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 during Victoria’s gold rush 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 absolutely love everything from the era of Queen Victoria, especially the literature and architecture. Melbourne flourished during this period so we have some really special architecture in the city, but Ripponlea is such a beautiful insight into the home life of an affluent family during the Victorian age. Ripponlea is such a tranquil place to relax with 14 acres of gardens, perfect green lawns for picnicking, and a lovely pond. All year round the estate plays host to an array of beautiful cultural events that cater for the whole family with outdoor plays and theatre productions, cinema under the stars, classical concerts, the annual teddy bear picnic, and apple picking in the orchard. Ripponlea is one of my most beloved spots in Melbourne and I have attended a number of special events there.
When I heard that Ripponlea would be showcasing the haute couture costumes from the beautifully produced film, The Dressmaker, I was over the moon. The original novel by Rosalie Ham was released in 2000 and rose to even greater acclaim when the film adaptation came out in 2015 with Kate Winslet playing the lead character. I saw the film at the cinema with my Mum, so it was only fitting that we should see the exhibition together. My Mum began making shoes for Jane Debster when she was just seventeen years old and spent many years of her life behind a sewing machine, so she really appreciated the craftsmanship of the costumes and added so much to my own experience by highlighting 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, and I found the novel itself is quite reminiscent of the film Chocolat, albeit in an entirely different context and setting.
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.