Costumes from The Dressmaker displayed in Albury

Film producer Sue Maslin sitting among some of the fantastic coustumes which featured in The Dressmaker and are on display at Albury until 31 March 2019.
Film producer Sue Maslin sitting among some of the fantastic coustumes which featured in The Dressmaker and are on display at Albury until 31 March 2019.

Films featuring period costumes, whether High Renaissance, Georgian-era or contemporary always attract critical acclaim for their visual appeal and those featured in The Dressmaker are now on display in Albury until the end of March.

Film producer Sue Maslin said period costumes take people into another world.

“That is what we do as film makers … we create worlds and invite people into our world for a couple of hours,” she said.

With the theme ‘Revenge is back in fashion’, the presentation will excite those who loved the film and are excited by the idea of Parisian-inspired haute couture in the bush. 

Based on the best selling book by Rosalie Ham, The Dressmaker produced by Sue Maslin was the second highest-grossing Australian film of 2015/16 and eleventh highest-grossing film of all time for a film produced in Australia.

When Ms Maslin originally read the book in 2001, she immediately was attracted to it’s possibilities as a feature film focusing on the themes of revenge and love and set in a 1950’s-era Australian bush town.

“Rosalie had absolutely no idea it would be published as it was her first novel and she had always been told writers of first novels never get them published, let alone it become a best seller!” she said.

“I read it and completely fell in love with the story and thought even though it was very exaggerated there was a kind of truth that sat underneath it.”   

Ms Maslin was intrigued by the plot describing a small-town community where everybody is more interested in the lives of others rather than accepting each is an individual with differing aspirations, but when there is an outside threat, all of the residents form a united front.

“In this instance, the outsider is one of their own who comes back with a bit of revenge on her mind,” she said.

Myrtle "Tilly" Dunnage, portrayed by Kate Winslett, has had a successful career as a dressmaker in London and Milan, and has returned home to care for her ailing mother and find the truth behind her exile blamed for a murder she never believed she committed.

“I loved the idea of the story, the fact the story rang true and I loved the visual possibilities of having those couture gowns in an outback setting,” Ms Maslin said. 

Determined by the ‘pure visual irony’ she approached Rosalie Ham about taking a film option, but it had already been taken.

It would be a further five years before she had the chance to make the film, still it was worth it.

The costumes on display at the Albury Library Museum until 31 March 2019 could be described as ‘high fashion in the bush!’.

“What we are looking at is costume, not as just dressing for the characters in a film … we are looking at costume as part of the story, part of the narrative,” Ms Maslin explained.

“It is really about how costumes and couture can be used as a weapon to get one’s ends met.”

Featuring the costume design of Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson, and curated by Marion Boyce the exhibition of 1950’s fashion impresses with faithful detail and masterful execution, with the feeling of being invited into the workroom of Tilly Dunnage.

As explained by Ms Maslin, the whole point of the costume exhibition is to allow people to get up close to the fabrics and the clothes and to get an appreciation not only of the artistry involved in making the clothes, but how the designs add to the story.

“It was tremendous fun collaborating with Marion,” she said.

Marion Boyce was her first choice for costume designer because of the work she had done on the brilliant 1920’s-vintage Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

“Marion is a perfectionist, she does a lot of research in order to get the right feel for the period and with this feel we are looking at Parisian-inspired couture,” Ms Maslin said.

“We had to have a costume designer who works with the actors and director so that the costumes reflect the story … the underlying theme of transformation that drives the narrative ... so it was quite an interesting and specialized role.”

Sue Maslin taking us through some of the costumes

Further to those costumes are those designed by Margot Wilson whose stylish designs for Tilly Dunnage (worn by Kate Winslet) are a major focus of the film.

“As you would expect of any couture designer, Tilly’s look is quite different to the outfits she designs for her clients,and Margot has crafted classic and elegant costumes in collaboration with Kate,” Ms Maslin said.

“For her part, Kate spent months learning to sew on the vintage 201K2 Singer sewing machine, which is also on display.”

One of the interesting points about the costumes worn in the film and reflecting the style of the 1950’s is that Ms Maslin said women of today could not wear them.

“In part our figures are different now, but the clothes can’t be worn without corsetry,” she said.

“It is all in the silhouette … we actually had to hand make all the corsetry for each actor so they could get the silhouette which reflected that era.”

More costumes with Sue Maslin

If you have seen the film, you couldn’t help but be captivated by the costumes, and Ms Maslin wants everyone to fall in love with them all over again through this wonderful exhibition.

“Yes,” she said.

“A dress can change everything!”

This story Period costumes on display first appeared on The Land.