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Conceptual Couture - Art and Garment Design

from the early 19th Century to the 21st Century

- a suite of 3 exhibitions announce the New Year

1 February – 25 March 2012

The South travels North in a stunning fashion-suite of exhibitions!

NOM*d The Art of Fashion

NZ’s quintessential couture brand from the collection of its creative director Margarita Robertson curated by Dr Natalie Smith and Professor Hilary Radner University of Otago.

a la Mode

Early New Zealand Fashion Plates 1811-1825. A Dunedin Public Art Gallery touring exhibition, curated by Lynda Cullen, 45 hand-coloured fashion plates and period items from the collection including fashion accessories. A Victorian formal silk gown also on loan from the Kauri Museum.

Nga Kakahu – The Cloaks Jo Torr

Nga Kakahu explores the interrelation of Maori cloaks and European blankets in singular fabric sculpture installation works.

NOM*d The Art of Fashion

Whangarei Art Museum is one of only two NZ venues for this exhibition and the only art gallery in the North Island for this stunning exhibition of garments and accessories which highlight the artistic dimension of the brand NOM*d

Margarita Robertson (nee Gladiadis) the Creative Director and founder of NOM*d is part of our kiwi fashion lineage - a ‘make-do-and-mend’ pioneering womanhood past and present.. Margarita and her husband Chris Robertson first began marketing their embryonic clothing line in 1986, which now includes their son Sam Robertson in what has grown to be one of the most sought-after NZ design labels. Her elder sister Elisabeth Findlay established the Auckland label Zambesi, both with their own individual, intuitive and exemplary flair.

NOM*d has particular connections to international ‘conceptual fashion’ over the past decade with an infusion of Dunedin sub-culture; - streetwise, intellectual, de-constructivist - a re-appropriation of period styles and fabrics, giving the label its unique and timeless vibe. This ethos also alludes to connections in the two accompanying exhibitions.

Since its inception, wherever possible, NOM*d have continued to use local materials and kept their manufacturing in New Zealand. Early connections to Roslyn Woollen Mills in Dunedin created opportunities for a more exclusive knitwear range than was generally available at the time.

The exhibition focuses on a decade of contemporary design practice from the label, with particular curatorial emphasis on some of the ‘concept pieces’ of this period. In many ways they echo the brooding ‘landscape of unease’ in NZ art history from van der Velden to McCahon and Hotere.

NOM*d Concept and NOM*d Noir are the two thematic groupings in the exhibition of over 70 design items which includes memorabilia from the Robertson’s private collection called ‘memory boxes’ accompanying the exhibition. All garments are from Margarita Robertson’s personal archive.

Prof. Hilary Radner of Otago University has been key to initiating the exhibition. Her co-curator Dr.Natalie Smith’s PhD thesis has focussed on the roles and relationships between art and fashion since 1980, and the emergence of conceptual couture.

New World concepts of fashion, as opposed to the Eurocentric divisions of haute couture and prêt-a- porter. An egalitarian fashion in which New Zealand and NOM*d treads their own runway!

An industrial-chic installation space has been created in the Younghusband Gallery of the Whangarei Art Museum for this show with colour matching by WAM Sponsors Porters Paints.

a la Mode –

Early New Zealand Fashion Plates 1811-1825

Toured and curated by the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

Featuring some treasures of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery: a suite of 45 fashion plates from Rudolph Ackermann’s 19th Century publication – the style bible of its day- Ackermann’s Repository of Arts hand-coloured etchings.

The exhibition showcases the ‘Jane Austen era’ when fashion - if not politics, took its lead from post- Revolutionary France. A new egalitarianism in Europe swept across to touch the shores of New Zealand, and created a freer, less constricted design ethic for female dress, led by the Empress Josephine and the Napoleonic Court. Themes included the Turkish Harem, the Napoleonic Wars and the Gothic Revival of the period. The book has since found a new life as the ‘go to’ publication for all British film and TV dramas recreating the Regency Period.

The new “Empire Dress” style was emulated in Regency England when the Industrial Revolution too, enabled new cotton processing methods and a wider availability of quality muslins and cottons. Fashion plates in the show portray the latest in morning dress, carriage dress, garden party and promenade attire, evening dress, opera and wedding dresses.

The exhibition is accompanied by a selection of Regency Period fashion accessories, including gloves, parasols, lorgnettes and fans, beaded bags and a 1809 original copy of The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics by Ackermann, together with a later Victorian Period dress c.1860 on loan from the Kauri Museum.

This exquisite collection of fashion plates was gifted to the DPAG in 1960 by Miss Margaret Middleditch of Rye, Sussex England.

Image: Rudolph Ackermann, Dinner Dress, 1825, hand coloured etching on paper. Collection of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.


Jo Torr continues her explorative research of mutual cultural exchange, creating one-off garments as unique ‘conceptual artworks’. In this new series she examines the historical interrelation of Māori cloaks/kākahu and European woollen blankets. She draws attention to the way European clothing was adopted and adapted by Māori, how blankets replaced cloaks while simultaneously wool, embroidery techniques and colour was incorporated into the evolution of Māori cloak making.

Torr’s sculpture references the 1880s in-the-field photographic studies of Māori by the Burton Brothers as well as kākahu in museum collections. The spectacular female costumes are immaculately constructed from cream woollen blankets. Torr deliberately chose these to stand in for muka, the prepared flax fibre of traditional Māori cloaks. Each work references a particular type of cloak; kaitaka, korowai and ngore. Decorative techniques mirror the way traditional weaving elements have been adapted over time, for example the decorative border on Kaitaka is needlepoint rather than tāniko.

Her blankets are salvaged vintage materials, with their own accompanying past histories – creating a connection to the conceptual basis of the NOM*d’ creative ethos.

Jo Torr last exhibited at the Whangarei Art Museum in 2004/5 in Pret-a-Porter Pasifika with works from her Gauguin and Nu’u Sila Suites. Her work is represented in a number of major New Zealand art gallery and museum collections including the Auckland Art Gallery and Auckland Museum. The artist has just completed the William Hodges Fellowship, an artist residency in Southland, where she created new works which investigate the ill-fated 1850’s whaling settlement on the Auckland Islands in the southern ocean.

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