Modern Art on Brisbane's Southbank to see the Valentino Retrospective. GOMA is the only Australian venue for this marvellous exhibition of high fashion so I felt very lucky that I was in town to see it and that it was in town to be seen!

I hope you enjoy the pictures of these incredibly glamorous gowns. It was interesting - he worked with a limited palette of colors. Lots of red (the famous 'Valentino' red), pink, black and variations of white. In the 60s, he also used a lot of animal prints - very swinging 60s indeed! There was one ice-blue dress - it turned out that it belongs to the collection his successors put together after his retirement in 2008. It was almost shocking to see the blue once my eyes had adjusted to the other colors!

There were some famous dresses in the collection. Jackie Kennedy's dress for her wedding to Aristotle Onassis in 1968. A surprisingly simple cream number cut above the knee, high-necked with long, gathered sleeves. There was the extremely elegant black and white dress Julia Roberts wore to the Oscars when she won her best actress award for Erin Brockovich. There was a luscious creamy dress that Cate Blanchett wore when she collected her Oscar for The Aviator.

Most of the clothes were what I'd classify as evening wear. Not a lot of stuff you could imagine slipping down to the local supermarket in! Some of the 60s designs were accounted day wear, but I suspect that would only be if you were Verushka or Twiggy or Jean Shrimpton!

Actually speaking of Twiggy, I think you needed a particular sort of figure to carry these dresses off with any aplomb. A VERY long waist - a lot of them featured beautiful ruching around the waist so someone short and short-waisted like me would have looked a little like a bag tied in the middle with string if I'd worn them! You'd need to be tall and not terrifically heavy up top. In fact, heavy anywhere probably wasn't going to be suitable!

All the mannequins they displayed the clothes on had outlandishly long necks. This made sense when I saw some of the archive films that were part of the show - the models looked rather like high-strung thoroughbreds with long, LOOOONG legs and swan-like necks on which perched small, neat heads. It's a very distinctive look and it certainly suits the lovely clothes!

It was wonderful being able to get really close to the dresses and see the level of detail that went into constructing these beautiful shapes. Gussets and darts and bias cuts galore, as you can imagine. The fabrics were also luxurious beyond the dreams of mortal women. I kept saying to my friend, "Wouldn't you feel like a princess in that?" For example, look at this beautiful rose pink fantasy of a gown on the left. Cinderella would have been happy wearing that!

Something I love about the dresses is also apparent in these pictures. Many of them are extremely feminine and romantic. More of the princess look! There's a lot of flower detailing in the gowns - look at that spectacular red dress with the coquelicot poppy train. Isn't that gorgeous? But the florals and the floaty fabrics in many of the designs - tulles and organzas and silk voiles - make the dresses themselves seem like flowers. Definitely hothouse blooms!

As I think you can tell, I had a wonderful time living in this glamorous world for a few hours. It actually made me think of the Regency where women from the highest echelons of society would commission gowns of this caliber for the London Season. The level of craftsmanship on display certainly harked back to an earlier age.

So do you have a famous glam designer? Do you have memories of a dress that appeared at an awards ceremony that you either hated or loved (Bjork's swan outfit at the Oscars a few years ago springs to mind!)? Do you think fashion belongs in an art gallery? Let's talk the girly stuff!


Cathleen Ross said...

Thanks for sharing this, Anna. I loved the Valentino handbags this summer in Saks. Beautiful with big flowers like the dresses. Out of my price range but still wonderful to look at.

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Cathleen, lovely to see you here. This exhibition really was breathtaking although it was very much like being in a fantasy world. The handbags sound gorgeous!

Kandy Shepherd said...

Anna, I am so envious of you going to this exhibition. The dresses look divine! Yes, they do belong in a gallery. This is Art.
I went to the Princess Diana exhibition when it was in Sydney and spent a long time looking at her beautiful wedding dress. It had tiny exquisite jewels all over it that didn't show up on photos. So sad, though, as the dress had a story that went beyond fabric and jewels...

Vanessa Barneveld said...

Oh, what a fabulous post! I would wear any one of those Valentino-red dresses in that last photograph.

While I do think fashion should be worn, there are some pieces that need to be preserved for future fashion lovers to ooh and ahh over. Like Scarlett O'Hara's flouncy, voluminous green-and-white dress, the one that Mammy straps her into at the beginning of 'Gone With the Wind'.

My hubby bought me an amazing two-piece wool suit from a fashion museum in Rome. (You know the one I'm talking about, Anna!) The museum had to make way for new gowns.

I'm so glad you told me about this GOMA retrospective. I hope I can squeeze in some time to see it next week.

Vanessa Barneveld said...

Actually, I might be mistaken about the Scarlett/Mammy scene, but the dress I'm talking about definitely features near the beginning of the film. Trust me, it's gorgeous. ;)

Daz said...

Gorgeous post and gorgeous dresses. My only lament would be that in life today there just aren't enough occasions to wear them!! Maybe I'm just not in the right echelon of society. *grin*

Yes, that swan outfit of Bjork's does stand out. I can't think of anything that particularly sticks out in my mind.

That said, I've been following this wonderful street / fashion photographer and he just takes some delightful pictures.

practimom said...

oh, these dresses are gorgeous! What an awesome experience. I love looking at beautiful dresses and it i think you have to be an artist to pull some of them off. just knowing colors and textures.... i think it would be hard to be a designer.

Anna Campbell said...

Kandy, I know a lot of people in Sydney and Melbourne were gnashing their teeth because they didn't get this exhibition. There's been some really good stuff that's come to Brisbane lately - the new GOMA has really made a difference. I'm envious of you seeing Diana's wedding dress - the dress that launched a thousand formal gowns! I even had a clone way back when and I loved to wear it. I always thought it was beautiful - a real princess dress. As you say, it's a pity life didn't live up to the fairytale.

Anna Campbell said...

Oh, Vanessa, how wonderful you'll be in Brisbane. When I was walking through I kept thinking of you and how much you'd have loved to see these glam gowns. You're right about the red - you'd look fab. I can actually see you in the red short one in the pics. It was made of layers and layers of tulle, just gorgeous. And that red is such a rich colour!

Anna Campbell said...

V, I remember the green and white dress. Can't remember if that's the one she's strapped into, think it might be.

Anna Campbell said...

Daz, what a fascinating site! I'm not sure I'm convinced by the guy wearing a formal shorts suit! But some of the other stuff is fab! It was interesting looking at the films and the vintage mags they had at the exhibition (we had to rush this bit as my friend was taking me out to lunch for my birthday). But it was pretty clear that Valentino was dealing with women at the top of the ladder - aristocracy and royalty and millionaire's wives and movie stars. Princesses were a dime a dozen in his client list! I suspect people like that still have reason to wear these glam gowns. I love that people still get really dolled up.

Anna Campbell said...

Practimom, I'm hopeless at putting anything like this together. Can't sew on a button and can't even cut a straight line. But I've always loved beautiful gowns - right from when I was a kid and I first saw pictures of women in medieval and Tudor costumes. And of course, those dresses have more in common with Valentino than the Tshirts and shorts with elastic waists we pull on during most days (or I pull on most days!). The exquisite detailing of historic costume always takes my breath away. Ditto with the Valentino. I felt so lucky that I got to see it!

Daz said...

Anna, to your "I love that people still get really dolled up" ... I personally love the opportunity to be able to get into one of my more "formal" gowns for a black tie event. I even had one specially made Chinese style Cheong Sam (traditional Chinese evening gown) for those formal events. Have been able to wear it only once. Even my boy loves the opportunity to pull out his tux to wear. I'm glad you liked the site. Did you see the one of the two chefs sitting next to a woman in high heels in a suit, where the chefs are taking a coffee break and she's talking to I know not who? There's a picture that could be a story.

Annie West said...

Hi Anna,

Terrific post! No wonder you had a marvellous time at the exhibition. Wow.

Vanessa, I can see you easily wearing one of these fabbo dresses. You'd look just gorgeous.

Anna, I remember going to a wonderful, wonderful exhibition of fashion at the Australian National Gallery years ago with a friend. We had an absolute ball. Some of the early 20th century outfits in particular were just stunning. Made me wish I was rich, slim and stunning enough to wear one!

Michele L. said...

Wow! What gorgeous gowns! If only I could ever fit in one! I remember on an awards show Cher wearing a gown that made her look nude. That is the one gown that really stands out in my mind.

What an amazing experience to attend an exhibition such as this! I am so jealous!

Anna Campbell said...

Daz, I did see that photo and I found it completely intriguing. A few of them were like that, actually! And I loved the 70s chic of some of those women out and about in New York. The cheongsam sounds lovely!

Anna Campbell said...

Vanessa has the perfect figure for a lot of those dresses, Annie. Sadly, even in my younger days, I didn't! The NGA exhibition sounds lovely. I was lucky enough to see a Poiret exhibition at the Met when I was in New York a few years ago - amazing!

Anna Campbell said...

Cher, Michele! Need you say more? I still remember the duct tape outfit for one of her songs! You've got to say she's got chutzpah! The exhibition was marvellous. If anyone is in Brisbane, I highly recommend going to see it.

Christina Hollis said...

Ooh, I want all those red dresses in the last photo. Have you seen the Tissot picture 'Too Early'? The beautiful pink ruffled dress in that is my idea of dressing up!

Anna Campbell said...

Wow, Christina, I'd never seen that picture before. That pink is almost exactly the same, isn't it? Gorgeous! And the ruffles are very reminiscent of Valentino too.

gigi said...

Lets try this again blogger isn't liking me.

Anna, in GWTW is is a beautiful white with green sprigged dressed that Scarlett is cinched into. This the dress that she wore to the Wilkes barbecue at Twin Oaks.

I really like the celebrities that wear Valentino Oscar de la Renta.
Lea Michelle of Glee wore a beautiful navy blue gown to the 2010 Emmy awards this year by Oscar de la Renta. I thought it was lovely.

Anna Campbell said...

Gigi, thanks for persisting! And for confirming which GWTW dress we're talking about.

I remember a few years ago, Cate Blanchett wore the most gorgeous gown to the Oscars. I tried to find a picture but couldn't. It was white or cream and embroidered with trailing roses, high-necked at the front with a really plunging back. Loved that dress! She wears wonderful clothes!

I checked out the Emmy dress - you're right, that's beautiful. Really elegant!

Amazingrose said...

Love the post Anna and loveeeeeeeeeee the gowns. I actually love all the celebraties gown, they look stunning. Wish i could fit in one at least.

Anna Campbell said...

Rose, you're so right about not fitting into them. I think you needed to be at least six feet tall and as skinny as a rake to do these dresses justice. But my goodness, they're lovely to look at! So glad you enjoyed the post!

Pat Cochran said...

Anna, I always hit the internet to
check out the fashion parade after
one of the "red carpet" events. For
folks who have access to any of the
major designers, I wonder who makes
the decisions for what they wear.
Some of the gowns I've seen this
year: atrocious! And what designer would actually put his/her name on
those designs? As to a celebrity,
I can't just select one particular
design. It would be a career-long
selection of Cher !!!

Anna Campbell said...

Pat, one of the things I loved about the Valentino dresses is that I could actually imagine someone wearing them and looking fabulous. I agree with you about some of the wilder creations out there! Ha ha! Cher definitely enters the fashion hall of horrors, doesn't she?

kimmyl said...

Jayma Mays wors some black gown that looked like a giant spider web. What a utter mess!
EVA LONGORIA PARKER could not have looked more breathtaking at the 66th Annual Golden Globe Awards. The red dress was also a great color for her.