KRYSTYNA CAMPBELL-PRETTY: Fashion is Art

Up and down escalators, through rooms and hallways. The visitors of the NGV wandered hoping to the find answer they were looking for.

“What exactly is art?”

Michelangelo Buonarroti: The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, c. 1540.

And so, the art gallery goers continue gazing, taking it all in until something means something to them.  Until something reminds them of their youth or takes them into the future to where they want to be. Art is a bringing forward of the deepest parts of our mind, uncovered and discovered.  A true look into society and progress.

And spread across the rooms of the NGV, nestled amongst ceramics, paintings, furniture and sketches, to name a few, can guests discover just that. Over 150 vintage and new garments can be found, a part of the Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Fashion Gift. A fully encapsulated narrative from past to present, showcasing the variety in approaches and progression of fashion to today.

Footsteps echo over the wooden floors of the NGV as the guests gaze at the workmanship… admiring the techniques and embellishments lost decades ago. Travelling through a narrative of time. Imagining the nights lost in memories, whispering, twirling in chiffon, tulle and silk.

What comes to mind when you think of the word art? Perhaps the action of painting, sculpting or performing. Perhaps even a future focused form such as video or sound. Ultimately though, art is an expression of our skill and imagination as humans. The Oxford Dictionary describes it as the application and expression of human creativity, usually in the visual form, to produce works appreciated for their beauty or emotional power (n.d., Art, the Oxford Dictionary). Stripping it down further however, art means whatever it intends to mean. Put simply, it is a form of communication.

And so, makes up the concept of art itself. A melding of human psyche in the physical form. An expression of our history, our emotions, our desires. Art is truly the consciousness of humanity. And so, is not everything art? As soon as the physical passes our retinas and travels through the endlessness that is our brain; resulting in an emotion, a thought process, an outcome, it becomes art. Because everyone will interpret that object in a different reality. Sure, the artist may intend a certain meaning, but the beauty of art is that it highlights the very nature of our perception. To some, it may seem insignificant. To others, it may hold the entirety of their existence.

The Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Fashion Gift explores the evolution of fashion from the late 18 hundreds to now, focusing on the visionaries and major revolutions of the past 200 years. With names such as Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Christian Dior and Paco Rabanne, this look at fashion history is unlike anything ever showcased before at the NGV. Donated by Melbourne philanthropist, Krystyna Campbell-Pretty, as a tribute to her late Harold Campbell-Pretty, the collection visualizes fashion history impeccably. But to Mrs. Campbell-Pretty, the collection is more than just an overview of women’s fashion. It is a symbol of our progress as women, “reflecting the role, perception and lives of women in society” (2019, Art Can Cure the Haters, The Sydney Morning Herald). 

The collection starts with Charles Frederick Worth, dubbed the creator of haute couture. The garments themselves epitomized the era, but the concept of a one stop, customizable shopping experience revolutionized the game. Floor length dresses, corset style waists and exaggerated shoulders. He put Paris on the map, and the city became known as the fashion capital.

Next came la belle epoch, and movement, decoration and fluidity became the norm. The Art Deco period was accompanied with the empowerment of women. Dresses became shorter, and it was no longer necessary to suck in the waist to ridiculous proportions. The era was known for its embellishment and detail. Surrealism was the thing. Party dresses in an era of prohibition. The outerwear stood out the most. Sitting amongst two giant-sized, crystal chandeliers, came long brocade coats, satin kimonos and a velvet cape. Oversized, feminine silhouettes that moved and danced when you did.

Walking through to a grand room. Classical paintings and evening gowns lining the walls. Nestled amongst the paintings of naked women came possibly the greatest known Parisian couturier: Coco Chanel. The highlight, a little black dress.  

Into the 1940s now, and no doubt there’s vintage Christian Dior. The controversial designs, full calf-length skirt, cinched waist and feminine tulle designs taken from Degas, made Dior infamous. This “new look” hadn’t been seen since the turn of the century (2017. The New Look. DW). The Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Fashion Gift boasted numerous of his designs, highlighting the importance of luxury in a post-war period.

At age 17, Yves Saint Laurent came onto the Parisian fashion scene, his drawings published in French Vogue by the then director, Michel de Brunhoff. At just 19, Yves Saint Laurent became Christian Dior’s assistant, and after his death succeeding him as the artistic director for the house of Dior. Yves Saint Laurent set up his own fashion house in 1962. Scattered across the white walls of the NGV are his original sketches, accompanied by many of his most famous silhouettes. Pants… suits!

Although the collection is focused on the early 20th century, it also pinpoints the monumental designers of the late 20th and 21st century. Comme Des Garcon, Alexander McQueen and Dolce and Gabbana amongst them.

As the public walks through each room of the Fashion Gift, it is obvious what was intended with the collection. First and foremost, a celebration of women. The progress of femininity and equality in women broadcasted through art, in the textile form. The collection eludes to fashion history but emphasizes the way the fabrics and silhouettes feel on the body. And ultimately, how the clothing is a symbol of its time. It communicates the struggles and victories of fashion over the past two centuries, and through its beauty, evokes an emotion. Be it happiness, curiosity or aversion. With this curated collection it is clear. Fashion is art.

The Krystyna Campbell-Smith Fashion Gift is on display 1st of March 2019-14th July 2019. With free entry and an afternoon of fashion delights, why not do what others have done before you. Discover the meaning of art and fashion and the relationship between them… with a visit to the NGV.

~Charlotte

REFERENCES:

2019. Burns, Janice Breen. Art Can Cure the Haters, Says Philanthropist Krystyna Campbell-Pretty. The Sydney Morning Herald. Viewed 06052019. https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/art-can-cure-the-haters-says-philanthropist-krystyna-campbell-pretty-20190417-p51ewd.html

n.d. Art, The Oxford Dictionary. Viewed 05052019. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/art

2017. Tomes, Jan. The New Look: How Christian Dior Revolutionized Fashion 70 Years Ago. DW. Viewed 07052019. https://www.dw.com/en/the-new-look-how-christian-dior-revolutionized-fashion-70-years-ago/a-37491236

All images taken at the National Gallery of Victoria, 18th of April 2019.

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