A woman in costume stands in front of an outback scene at sunset

The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition opens in Canberra on 18 April 2019


From 1950s Dungatar to 2019 Canberra, the original costumes from hit film The Dressmaker will be unveiled at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) on 18 April 2019. The exhibition, designed by Marion Boyce, features a spectacular range of haute couture worn by the film’s stars and will be on show at the NFSA until 18 August. Tickets are now available: NFSA.gov.au/thedressmaker.

The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition celebrates the artistry of the film’s sumptuous designs, as well as the transformational power of fashion. Audiences will be able to go ‘behind the seams’ of a diverse range of elegant vintage fashion worn by Hollywood stars and home-grown acting talents including Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook, Judy Davis, Rebecca Gibney, and more.

The film’s vision was brought to life by an extraordinary creative team of Australian talents: Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, produced by Sue Maslin and based on the novel by Rosalie Ham.

Costuming is key to any film, but fashion took on a profound level of importance in The Dressmaker. The costumes were created by award-winning designer and exhibition curator Marion Boyce.  Boyce is internationally-renowned for her artistry, having worked across film and television in Australia and overseas. The designer was nominated for an Emmy and Costume Designer’s Guild Award in 2008 for The Starter Wife, as well as winning the AACTA for Best Costume Design in a Television Series for Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries in 2014. The Dressmaker also earned Boyce multiple awards including Best Costume Design at the 2015 AACTA awards.

Jan Müller, CEO of the NFSA, said: ‘Costumes can become as iconic as the films they were created for, and The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition is a perfect example of fashion, design and storytelling working together in perfect harmony. We’re excited to have a little piece of Dungatar in our recently refurbished gallery, and we hope visitors will love it as much as they loved the film.

‘The NFSA preserves, collects and shares countless original costumes from Australia’s film and television programs, so The Dressmaker is a perfect follow up to our successful exhibition Heath Ledger: A Life in Pictures, and we look forward to welcoming fashionistas and film lovers alike.’

The Dressmaker is a bittersweet, comedy-drama set in early 1950s Australia. It tells the story of Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet), a beautiful and talented woman who, as a child, was blamed for a crime she didn’t commit. After years in exile, working in exclusive Paris fashion houses, she returns to her remote home town, Dungatar. Tilly reconciles with her eccentric mother Molly (Judy Davis) and unexpectedly falls in love with Teddy (Liam Hemsworth). Armed with her sewing machine and sense of style, she transforms the women of the town and rights the wrongs of the past. Tilly has revenge in her heart and the town’s obsession with couture is their unravelling.

The exhibition takes visitors behind the seams of the film’s magnificent costumes. Audiences will be taken into the designer’s workshop to discover the level of detail and artistry behind each garment. To distinguish the character of Tilly, the designer Margot Wilson worked alongside Boyce to create Winslet’s costumes. Set against the earthy tones of the harsh Australian landscape, the palette of brightly coloured fashion conveys the theme of transformation and underlines the narrative.  

For inspiration, Boyce researched the work of Parisian couturiers at that time, but added a twist of forward thinking. Every detail was considered, including elements that cannot be seen on camera.

‘We wanted a palette of colours, almost jewel-like, amidst this dusty outback environment to showcase Tilly’s sumptuous designs. The early 50s was a really incredibly exciting time. The sort of fun came back into clothing. There had been decades of restraint and holding back from the war and suddenly the clothes were freer and they made you want to dance again. This period of fashion also celebrated the sensual female form, with small waist and high bust to define the figure. When you get that definition right in a piece, a woman can look amazing,’ says Costume Designer and Exhibition Curator, Marion Boyce.

‘Fashion during the 1950s was very exciting because there’d been an atmosphere of restraint, everyone had to be austere during the war years, and then Christian Dior came along and changed everything, and Balenciaga. They changed the silhouette, they used a ridiculous amount of fabric to create what were really works of art, not just clothes,’ says Director Jocelyn Moorhouse.

‘A designer friend of mine once said to me, couture is a weapon and that stuck with me. I like the idea of a woman being able to use her skills at designing extraordinary clothes that can transform the people wearing them, and to use that as a weapon against those people,’ adds Moorhouse.

The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition is an opportunity for everyone who loved the book and the film to immerse themselves once again in the world of Tilly Dunnage's fabulous creations. She not only transformed the town of Dungatar, but also the cinema landscape with what is now regarded as an Australian classic,’ says Producer Sue Maslin.

The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition will be open to the public from 18 April to 18 August 2019 at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) in Canberra. A program of special screenings and talks will complement the exhibition for the duration of the season.

For exhibition images and interviews, please contact Gabrielle Wilson, 0433 972 915 or gabrielle@thepresssociety.com.au

The Dressmaker Costume Exhibition

Where: National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, McCoy Circuit, Acton ACT
When: 18 April to 18 August 2019; 10am to 4pm, Monday to Sunday (including Easter public holidays)
Tickets: $13 / $10 concession / $7 children (5 and up); available online: NFSA.gov.au/thedressmaker