Toni Maticevski Dark Wonderland
If there’s one thing I love above all else when it comes to sewing, it’s the never ending challenges this hobby presents. No matter how many new skills you master, hurdles you clear or challenges you kick to the curb – there’s always something new to master. There’s always so much more to learn. We got a pretty damn stark reminder of this the other day, when we trekked out to the country to see Toni Maticevski Dark Wonderland at the Bendigo Gallery. Seeing all of those couture dresses in their up-close total gobsmacking gorgeousness was a truly humbling reminder that WE KNOW NOTHING!! At all.
Toni Maticevski is a bit of a national treasure for we Australians – he’s arguably our most world famous designer right now. As well as being known for his amazing, slightly gothic sculptural gowns, the feather-light touch of his drapery and his wrangling of high-tech fabrics like neoprene into classically feminine gowns; he’s also renowned for being humble and nice; and most endearingly, he’s chosen through most of his two-decade career to remain based in his hometown of Melbourne (yay). It gave me a little kick to realise that the dresses in the exhibition that had been worn by the likes of, you know, Kim Kardashian and Princess Mary, were all hand-made in the Maticevski base across town in Yarraville, a suburb known for its nearby freeways, factories and fondness for concrete. Who needs Paris or New York when all of that creative energy is right here in the inner west? No wonder we love him so.
The exhibition itself is a lovely mix of one-off gowns from the last decade or so, ready to wear pieces, costumes from collaborations with various ballet companies, jewellery, notebooks, sketches, and short films with interviews and insights into the creative process behind the dresses. I don’t really speak the language of fashion very coherently so I’m not going to try to describe in too much detail what we saw – the photos (and professional reviewers) do it so much better.
But a few pieces really stood out for us: the red neoprene gown was basically the most elegant scuba suit you could ever imagine. The yellow ‘doona dress’ made a puffy quilted yellow bed cover into the loveliest, shapeliest sculpture of a dress. The silk organza panel top that looks like a stained glass window (but appears so light it couldn’t survive more than a single wear without disintegrating in your hands). The gorgeous array of dove-grey, heavily draped dresses. The yellow striped two-piece with a twisted, flared detail on the shoulders that I couldn’t work out, no matter how long I stared. Peplums, corset bodices, exposed zippers, feathers and other lovely fluffiness.
The other real stand-out for me was the interviews with Matieveski in the short films looping on screens throughout the exhibition (you can see one here). He had some really interesting insights into a creative process that sees two collections happening in his head at any time; the continuity and connections between and through each collection; using high tech fabrics to bring a darker edge to really gorgeous, feminine dresses, which he describes as ‘making pretty a little bit more aggressive’, and his less-is-more approach to colour: ‘I’m not one for layers of colour, or overdoing colour…I just kind of get offended by it sometimes.’ Me too, Toni. Me too.
As I mentioned earlier, seeing these pieces up close was a masterclass reminder of everything we don’t know and can’t do when it comes to sewing. From a humble home-sewers’ perspective, we took home a heap of inspiration and a couple of little lessons: Don’t be afraid of hand-stitching, it’s so worth it. Experiment with stitch length on lighter fabrics – the machine stitching on the tiny hems and details of those featherweight, floaty dresses was insanely neat and so, so small. Have fun with exposed zippers. Give neoprene a go – it really can be anything. And psssst – the master uses a Janome.