You’re standing in the foyer of the NGV. Head through one door, and you’ll immerse yourself in the world of French designer Jean Paul Gaultier; an adult playground where invention and freedom of expression is celebrated.
Through another portal you’ll enter the realm of two different fashion designers, with no less imagination. Launched on the same day as Gaultier, Express Yourself: Romance Was Born for Kids, is the new exhibition by Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett of the Sydney fashion label. Just like the “more is more” approach to the clothing they produce, this wonderland is overflowing with colour, sparkle and visual stimulation.
“I never felt ashamed to be myself or felt restricted by anything – or that I had to conform to anything,” says Sales. “Even these days, I don’t feel uncomfortable being different, so that was our initial theme. We thought we would work from our childhood memories and what it was that made us feel creative when we were kids.”
An entrance adorned with giant sequins welcomes you into the show, where there are disco balls hanging from the ceiling, walls lined with specially designed wallpaper and an intricately tiled floor.
Sales and Plunkett had free reign to choose pieces from the NGV’s collection, which they have artfully displayed beside nostalgic items from their childhoods. Paintings and early 20th-century Chinese fans hang beside swimming flippers and Milo tins.
Care Bears, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and My Little Ponies are among objects grouped by colour that collectively represent every hue of the rainbow.
Katie Somerville, curator of fashion and textiles at the NGV says, “Luke and Anna are well known for having a wonderfully immersive approach to how they present their collections and their parades, so this is about trying to capture elements of that.”
The space is divided into themed rooms such as The Tomb Room, which imagines an Egyptian mummy in her dressing room with spectacular wigs, jewellery and shoes. In The Creative Space, children can decorate cutout beards and necklaces with jewels and pom-poms. An interactive billabong in the Bush Magic room creates the illusion of rippling water that children can splash through and spot creatures swimming around in.
“All of the rooms have a very strong character to them that is reflected in Luke and Anna’s practice over the last 10 years,” says Somerville. “Bush Magic is a direct reference to their experience of growing up in regional Australia and to all of the wonderful Australiana, animal, flora and fauna references that have been in their work from the very beginning.”
Pieces from Romance Was Born’s past and present collections are featured together with examples of their creative inspirations, such as a koala knit by Jenny Kee. Audiences can also preview garments from their new collection, which is based on the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie stories by May Gibbs.
Alongside fashion items, there is work by artists including Del Kathryn Barton, Benja Harney and Kate Rohde, with whom Sales and Plunkett have previously collaborated.
Although Romance Was Born has always been considered an artistic fashion house, this exhibition highlights the creative vision and originality of its two designers.
“I think that whenever you take something off the runway and into a gallery space, it is always going to feel more like art,” says Sales. “I also think that what we do might sometimes make more sense in a gallery context because we are trying to communicate a story.”
As an adult, you can’t help being swept back into the realms of your childhood imagination, and watching kids experience it for themselves is pretty delightful.
Express Yourself: Romance Was Born for Kids is a free exhibition that runs until March 22 2015.