PhD Examination Exhibition

My PhD examination exhibition is currently open to the public at the RMIT Design Hub until 17 June 2015 as part of the School of Architecture and Design Practice Research Symposium.

I will be giving a floor talk about my research – the work featured on this blog on Wednesday 17 June at 2pm – open to all.

RMIT Design Hub
Project Room 2, level 2 Corner Victoria & Swanston Streets Carlton
Open Tuesday to Friday: 11am – 6pm
Saturday: 12pm – 5pm

10498254_713195258803069_5767234465303210754_oContemporarily, special occasion dresses are staged in settings such as the “red carpet” arrival at an awards ceremony, or sitting “front row” at a fashion parade. Such settings are complex ecosystems in which many actors contribute to the construction of effects including fascination or derision. Against the backdrop of this popular culture context is a making practice concerned with the construction of one dress for one person using techniques of co-design, made-to-measure and craft-based making. It is also a design practice concerned with sustainability, which is addressed through a material lens of garment making as well as through exploring the socially-grounded potential of occasion dresses. This creative practice research demonstrates that practicing sustainable fashion within the one-off context involves teasing out tensions: between the pragmatic priorities of sustainability and the poetic impulses of fashion design, or between the material preoccupations of the designer, and the social nature of the occasion stakeholder network.




Say I was a Japanese deconstructionist

This was a wedding dress I bought in an op shop last year.  I wanted to explore with students in a design studio I taught some aspects of this dress I felt were particular to special occasionwear such as its weight and volume, as well as the act of dressing; actually getting into the dress and what this entails.  I subsequently unpicked the whole thing with a view to using the fabric but before doing so put it on the mannequin to take a photo.  When I took it off the shapes it made struck me as interesting and so I styled these pictures.  I’ve enjoyed having them up on my wall because of the tension I feel when I work between pragmatic red carpet designing, where I sometimes fear I’m veering dangerously close to knocking off whatever Elie Saab did last, and pursuing a “truer” (what does this mean?) kind of creativity, that is influenced by a more “pure” experimentation, perhaps influenced by the form of the materials themselves, and that is not beholden to western conventions of body conscious design.

Below, a quote from The Cutting Class, Wedding Cliches at Comme des Garcons referring to the Comme des Garcons SS12 collection.

But as ever with Comme des Garçons, the rebellion is in the execution. Where you would normally find carefully hand bound edges and french seams on a wedding gown, there was instead roughly cut necklines leaving exposed slabs of wadding. When giant-sized, voluptuous silken bows were used, they were used in a strangely creepy way, binding the models hands together. When boning was used to give the gowns structure it was not hidden discreetly away beneath layers of fine silk, it was instead made into an exterior cage that seemed to be constructed out of plastic boning and wadding.

And below, my photos of that particular collection which is currently exhibited (in fabulous plastic bubbles of course) at Les Docks, Paris.  The “rebellion in the execution” was further highlighted in this exhibition which has been deliberately paired with another exhibition of Christóbal Balenciaga’s archive, featuring original haute couture pieces as well costume references held by Balenciaga that served as inspiration.


Creative Women’s Circle

I was interviewed for Creative Women’s Circle a while ago by Phoebe Miller.

Eco-Friendly Practice: Georgia McCorkill

I read back through the post just now and picked out my own quote below as a potential provocation to explain in greater detail at some point…

“The real world nature of the projects means that what you would ideally like to do is not always possible, because everyone involved has to be satisfied that my designs will fulfil the purpose they have imagined for it.  I’ve come to enjoy though exploring the possibilities for this more conciliatory approach to design, because ordinarily as a fashion designer you are encouraged to see yourself in a much more authoritarian role.”


It was a pleasure to chat with Jaime and Bridget from Environmentality, an environment program on 98.9 North West FM a little while ago about fashion and sustainability, along with Andrea from The Social Studio.

The interview can be downloaded here, or listened to via the web (along with other episodes of this program) here.


The Front Row – Transformations

By far the biggest “transformation” of a dress during the “The Front Row” was of a gold stitched chiffon piece.  This design was based on another created last year for the Fair Fashion Parade.  It was the favourite of the model who assisted me with fittings, and of the audience at the parade, so I included it in the Evergreen exhibition at Object the following month.  (By popular, I have no tangible basis for this, other than it seemed to extract the most “oohs and aahs” and “that’s stunning” style comments from those who saw it.  As I like to create garments that have a popular appeal as well as appeal to my own tastes an inclinations, and as I don’t have a concrete measure such as sales figures go by, I often rely on the “ooh, aah” endorsement to determine future design directions…)

With the original dress in Sydney at the Object exhibition, I set about creating a similar one for The Front Row.  The fabric was dyed in Eucalyptus leaves, with some pieces left in they dyebath an hour or so longer so as to create two different shades.  The dress wasn’t finished in time for the beginning of the exhibition and instead this hank of coffee coloured chiffon hung in the gallery over the first week, “I’m meaning to make that up” I told everyone who wondered at what it was.

Lisa of Couturing saw the potential and agreed to wear the dress based on a photograph of the original, and so I set about getting it done.  The pieces are joined with a gold running stitch, each piece is left much as is, the edges folded back so as to fall in small frills.  A gold running stitch along the folded edges is both functional and decorative.

Image courtesy Couturing

Lisa wore the dress to LMFF Runway 2 with black “bunny ears” by Richard Nylon and a vintage Chanel handbag – I felt in very good company.

Image courtesy Couturing, Dress with Richard Nylon

Image courtesy Couturing, Dress with Gwendolynne Burkin

Image courtesy Couturing, Dress with Toni Maticevski

The dress also found itself in good company prior to the parade, here it is photographed with Richard himself, with designer Gwendolynne Burkin and with Toni Maticevski – legitimation by association.

I had put one day in the middle of the exhibition aside for serious transformation of the collection, and made up an indigo vat following on from a  recent workshop (more about this another time).  The chiffon dress was destined next for Leeyong of Style Wilderness and the City Weekly, who had also elected to wear it before seeing it made.  (She had, mind you, styled the original dress in the Fair@Square parade of which she was the organiser, so was familiar with it).  We agreed, that for her, the dress would be dyed in indigo.  What was particularly lovely though was that Leeyong was keen to try out the indigo process on some of her own clothes, and so came along to Indigo day.  We were able to decide together the twist-dyed effect we would attempt.  Leeyong had had plans of wearing the dress that very same day, but the process was much slower than anticipated, and the drying even more so, and in a cruel twist of fate, the gold thread actually broke down in the dye vat and many panels had to be re-sewn!  Clearly indigo is not the “natural” process I had originally imagined it to be.

Image courtesy Style Wilderness

And so, here is Leeyong at the LMFF Red Carpet Runway Presents Toni Maticevski show.  Note the ominous looking sky.

Leeyong and Phoebe, image courtesy Style Wilderness

And here is Leeyong with Phoebe, aka Lady Melbourne, recognise her dress?  You can read Leeyong’s own story, What a Difference a Dye Makes, about the dress on her blog – cute title!  Cruelly, Melbourne chose this night to unleash some absolutely vile weather, and so not only are photos of the guests at this particular parade scarce, this dress, along with two others of mine worn that night, were returned in a sorry crumpled state, which I actually didn’t mind one bit, because this altered state beyond my control hinted at excellent possibilities for the next transformation…

The Front Row – The post in which I attempt an outfit post

The Front Row has acquainted me with the world of style blogging, with many of my participants in the project being style bloggers themselves.  A key element of style blogs is the outfit post, where the blogger presents a photographic essay of an outfit.  I attempted to create my own outfit post, a task which emphasized for me both the sense of purpose and the photographic and sartorial accomplishment required to prepare and present an outfit post.

A white organza dress with silver slip was chosen from The Front Row collection to wear to The Spirit of the Black Dress Gala during LMFF.  While the event itself was lovely, the outfit post was a disaster from the beginning.  Arriving home from work when I should have been leaving the house gave me scant time to devote to a hair, make-up and outfit styling regime worthy of a high standard outfit post.  My problems were compounded by having moved house only two weeks prior and not being in possession of the requisite full length mirror in which to develop my outfit.  A cracked 10cm square make up mirror was hardly adequate for evaluating the balance of my proposed combination of shoes, dress and hair.  I resorted to snapshots outside the house to check on hair and make-up.

Hair down?  Oops, note mascara above eyelid.

Half up, half down?  A bit eighties, I don’t know you can pull it off if you were there the first time.

Up and to the side?  Better. Interesting.

Hissing a frantic “I’m almost there” into my phone, I threw on my favourite black tailored jacket from All Saints in London and sped to the tram, checking my outfit in the car windows along the way.  The dress was lovely to wear, the silk slip against my skin made me wonder why I waste so much time in polyester and nylon tops and the organza overlay fluttered around my legs.

Of course I forgot the most important element of an outfit post which is a styled and posed picture of my outfit.  This was taken when I remembered; back home late at night and my interesting up-and-to-the-side hair already taken down.  I also forgot to get any photographs of myself with significant people at the event, of which there were plenty, because I totally let my guard down and became otherwise preoccupied with generally enjoying myself and having interesting conversations with the various designers whose work was featured at the parade.  Each dress in this event must employ strategies of design for sustainability, and thus it was wonderful to discuss the various techniques employed by each person as well as to chat with such kindred spirits about our hopes for our design practices as well as our industry.  I was however photographed with my boyfriend and featured on facebook the next day.  Nine people liked the picture.

This photo by Kellie Dene

Thrillingly, my dress lasted all the way through a raucous maxi cab ride across town to the Chinese restaurant at the end of the night before I noticed the hand stitched organza layer had largely fallen apart and I was trailing organza remnants through Chinatown (a slight exaggeration) The dress was in need of significant repair by the end of the night but I was delighted that this had been the case, as it was my intention that each dress be only as durable as the event for which it was intended.  The organza was promptly detached from its lining and hung proudly in all its distressed and deconstructed beauty for the remainder of the exhibition.

There is a growing body of academic and journalistic literature on this recent practice, and among it I enjoyed an article by Rosie Findlay, whose PhD is on style blogs and who blogs herself.  Rosie’s article “At one remove from reality: Style bloggers and outfit posts” contends that style blogging “presents a mode of presenting one’s self that both embodies fashion’s imagery whilst depicting an individual expression of style as felt by the blogger as they literally dress themselves into sight.”

The style blogger mimics the established fashion media, using the conventions of fashion photography, be it the look book or the editorial genre to “literally dress yourself into view”.  Rosie points out that the style blogging genre has evolved in terms presentation to the point that the purpose of the outfit, details of where it is to be worn or the reasoning behind the photoshoot location are ambiguous or unexplained, however this was not my experience during “The Front Row”.  The bloggers who wore my dresses used their outfit as a conduit to report on the event for which the outfit was procured.  Their posts constituted both journalistic reportage of the event, whist maintaining the conventions of the outfit post.  The event consisted of wearing a particular outfit to it and the outfit post is therefore a valid and personalized means of describing what happened at the event.

The Front Row – Day 18 – Quite productive

The Front Row – Last Days

The Front Row has been an absolute blast – I am exhausted but have had so much fun with this exhibition/pop-up studio/residency/blogging project/fashion infiltration!  However with the last parade tonight, and the festival guests about to retire back to wherever it is fashion festival guests come from with “fashion flu” as one PR described it, it’s time to wrap it up.  Come on in to matttHQ this Friday, Saturday and Sunday where I will be working on “the map” (or crime scene, depending on your point of view) to see the full collection in all its worn and re-made glory, and have a chat about fashion, sustainability, dresses, dressmaking and designing.

Level 3, The Nicholas Building, 37 Swanston St, Melbourne

Open 11am – 6pm

The Front Row – Day 13 – Ta da!!

I thought it would be interesting to effect a transformation of the collection created for this exhibition and through small strategic alterations see if I could could create a “new” collection.  You could say it’s representing a change from summer into winter, although with both palettes using cool and warm shades it’s a bit hard to tell which is the summer one and which the winter.  I suppose this is appropriate given we are currently in that confusing fashion state experienced at this time every each year here in Melbourne – Winter collections are arriving in store and this fashion festival is telling to get out and buy them, while outside it’s 30 degrees Celsius…

In any case, the Labour day holiday was spent immersed in a vat of indigo dye, the pastel apricot pieces have been set aside, obligatory Melbourne black added in, and this is the result!


The Front Row – Radio

Below are links to two great interviews on Radio National that aired this week.

Firstly, Paola di Trocchio, assistant curator international fashion and textiles at the National Gallery of Victoria discussed some of the exhibitions in the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program on Life Matters, The Front Row among them.  Paola described my use of fabric remnants in a succinct way that described the value I place on both these remnants and the practice of the other designers who produce them, but have struggled to express to date.

“They’re derived from the offcuts of bridal materials so very expensive, very beautiful fabrics but of course, the way the patterns are cut mean there’s spaces in between, so she collects those bits of fabric that comes from those spaces in between.”

Secondly, Yolanda Finch, director of creative and designer Resources at LMFF was interviewed on By Design this week, where, among other aspects of the fashion festival, she discussed “the theatre of the front row”:

“The politics of the front row is a very strategic business model.  They’re doing a job and unless it’s a celebrity appreanace, they’re very much doing  a job and they’re acting as great ambassadors for designers a lot fo the time.  Just as the Oscars red carpet is the most powerful fashion showcase, it has a direct impact on sales.”