This is the story of how a sequined dress bought in Paris by Yass woman Kathleen Coen in 1925 became part of Australia’s film history, and ended up being preserved in a vault in Canberra. It’s also a reminder that there are many treasures waiting to be rediscovered!
Isabel, Paulette and Phyllis McDonagh were pioneers of the Australian screen, defying and conquering an industry that even today offers limited opportunities to women (read more about them at australianscreen).
By 1926, they became the first Australian women to own and run a film production company, making feature films and documentaries. Paulette worked as the director and writer, Phyllis as a producer and Isabel, acting under the name ‘Marie Lorraine’, was their featured star.
In 1929 they produced The Cheaters (silent), starring Isabel as Paula Marsh – a thief planning her retirement from crime, who falls in love with Lee Travers, the man that’s supposed to be her final target!
In one of the scenes, Lee proposes to Paula. She’s wearing a beautiful sequined dress.
This wasn’t just any dress, made or purchased for this film. Isabel had borrowed it from her best friend Kathleen, whom she’d met when they were both students at the exclusive Kincoppal Convent (now known as Kincoppal-Rose Bay School) in Elizabeth Bay, Sydney. They were so close that Isabel would sometimes stay with Kathleen at her family’s property in Yass.