Black In Fashion: Mourning To Night

Vivienne Westwood
Shoes by Vivienne Westwood:the jewel in the crown of the exhibition.


Last night I was one of a few hundred guests invited to attend the opening of Black In Fashion: Mourning To Night at the NGV. (Thank you so much, Kitty!)

As we walked in, I spotted our friends Nicole (of Circa Vintage Clothing fame) & her husband Tim. We stood about discussing what we might see upstairs & our expectations of the event. Oh, okay — honestly, Nicole & I discussed that stuff & Simon & Tim stood there looking attentive & being charming! Waiters passed around trays of hors d’œuvre & your choice of white or red, champagne or San Pellegrino flavoured drinks.

The organisers let us all percolate in the foyer for a while, & then the lights changed & someone clambered up onto the podium. Speeches were given (the usual “thanks to our sponsors & curators who did such a good job” etc.), & then fashion journalist Marion Hume grabbed the mic & proceeded to entertain as well as wow us with her vast knowledge of all things fashion. (Marion Hume is a very interesting woman: she edited Australian Vogue for 18 months, & after she used its glossy pages to dress down — rather than deify — Australia’s top designers, she was given the boot.) As she spoke, she swung between eras, taking us from the Dutch 17th century to Liz Hurley’s safety-pin dress in a matter of minutes. She explained the luxury of black & the difficulty of dyeing something a true black, as well as the trials & tribulations involved in having all your shades of black match up. Her speech was laden with anecdotes from the lives of Coco Chanel, Cristobel Balenciaga & Vivienne Westwood. We were all suitably impressed.

The original speaker invited us to go upstairs & have a wee squizz at the collection, “but not all at once, since it’s a small space!” she hastened to add. We started to move towards the escalators & I leaned over & said to Nicole, “I wonder whether Zandra Rhodes will be here!”. “Ooh, yes, of course, she’s in town!”, she replied excitedly. “Keep your eyes peeled for a bright pink bob!” I replied. Less than a minute later, I grabbed Simon’s arm & squeaked, “She’s here!” Zandra was standing right beside us in the queue for the escalator, next to a woman wearing a black turban with a white flower on the front. (A woman after my own heart, to be sure.) But she was engaged in conversation & I didn’t want to interrupt, so I decided I would speak to her later.

We rode the escalator to the 2nd level & entered the exhibit. There was a lot of hallowed cooing from everyone involved! The collection was small, about 60 items, but impeccably chosen & lit & displayed superbly. Here are some of the pieces on display…

Le Smoking

est. 1966
Yves SAINT LAURENT (designer)
born Algeria 1936, worked in France 1954–
Le smoking, suit (c. 1972)
Purchased, 2005

(I actually gasped.)


CHRISTIAN DIOR, Paris (couture house)
est. 1946
Christian DIOR (designer)
born France 1905, died Italy 1957
Zelie, cocktail dress 1954 autumn–winter
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2006


Chanel, Paris (fashion house)
1914–39, 1954–
Gabrielle Chanel (designer)
France 1883–1971
Jacket and dress 1920 spring–summer
Collection of Grainger Museum, Melbourne

It didn’t take us long to make our way around the gallery, & when we were done looking I started to freak out about talking to Zandra Rhodes. “What am I going to say?! Help! What if I just squawk & can’t get any words out?!” Simon was, of course, a paradigm of zen calm & encouraged me to go forth & fangirl! So I did.

I don’t know exactly what I said. Something like, “Excuse me, I’m sorry to interrupt but I had to come over & say hi! I think you’re amazing &, well, when I was at the Chelsea Hotel a couple of years ago I met your personal assistant because we had the same colour hair… I mean, my hair was bright pink like yours… so um, anyway, you’re so cool!” She was charming & gracious, I actually don’t remember much about what she said, except that she said I should come to the Zandra Rhodes exhibition at RMIT (which I will do).

I walked away from her with my knees all a-quiver & after all that excitement, we decided to was time to go home. As we exited the gallery (& were taking daily outfit photos!) I saw her again & I ran over & said, “This is the last time I’ll bug you, I swear, but would you mind if we got a photo?” “Of course not,” she replied, & so that is how the photo of her & I together came to pass.

Oh okay, since you asked (ha!), here it is again…

Gala & Zandra

That was my night!