If you move past the cliché of ugly jumpers on Etsy and terracotta-coloured wallpaper, the 1970s left us with some truly iconic and enduring fashion moments.
The chastity belt of 1960s conservatism was thrown off in favour of colour, pattern and flair – both in the literal and metaphorical senses. It wasn’t just about wider pant legs, wider and deeper V-neck shirts; the sartorial breaking of ground was symptomatic of a broader shift in culture, from uniformity to individual expression.
This cultural shift is exactly what National Trust of Australia curator Elizabeth Anya-Petrivna wanted to explore in the Super 70s exhibition, a large-scale fashion showcase at Melbourne’s historical Rippon Lea Estate. Digging into the archives of the National Trust’s extensive costume collections, Anya-Petrivna realised just how much contemporary resonance the era still has – and just how riotously fun such an exhibition could be.
“When I first started digging around [the National Trust] collections, I just loved the loud prints, the pattern on pattern, the synthetics,” Anya-Petrivna tells Broadsheet. “So I thought, ‘Let’s do two things at once’. We used our collection but I also wanted to see what else was out there – maybe use it as a chance to get some acquisitions – so we did a public call out, and also approached some of the designers themselves.”
The resulting exhibition contains outfits from some of the decade’s most iconic Australian designers, such as Prue Acton, Clarence Chai, Jenny Bannister, Sally Browne and JAG’s Adele Palmer.
“One of the highlights for me was working with some absolute legends of Australian fashion, like Clarence Chai,” Anya-Petrivna says. “He’s such an important figure in Australian fashion and queer history; he dressed people like Debbie Harry, so he was up there in the stratosphere. One of the most amazing loans was a yellow 1930s evening gown he lent us. He wore this gown to the Arts Ball, which was such an important part of the ’70s in Melbourne.”
As well as bringing in designer stock, Anya-Petrivna raided people’s wardrobes. “There was one lady who kept all of her Prue Acton. It was a full Prue Acton archive. You really get a glimpse of how personal it is. The fact people could remember pretty specific stories about how the fabric was sourced or where they wore it is testament to how personal some of these items are. I’ve woven these stories in where I’ve been able to, and where there’ve been very distinct stories.”
To add to the authenticity, Anya-Petrivna worked with stylist Marc Wasiak, who created what she describes as “David Bowie, Life on Mars” make-up for the mannequins.
She also created mixtapes of ’70s hits; during one portion of the exhibition, visitors get to choose their own soundtrack as they wander through the temporary retro wonderland that is Rippon Lea Estate right now.
As the cherry on top of the cake, a theme-appropriate program of events has been created to accompany the exhibition, including a record fair, car show, and “Disco Inferno” – a unique chance to shake your groove thing in the Rippon Lea ballroom.
Super 70s runs from July 27 to November 4 at Rippon Lea Estate, 192 Hotham Street, Elsternwick.