On July 13th with bubbles flowing and glasses clinking David Maskill introduced us to Dr Peter McNeil, currently Distinguished Professor of Design History at University of Technology Sydney, for his first lecture in the series ‘Fashion Matters: Fashion, Art & Society’, and coincidentally his first visit to Wellington. Dr McNeil poses questions to us such as the classic chicken and egg; did women become modernised and influence dress or did the modernised dress influence women? Accompanied by a series of stunning images featuring clothing, art and photography Peter explores, with fascinating stories, the interactions between art forms and fashion throughout history.

Fashion is often associated with women and youth, however fashion in recent times has become democratised and throughout history men’s fashion has constantly shifted and changed the perception of the male shape and social interests alongside women. Peter takes us through the initial baring of legs by men in the 15th century, to the extremity of textile use as a display of wealth as illustrated in the wonderful painting by Van Dyke ‘The Arnolfini Wedding’, 1434.

Artists helped women in particular break through barriers of expected dress and the silhouettes they were forced into. Interesting factoid: Du Pont used to manufacture gunpowder but shifted to making Lycra at the time women stopped wearing corsets, a wise business decision I think.  An example of an artist who helped showcase women’s changing outlooks was Bouldini who loved to paint fashion.

Dr McNeil does a fantastic job of showing the ability of fashion throughout the ages to utilise new technologies and push the boundaries of societal acceptability. He particularly highlighted the Pacific Sisters exhibition in Te Papa (just closed, sorry all!) as being thoroughly enjoyable and ground-breaking in this area.

Dr McNeil promises to come back next time in more colourful dress (wearing black at this event), so I’m voting for something tastefully (a 18th century term) botanical to match next month’s lecture, and so we invite you come and share in this chic (a 19th century term) occasion with us on august 24th. Book your tickets here and we look forward to seeing you then.