“I did not go into society because I had to design clothes,” said Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, “I designed clothes precisely because I did go out, because I was the first to live the life of this century.”
Skip forward a few decades towards the 21st century and instead of seeing Madame Chanel’s designs on other women in high society we now are more likely to see them in a museum than on the streets of Brisbane.
The QUT Art Museum’s Dreaming of Chanel exhibition opened last week amidst the hype of Brisbane’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Festival and features designs from one of Australia’s largest private vintage clothing collections.
The Darnell collection which is described in the book Dreaming of Chanel (Harper Collins) continues to grow and includes internationally recognized designers from Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Lucille Vionnet, Versace, Dolce & Gabana, Jil Sander, Zhandra Rhodes and of course Chanel. Each garment in the exhibition was selected from those mentioned in the book, which describes the element of clothing that is often lost when it is passed from its owner onto another life, and this is the stories they hold.
The most feel-good story is that behind the Pièce de résistance of the exhibition, the wedding dress designed by Coco Chanel. The gown was a bespoke design for the daughter of a wealthy family from Boston in the United States whose friends included names such as the Kennedys and Bouviers.
“Just along the hem there are little tiny weights that hold it down. It took seven hours to steam and was handmade in 1937. When we steamed the dresses we had to stay 20cm away from the garment that’s why it takes so long as well because you can’t get up close,” said Kasey Twidale, a QUT final year fashion student who interned on the exhibition.
The fashion exhibition is demonstrating an increasing trend amongst art galleries all over the world, the most recognized of recent have been the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibit at The Met in New York and the Balenciaga and Spain exhibit at San Fransisco’s De Young Fine Arts Museum. Both exhibitions included garments by their respective designers showcased in a way that incited both criticism and acclaim for their function in the museum context.
“I guess that’s the conversation a lot of people have when fashion enters the museum because some people just assume that if something is in a museum that it means that it’s art and I don’t necessarily think that is the case,” says Nadia Buick the curator behind Dreaming of Chanel.
Brisbane has been a global leader in this respect with several fashion exhibitions having been both toured and exclusively shown in art galleries around the city. Easton Pearson’s Experiential Fashion at GOMA, Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones at the Queensland Art Gallery and most recently the Valentino Retrospective: Past/Present/Future also at GOMA.
“Brisbane not having the same things as Sydney and Melbourne is no longer the case,” said Miss Buick. “[The exhibition] is exclusive to this museum. Charlotte exhibits the collection in various ways but this exhibition is specific to this gallery.”
The exhibition will run until October 16 at the QUT Art Museum, phone 3138 5370 for enquiries.