“The Dressmaker” Costume Exhibition

A couple of days ago, during the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, I was fortunate enough to visit the brilliant costume design exhibition of the Jocelyn Moorhouse film The Dressmaker (2015). Based on the best selling novel by Rosalie Ham, this well-executed film, which stars Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth, transports audiences to 1950s rural Australia and tells the story of Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage (Winslet) who returns to her hometown after working in the fashion houses of London, Milan and Paris, and transforms the lives of the residents of Dungatar by making a name for herself as chief dressmaker.

This film takes viewers on Tilly’s journey of self-discovery, with flash-back sequences investigating her alleged murder of a boy her age during her childhood. The developing present-day love story between Tilly and Teddy McSwiney (Hemsworth) is just beautiful to watch. Winslet’s wonderful portrayal of Tilly makes her a highly believable character; an independent and strong woman, who wears luxurious, bold gowns and hats inspired by Parisian couture, yet also struggles to overcome the scars of her past behind closed doors. It should also be mentioned that the supporting cast, namely Judy Davis and Hugo Weaving, delivered outstanding performances.

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I loved the film a lot so going to see this exhibition was a real treat! Visitors are greeted with a train platform sign saying “Dungatar” out the front of the estate and a red carpet leading into the immaculate Rippon Lea House, which now belongs to the National Trust and was built in 1868. As guests explore the intimate and lavish 1930s Hollywood-style interiors of the mansion they can see images of actors wearing the costumes, as well as beautiful production displays, spinning mannequins, projections, video clips, hat displays and realistic photo backdrops. The highlight for most people, of course, is the privilege of coming face-to-face with the creations of costume designer Marion Boyce, and Margot Wilson who designed Kate Winslet’s wardrobe. Seeing these beautifully-crafted artisan pieces right before your very eyes is very gratifying, albeit keeping your hands from touching the gowns is easier said than done! The amount of time and effort it must have taken to create each dress on display, truly left me feeling very inspired. The production team’s eye for detail with the props and artistic touches in each room should also be commended. In most settings these masterpieces are not hidden behind any glass and non-flash photography is permitted.

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Exit the mansion and find yourself in a stunning 14 acre-garden with a lake and waterfall, rustic iron bridges, grass tennis court, Gatsby-style swimming pool (not in use), conservatory, lookout tower, largest covered fernery in the world and windmill. The nostalgic 1950s style of the film also extends to the cosy pop-up Dungatar Tea Room and the flourishing gift shop, which serves as the start and end point of the entire experience.

The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition runs until July 31st at Rippon Lea House and Gardens, Elsternwick, from 10am until 4pm daily.

Tickets are available online or at the door.

Visit www.dressmakerexhibition.com.au for more information.

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