Madeline’s second time around – a story about a dress.

the original dress

the original dress

Would you wear an old dress to your wedding? It’s not that unusual. Once upon a time, resourceful women kept their wedding dresses for future uses. They often shared them with their sisters, daughters and extended family for weddings or special occasions.

This is the story of a dress that came out of the dark and sparkled again.

Newly engaged, Brit was intrigued when her fiancé’s Aunt Wendy asked her if she’d like to have a look at an old family wedding dress.

Wendy came around to see her with an ordinary looking plastic bag in her hand. In an instant, she transformed into the Fairy Godmother –

“The dress came out of the bag with a whoosh of silk organza! It was like discovering Cinderella’s gown in the dressing up box. ” Brit

She was enchanted, yes the silk organza was a little worn and tired in some places and there were age stains, but there was something about it. She tried it on. It didn’t quite fit like Cinderella’s shoe but she thought that it could be let out a bit here and there. Although Brit loved vintage she wasn’t aiming at a faithful re-creation. She decided she needed an expert. After searching for Instagram vintage wedding hashtags she found Dinah from Pearl Button bridal. Dinah was intrigued and they arranged to meet. Brit was in Orange, and Dinah’s Pearl Button studio was five hours away on the South Coast of NSW. Luckily for Brit, Orange is one of Dinah’s favourite places to visit, with its fabulous wineries, food and gardens. No encouragement needed Dinah hit the road. Brit and Dinah met in Orange’s famous Bynge St Store surrounded by busy chatter and the delicious smells of roasted coffee. There was an instant rapport between the two of them.

“Brit was petite with an enormous bubbly personality and her enthusiasm for this dress was infectious,” Dinah remembers

Brit showed Dinah the dress (still in the plastic bag). It was crushed, and stained in a few places, and some of the silk panels had shattered. Dinah could see it was a beauty. She held the dress up (by this stage they had a bit of an audience) its full skirts swished satisfyingly and the petalled bodice was charming.

“It was love at first sight and I wanted to know all about it” Dinah recalls

We talked for ages about its history and Brit’s ideas for it. Everything about the dress was captivating, including the label, Madeline Newport, and Jan Dolph-Jones who had worn it sixty years ago. Brit entrusted Dinah with the dress and mindful of the enormous responsibility she took it back to her studio in Milton.

It’s all in the details – silk bias trim and handmade bows and roses.

It’s all in the details – silk bias trim and handmade bows and roses.

Dinah sketched up some ideas using Brit’s Pinterest inspiration as a guide. Together they decided to re-work and up-date the dress to make it more contemporary. The original neckline was quite high and not very flattering on Brit. Dinah decided more decolletage was needed and to add a lace halter neck to the dress. A fifties style colorful tulle petticoat was added for fun and volume. Unpicking the bodice and re-modeling it was painstaking and exacting.  A  new silk organza was carefully matched to replace the damaged panels. A vintage blue tulle was found for the petticoat and Dinah made tiny silk bows and roses to decorate the border, trimming it with contrasting satin bias. Brit’s fun approach to her wedding was everywhere in the details.

During the re-design process, Dinah spent a lot of time researching the original designer and couturier Madeline Newport, mostly ending up down the rabbit hole.

The day came for the final fitting there were lots of smiles all around. And then the dress finally travelled back to Orange for another special day in its history.

pearl button bridal re-fashioned wedding gown

Brit

“I was told many times that my dress was the best wedding dress they had ever seen and was so me. I could not have been prouder. Thank you from the bottom of my heart”

The dress has now been worn at two Alexander family weddings, survived three generations and because of its careful re-imagining will go onto become a treasured heirloom in the new family of Brit and Rhys. It took Brit’s vision and Dinah’s design and construction skills to realize potential of this old dress.

“ The beauty of working with a vintage dress is a way of continuing traditions and our links to the past and we can take a gentle approach to the environment by using the resources we already have,” Dinah

“Working on the dress was a great honour and I’m now part of its history. Pearl Button’s label now sits side-by-side with Madeline’s. But the best part was meeting Brit, her lovely family, and her kelpie Shane.”

And next time I’m in Orange we’ll catch up!



What does it mean to be an accredited ethical clothing brand?

Last year I went through the process of becoming accredited with Ethical Clothing Australia. For a very small business like mine where all the manufacturing is done in-house, it was a relatively simple process. I had to provide information about my supply chain, receive representatives from the TCFUA  for a site visit, and sign stat declarations. During the process, I met some wonderful people and connected with others from a distance. I am now part of a larger network of people and businesses committed to ethical clothing production – this is important to me. It’s easy to feel isolated and disconnected from the wider discourse about human rights in the clothing industry as a sole trader. My business Pearl Button Bridal is founded on very strong ethical and environmental principals, I’ve been concerned with these issues all my life, my Masters’ thesis ‘Unfashionable Discourse’ discussed the uncomfortable position of fashion and its inherent need for change with issues of sustainability.

When I started my business 5 years ago I wanted to create wedding dresses that were made beautifully from beautiful fabrics making them more likely to be valued and treasured as future heirlooms. I also wanted them to be made free from the misery of sweatshops. This has usually meant that I have sweated over the dresses myself, but it’s my business and I can put down the needle whenever I feel like it.  It’s my choice if I want to work late into the night on a project. Plus I’m getting paid appropriately for my skills and output. Being part of Ethical Clothing Australia means being transparent in your supply chain. It means that workers in the garment industry are supported, that they have rights which means living wages, good working conditions, access to things that most of us in Australia take for granted. As most garments available to buy in Australia are not made here this transparency in the supply chain is vitally important in understanding who is doing the right thing by their workers and who is not. If you go to Ethical Clothing Australia’s website you can see the labels that are accredited. I’m very proud to be in such great company as Australian labels like Cue, Carla Zampatti, Manning Cartell, RM Williams etc.

Check out the full list of accredited Australian labels at the Ethical Australia website

It is not easy to have a transparent supply chain when you are a large business and all credit must go to these labels for their efforts in this area. When you think about the conditions that garment workers often toil under these efforts should be applauded and supported.

Check out some of the organisations below that are working hard to make a difference in the Fashion industry.

What are some of your favourites?

Pineapples and pincers waste not

Pinatex+fibre+jacket

The fibre of the future will waste not

Pinatex pineapple fibre jacket

Things are really moving along in the sustainable and ethical fashion sphere and we have to give thanks to @legacyfashion @mrspress and @rawassembly for doing it. It takes a whole lot of dedication and passion to get these events happening and happen they did. The after-buzz is palpable. I’m excited and I know that everyone else is too. And if that isn’t enough we’re also excited to share what we learnt with everyone that’s willing to listen – and those that aren’t.

What do pineapple waste and crab shells have to do with fashion?

You might order your beautiful Pinatex pineapple fibre jacket online and it might arrive in a compostable bag made from crustacean waste - that’s what.

Who isn’t excited by the idea of pineapple fibre Pinatex and packaging made from hospitality refuse in the form of crustacean shells? The biggest take out as a designer is a feeling of comradeship. It is not often that fashion and sharing go hand-in-hand. But this is what’s happening. It’s because we are true believers. We truly believe that there are alternative models in design, business, fibres, fabrics, finishing, construction, delivery packaging – the list goes on. The Legacy fashion summit was about big picture ideas and the raw assembly showcase gives us the tools to achieve them. I saw and handled some amazing silks that I want to use in my garments.

We’re willing to share this information because we know that sharing benefits everyone on this planet. So hurrah to the organisers of these events and their dedication to the cause! Check out their websites for some of the incredible presenters and suppliers that were there from Outland denim to Carapac, there’s lots to be excited about!

Style is everything .... Style is a way of life

I recently watched the documentary ‘The Eye Has To Travel’, about Diana Vreeland’s extraordinary life in fashion.
The documentary makes much of Diana Vreeland’s looks. There are many references to how plain she was and how this affected her confidence as a woman. She mentions early on that her mother called her extremely ugly. Although the images we see of her as a child don’t bear this out and It is implied that her ‘plainness’ was a driving force in her ambition to be the best and which took her to the top as an editor of Harpers Bazaar and Vogue.

Our eyes haven’t traveled very far if this is what we are thinking.
Like other amazing women such as Dorothy Parker and Coco Chanel she is famous for her witty quotes.

‘A racehorse has a little extra pizazz’

‘The best thing about London is Paris!

One of the most quoted is

‘style is everything’…style is a way of life, without it, you’re nobody.

Her sense of style was the reason she landed a job at Harper's Bazaar writing a column called -Why don’t you? Why don’t you get a finger -length leopard skin cape to wear over your country tweeds… and other practical information during the Great Depression.

It was Diana Vreeland’s strong individual style that kept her at the forefront of fashion, dictating and predicting style throughout the decades. She is credited with launching the careers of many famous models, including Twiggy, and Verushka, and capturing the zeitgeist of a generation. She called it the ‘youthquake’. It takes a special canniness to predict the look of the moment, encompassing social mores, attitude and posture, mood and look, understanding something much more than hem lengths and widths.

As an older woman, coy phrase I know, my eyes are peeled for professional women who keep working in spite of their age. There is so much importance placed on youth and the insistence of youthful beauty in our society for women.

It is easy to become depressed, as you get older about your working life and the prospects open to you.  Like Diana Vreeland I cannot imagine not working. There are many older women working into their 70’s and 80’s but largely they go unnoticed.

Diana Vreeland was passionate and her passion for life and fashion inspired all around her.
At 69 years old after being sacked from Vogue she became the director of Moma’s Costume Institute bringing her style energy and vision to this role.

Diana Vreeland worked with a heady mix of people, some of the world’s greatest photographers, models, stylists and designers. She knew how to direct people to create drama and theatre. Fascinating footage shows her at work interacting with women generations younger than herself without fear of being uncool.

Diana Vreeland’s fashion was the sort that excites with its creativity. It wasn’t about the clothes but how you wore them and in what context.

‘A new dress doesn’t get you anywhere it’s the life you’re living in the dress’

Diana Vreeland reminds me of Dickens’s Miss Haversham, Imperious… a grand Dame to be feared and obeyed. She admired professionalism, talent, creativity and uniqueness. Although she died in the late 80’s she still remains inspirational to many women looking for role models out there in the boring land of the suit and blue tie.

Native

Let's see a change and be inspired

Beautiful banksia and kangaroo paw textile print

Perusing the pages of one of my favourite Australian magazines, Frankie, I am often disappointed that our amazing native flora and fauna are often overlooked for Northern hemisphere colonialism choices. 

Young Australian designers need to look more in their own "backyard" for inspiration. I teach at a design school and I am always amazed at the lack of what is local that is represented in the students’ works. There are no possums, koalas, wallabies, potoroos, quolls, bandicoots…. etc to be seen. Instead we are presented with Northern hemisphere creatures foxes, rabbits, deer and bears, all well and good in their rightful habitat.
And as for textile prints that feature florals it is only a brave few designers that stand out, Cloth is one, that uses banksias, waratahs etc. They are not afraid to stand up and stand out, to use the amazing diversity and uniqueness found in the Australian continent, to carve out a niche in an ever increasingly blandly designed world….

Return of the Handmade

For those of us who make a living from making beautiful things by hand, the resurgent interest in the handmade and artisan is a good thing.

It is possible if you are not skilled in making things by hand perhaps someone in your family was. Maybe your mother knitted or your Grandmother crocheted or embroidered? If you are lucky and haven’t been subjected to the scourge of the purge where old things were thrown out to make way for the new and mass-produced, you might have some of these pieces left?
I have a few things of my grandmothers, a favourite is a linen tablecloth embroidered with budgies. And I have a dress that my mother made for my 9th Birthday. It is a lovely delicate cotton replete with trumpet sleeves, piped hems and lovely beaded detail. Do you remember having clothes made for you? Remember how the fabric was produced and then miraculously became a garment?  My mother was very fashionable and her ideas were forward thinking. I had a mustard coloured mini skirt with matching vest while all the other little girls around me were in predominantly pink ballet skirt dresses. (I was secretly envious of their prettiness.)

These domestic skills were nothing out of the ordinary back in the day but today they command oohs and aahs of amazement and following by

"did you make that? Wow, that’s amazing you are so clever."

This new fascination with the handmade stems from the  fact that we don’t make anything ourselves anymore. It is similar to our collective fascination with cooking and culinary skills. We live in a society and culture based on production of raw resources and providing services…there are not many products apart from food these days that we make. It is almost like a new arts and crafts movement, the original Art nouveau movement  was a reaction against the ugliness of the industrial revolution, so this nouvelle arts and crafts movement is a reaction against the unreal and intangible, a consequence of the internet.  Tumblr and instagram are full of images of handmade items salvaged from vintage and junk shops, and flea markets. But these products exist in the ether, they are not tangible.

There are courses where you can make the things that we often made as part of school classes, candles, aprons and tie-dye bits and pieces. They have become fashionable again,attached to the nostalgia of our childhood.  There are knitting groups that meet in pubs. The once daggy is now cool.  Just spend a few hours trawling etsy and you will be convinced hat the world is turning its back on mass production and is embracing the quaint, quirky and whimsical…but I’m forgetting that the population of the world is now 7 Billion and my perspective is not everyone’s…

I lost my mother at age 9 and that vital connection to those skills, but fortunately she had instilled a fascination and interest in the handmade that has never left me and has become an important part of my life. I saw that she valued these old pieces and I learnt from her. There are still lengths of fabric in my collection that must be 60 years old or more just waiting for the right moment to be made into something special. A fine piece of wool tweed, hand dyed slubby silk, hand beaded evening crepe. Hanging on to these kinds of things can be called hording but it can also be called resourcefulness.

What do you think?

Braided and Beaded

Dressing up in old wedding dresses is fun, even if you are wearing inappropriate footwear. Yes that is the toe of a converse peeping out from under the hem as beautifully modeled by my daughter Lena.

This vintage dress was made by hand. No label to reference but the handiwork is all over it. A lining attached by hand and a Cleopatra type braided and beaded decorative neckline. The dress is made of a heavy crepe and hangs stunningly.  The beauty shines through without the clutter so many brides prefer today.

Pearl Button cleopatra dress

Love Vintage Fair Finds

I found some vintage collars at the Love Vintage Fair in Sydney. They are delicate, the fabric and yarn has yellowed with age and there are charming quirks like small pulls and runs. All signs of true vintage beauty being worn and pre-loved. All the more they were hiding in a huge pile of doilies and napkins at one of the stalls. It was very exciting pulling them out one by one of the lucky dip.
Collars were made like this so that they could be laundered and finished separately and attached to garments when necessary. Lost arts, drawn thread work, embroidery, lace-making, lace insertion were skills used to make them. Quiet skills that don’t require machines, just an idea and old, old techniques.

Replacing a collar was a way to extend the life of a garment and create a new look for a dress, a shirt or a jacket. It could transform by hiding worn edges, stains, add interest to, and represent a new mode. It was also a way to wear your skills, so that they could be appreciated outside of the home (not just relegated to doilies). These collars would have framed the faces of the women and girls that wore them, drawing attention to their faces.

Pearl Button drop collar
Pearl Button work collar
Pearl Button sailor collar
Pearl Button net lace collar

Ikebana

My Aunty Pat had a great eye for beauty and style and made lovely domestic interiors for her family to enjoy.

One of the many creative things she did was flower arranging. Pat was influenced by Ikebana and I wish that I had taken the time to appreciate her work better. My lovely neighbor Dottie also practices Ikebana and produces exquisite arrangements, small unassuming elegant combinations of  plants, a flower, a stem, a leaf. They are an extension of her beautiful poetry.

Dottie lent me some old postcards that a friend gave her of  Ikebana.
Aren't they beautiful!

Ikebana postcard 1
Ikebana postcard 2

Carrickmacross

Pearl Button Crystal Veil

a sprinkling of crystals along the edge gave this wisp of a veil the weight it needed

Carrickmacross  is a beautiful Irish form of lace which is made by darning into net fabric which creates opaque areas against the transparency of the net.

I have been playing around with this idea in a much less intricate and  (skilled) way. There are lots of possibilities with this technique … for this veil I overlaid lines of hand stitching along the edge with an a sprinkling of crystal beads. This gave the wisp of the veil the weight it needed. To finish off the veil I roughly snipped the raw edge below it.

There are some great websites that specialize in information on this beautiful fabric. You can find out more about it here.