Recently I went to see the new Love, Desire and Riches: The Fashion of Weddings exhibition at Ripponlea (an old stately manor in the Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick). I was lucky enough to be able to attend a talk by designer Akira Isogawa and author and journalist Anna Johnson as well.
The wedding dress has become the piece of clothing that epitomizes the glamour moment that a woman may have only once in her life, if they don’t live the ‘red carpet’ lifestyle (which most of us don’t). This is why wedding dresses continue to be long dresses, rather than knee-length.
Celebrities spend more and more on wedding dresses. Did you know that Kim Kardashian spent $500 000 on her dress? Think it’s a new phenomenon? Well it’s not.
People in rural Victoria in the 19th Century would spend a years wages on a wedding gown, that they ordered from Paris
Once worn for the wedding, their dresses would be recycled and upcyled. They might take off the lace, or add sleeves to change the way the dress appeared and get more wear from it. They would pass it down to their daughters who also would wear it, though may change its construction some to make it their own.
The history of the white wedding dress is a short one. Did you know that red in medieval times was a favoured colour as it was seen as luxurious. White only became the common colour when Queen Victoria wanted to promote the British lace makers with her dress, and she chose to wear a white dress and others followed suit and it became the new normal colour to choose.
Asian brides continue to wear red wedding dresses as red is considered to be auspicious.
With the 1870s invention of the sewing machine, dresses became very embellished, as no longer did the whole dress have to be sewn by hand, instead they could use the machine to make the dress and could create more detail with the machine and only hand sew on decoration. Many families liked their brides to have a very complex and rich wedding dress as it showed their wealth and status in society.
Australian designer Akira Isogawa talked about his process of making wedding dresses. It normally takes 3 – 6 months to make an Akira dress.
What motivates him to make something new, is not about making more clothes, there are so many out there already, it must be refreshing and distinctive.
He originally found his inspiration in Japan, the vintage markets in Kyoto where he sources vintage kimono materials and obi. He collected them and brought them home and unpicked all 20 or 30 of them. They are very square, in construction. This he used as inspiration along with discovering that what lay within the structure of the kimono collar was a stiffening fabric which he used to make a structural strap. His early wedding dresses started as a very simple garment and have become more complex over time.
The design of the dress is governed by textile. Silk drapes beautifully which is why it is his fabric of choice, though some of his linings are a silk/cotton jacquard, or even a silk linen mix.
A woman can be herself on her wedding day in a dress that is original and an expression of her individual style.
Akira felt that pure white is too new, not loved or worn, so made tea dye, from English Breakfast tea, to soften the whites. He also makes coloured dresses, the red dress you see here is the final version of the paper toile dress that is made from 1970s Vogue patterns.
There are historically significant wedding dresses, costume wedding dresses, ones worn by princess and celebrities and Australian designer dresses in this exhibition. The dresses need to be seen up close, you just don’t see the opulence and the intricate work in them in photos.
Why do we love the wedding dress? Well along with it’s romance and the idea of a fantastic life being loved and cherished, it’s a
chance to dress up. When you look in your wardrobe you will probably find many clothes that are very similar, that you wear day to day. A wedding dress is unlike everything else you own.
I did notice that the unworn dress can become quite ghostly. There is definitely a haunted quality to them. This effect is definitely heightened by the atmosphere of Ripponlea.
Win a Double Pass
I’m lucky enough to have 4 double passes to give away to this great exhibition. To win, leave a comment about the most beautiful wedding dress you’ve ever seen on screen and why you love it.
The exhibition is open til 30 September and you can book tickets here
Anna Johnson is the author of: