What makes Romance Was Born so special? The Sydney-based label is one of those rare entities: even if it’s not your personal aesthetic, you have to admire the creativity, passion and imagination of its two designers, Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett.
They have acquired a whole new audience, no doubt, with their popular kids’ exhibition, Express Yourself, at the National Gallery of Victoria (go and see it before it closes – it’s excellent). People emerge from the exhibition like part of some wide-eyed cult: festooned in glittery tiaras, face sparkles and shimmering, self-made headbands.
Last night they made another magic space inside the NGV, transforming the Great Hall into a eucalyptus-scented slice of Australiana. The runway was festooned with leaves and flowers and the show inspired by and dedicated to the late, great author May Gibbs, whose children’s classic Snugglepot and Cuddlepie was read by a whole generation of Australian kids.
VIP entry, normally reserved for champagne quaffing corporates, was overrun by performers and dancers dressed as koalas, kookaburras, cockatoos, and characters from Snugglepot. It could have come off as kitsch, but instead it was delightful. The soundtrack in the foyer? The sounds of birds, chirping crickets, galahs and magpies.
Romance is a direct descendant of Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson, whose Flamingo Park boutique, which opened in Sydney’s Strand Arcade in the early 1970s, promoted all things kitschy Australian (Princess Diana was famously photographed wearing one of Kee’s knitted koala jumpers in the 1980s). Kee and Jackson sat front row last night, beaming as they watched their natural heirs take the baton and run with it.
The show opened with dancers wearing original costumes from the 1980s Australian Ballet version of Snugglepot. The collection, Bush Magic, featured all the classic Romance signatures, including strong styling, heavily painted faces, lots of props and adornments (gumnut hats, wattle bouquets). It’s the styling that makes a Romance show memorable, but strip away all the add-ons, and the clothes themselves are wonderful fun: digital-print bombers; cute, drop-waist dresses; elaborately patterned 1970s-style gowns; floral pyjama suits; beaded and jewel-encrusted dream dresses; lots of embellishment and surface texture.
What was left when it was all over? A tinsel-strewn runway, lots of happy faces and the lingering scent of eucalyptus in the air.