Ripponlea House and Gardens in Elsternwick are one of Melbourne’s best kept secrets and a place that is very dear to my heart. A grand estate built in 1868 as a luxury family home, which remained so for over a century until the house was passed on to the National Trust of Australia in 1972. I love everything from the era of Queen Victoria, especially the literature and architecture. Melbourne flourished during this period, so we have some very special architecture in the city. Ripponlea is a beautiful insight into the home life of an affluent family during this period and a tranquil place to relax amidst 14 acres of gardens and perfect green lawns for picnics. Ripponlea is one of my favourite spots in Melbourne and I have attended a number of special events there.
I immediately bought tickets when Ripponlea announced they would be showing the haute couture costumes from the beautifully produced film, The Dressmaker. The original novel by Rosalie Ham was released in 2000, but rose to even greater acclaim when the film adaptation came out in 2015, starring Kate Winslet.
I saw the film at the cinema with my Mum, so it was only fitting that we should see the exhibition together too. My Mum began working in a shoe factory, making shoes for Jane Debster when she was just seventeen years old. She spent many years of her life behind a sewing machine and really appreciated the craftsmanship of the costumes. It certainly enhanced my experience taking along Mum, who highlighted the delicate techniques and finer details that would have otherwise been invisible to the untrained eye.
During the exhibition, Ripponlea Estate was transformed into a gallery space to showcase the intricate details of the costumes, giving visitors the opportunity to see the fabrics, needle work, and special touches up close. The exhibition also provided a running narrative of how Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson brought their visionary high fashion designs to life, and the artisanship of each individual creation from dresses to hats to jewellery.
The novel itself is set in the 1950’s in a dysfunctional country town somewhere in the middle of rural Australia, called Dungatar. Quite distant from the fashion houses of Paris where she was trained as a dressmaker, Tilly returns to the town that cast her out as a young child, to care for her eccentric mother. The plot is both hilarious and heartbreaking. Tilly’s theatrical return throws Dungatar into a state of utter chaos, but given her exceptional talents as a dressmaker the townspeople soon gravitate towards Tilly and her marvellous creations. Armed with her trusty Singer sewing machine and a few personal scores to settle, Tilly is forced to deal with some of the demons from her childhood while mending her relationship with her quirky mother. The contrasting elements of the dusty country town and outlandish haute couture are a feast for the eyes.
The exhibition showed in the cooler months, so a nice hot chocolate and some fancy treats were the perfect way to end a special girls day with my Mum. Sweet treats courtesy of Laurent on Church Street in Brighton.