Saturday, September 18, 2010

'Looking Terrific: The Story of El Jay'

On Friday I went on a little lunchtime outing with some lovely ladies I used to work with. I like to call them the 'sew fashionable' ladies because they all sew, love Project Runway, and are generally stylish babes.

We went to the New Zealand Fashion Museum's first pop-up exhibition, 'Looking Terrific: The Story of El Jay' that's currently on at Kirkaldie and Stains. It was a small but perfectly formed (I love that description of things) exhibition of about 20 outfits from the 1940s to the 1980s designed under the New Zealand label 'El Jay'. Lead by Gus Fisher, El Jay held the exclusive New Zealand license to manufacture and sell Christian Dior originals and Christian Dior pret a porter to the New Zealand market for 34 years, so there were some very chic little numbers.

What I liked most about the exhibition was that the little cards beneath each item/ensemble described their history and often had little anecdotes from the owners. It was a great example of how clothing can be an access point into social history and how a certain dress or coat can hold such strong memories for people.

Some were a bit sad - the cerise coloured coat you can see to the left of the blue outfit above was acommpanied by a card that said it was bought as a 'going away' outfit for a woman for her honeymoon. The marriage was a 'particularly unhappy one' and she destroyed most of the photos from the time so she doesn't have any of her wearing the outfit, but she couldn't bring herself to get rid of the outfit itself.

The outfit on the left was described as a 'leisure suit' which was 'perfect for entertaining at home'. We decided that if any of us opened the door to someone in that they'd think we were wearing our pyjamas to dinner.

I loved this blue dress. The colour is great and it's simple but not at all plain. I want it!

The mannequins were perfect; some of them were the old fashioned ones with jaunty poses, haughty looks, and 'real' eyelashes. We also had the pleasure of the live Kirkaldies piano player tinkling away as we looked around.

This was my favourite little description though, it made me imagine a sturdy woman feeding pigs on a farm in Otago in the 1950s wearing gumboots and her rusty coloured woollen El Jay coat.

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