Australia’s Abstract Fashions

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Below are a few designers who took Aussie fashion into fabulous abstraction.

Mary Shackman (1960s- Today)

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Patchwork Coat by Mary Shackman (1965-1966), Powerhouse Museum

Textile artist Mary Shackman created pieces for some of the top fashion designers of the 1960s. Mary began designing and screenprinting textiles in 1965, and sold hand-painted and printed textiles to department stores, fashion designers and boutiques. Her work is noted for its emphasis on nature scenes in square and pixel shapes.

 

 

 

 

 

Jenny Kee (1960s- Today)

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Opal Designs, Jenny Kee via Jenny Kee.com

Fashion designer Jenny Kee also brought eye-catching patterns and colors to Australian fashion.

Kee was born in Bondi and got her start in fashion as a model. In 1965, she moved to England and became involved in the Swinging London scene. While in London, Kee sold bohemian and vintage clothing, including cast-off Diors, and Indian embroideries at the Chelsea Antique Market.

After London, Kee returned to Australia in the early 1970s and opened the boutique, Flamingo Park. She understood the importance of the then underlooked young female customer, a demographic that is a major focus today. Also during this time, Kee collaborated with fashion and textile designer Linda Jackson. Together the duo created colorful, fauna and flora printed knitted pieces made from pure Australian wool. One of the duo’s most noteworthy pieces was a knitted koala jumper worn by Lady Diana Spencer, who borrowed it from her then-husband Prince Charles while she was pregnant.

Kee’s own work recalls Australia’s modern art movement. According to her website, the designer draws inspiration from “a passion for nature, to reflect a “strong, spontaneous, bold and optimistic” Australia.” Kee also likes to infuse Aboriginal Australian motifs, Fair Isle patterns, and contemporary art with oversized silhouettes.

Although Kee based her business in Australia, her influence has reached all over the world. Her work has been featured in Vogue Italia and Women’s Wear Daily, and her Opal designs were used by Chanel in 1983.

Kee has had her work featured in numerous museum exhibitions and fashion collections, and she has garnered a number of awards. Today she continues her line through her online store and through a selected assortment of Australian retailers.

Linda Jackson (1970s- Today)

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“Bush Couture” by Linda Jackson, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne 

Just like Jenny Kee, fashion and textile designer Linda Jackson brought art to Australian fashion. Jackson is known for her store Bush Couture, which sought inspiration from Indigenous cultures around the world.

Jackson is considered a pioneer for not only exploring, but also highlighting, Australian cultures and nature. On her work, Jackson has said, “My rainbow of inspirations came from interpreting things I love the outback colors and shapes, the sea, music, the Opera House, leaves, colors in wildflowers and opals. One would progress into the next.”

Much of Jackson’s work includes Australian animals and plants overtop colorful and graphic prints. Her pieces were sold all over the world, including a store in LA owned by Aussie Olivia Newton. Now Jackson’s clothing can be found in art galleries and museum collections. The National Gallery in Canberra has the designer’s wildflower dresses and the Victorian National Gallery has some of Jackon’s opal and wildflower collections.

Bronwyn Bancroft (1980s)

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Cycle Of Life Opera Cape (1987) by Bronwyn Bancroft, Powerhouse Museum via IBM

Aboriginal fashion designer Bronwyn Bancroft began her design career with a shop in Sydney called Designer Aboriginals. There she sold her own clothing and textiles and staffed her store with Indigenous female students.

In 1987 Bancroft, designer Mini Heath, and Aboriginal artist Euphemia Bostock were invited to exhibit their designs in Paris for the Printemps’ Fashion Parade. The trio had young Aboriginal girls modeling their clothing and Bancroft showed her signature painted cloths.

Through telling stories and displaying symbols on traditional Western styles, Bancroft’s work is seen as a representation of a “contemporary perspective on the family, politics and the natural environment.” Bancroft now works as an artist and is known for her children books.

Katie Pye (1970s- 1990s)

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“Bran cusi” by Katie Pye (1981), Powerhouse Museum 

A Sydney native, Katie Pye has established herself as a fashion designer of self-expression. After holding her first fashion parade (fashion show) in the late 1970s, Pye’s work received critical acclaim and was a commercial success for years. Her pieces were sold in high-end boutiques and department stores.

During the 1980s, Pye’s aesthetic mirrored modern Australian art, which combined abstract shapes with classic references. Pye’s pieces are now prized possessions of an experimental time in Australian fashion and can be seen in museum collections across the country.

For more information about Australian fashion designers during this time, check out The Fashion Archives.org, the Powerhouse Museum and or one of the country’s many other fashion museums.

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