Review: ‘Dressed’ presented by Claire Regnault

Review: ‘Dressed’ presented by Claire Regnault

A series of slides that ultimately became part of the presentation positioned a different time and place for us as we entered the room. The scene was set for strong women making businesses from their fashion skills and interests. This underpinned the research and rigour of Claire Regnault’s work to bring us a book with a different focus but with a strong historical impact in New Zealand. My favourite was “ even women here wear strong shoes”. A great colonial statement!

Claire Regnault  introduced her talk which was to relate to her book DRESSED:  Fashionable dress in Aotearoa New Zealand 1840-1910. She had picked themes in the development of clothing here through seven decades and she related these to the Te Papa textile and fashion collection that currently has over 60.000 pieces in it.  Claire’s passion for discovery and detail was clear as she spoke of the provenance and provided a fascinating narrative round the collection. Claire said that she was virtually a hermit for three years while she wove the threads that went into writing the book. She clearly relished the research and presents a very handsome book as her result.

Very close to home was the story of Mary Taylor – Waring Taylor’s sister who opened a shop on the corner of Cuba and Dixon Streets. Fabric, fashion, accessories and advice made a successful business for Mary and set the scene for others . Milne & Choyce in Auckland, Ballantyne’s in Christchurch and our own Kirkaldie & Stains all provided anecdotes and stories of intrepid and strong women making successful businesses in fashion for their clientele. I remember my grandmother well and the alterations and dressmaking personal services she extolled at Kirks! The use of feathers and taxidermy fashion items was rather horrifying to us in 2021. How times change. Pictures of albatross feather muffs and feet handbags made by Elizabeth Liardet and other Kiwi-feathered items  drew gasps from the audience of today but were an export item and highly prized in 1873.

The book is in themed sections and Claire declared her favourite to be ‘Weddings’ . Much research to identify the families and to provide identities for those in the  pictures had clearly been very satisfying for Claire.  The photographs and stories chosen in the Fancy Dress section really interested me and the extent of European influence on ideas and execution was amazing.

The book was available at the talk and I bought one to read and to delve into. Much to discover and look forward to. Much that is relevant to us and fascinating to delve into.

This was a talk that sent us all searching – exactly want we want from these close encounters with Te Papa. Thanks to the Friends of Te Papa for the organisation and hospitality.  I will certainly be advocating for a full exhibition from the Fashion and Textiles Collection. Thank you Claire.

Deirdre Tarrant

Feature image: Detail from: Sketch of the performance played on board “HMS Galatea” (the audience seen from the stage)., 1869, by Nicholas Chevalier. Purchased 1975 with Special Government Grant. Te Papa (1975-0001-4)