The Age of Aquarius: The Fashion Museum

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This exhibition was a very strange experience for me. Seeing as I had not even been born during the period when the clothing on display was in fashion, it was something very unfamiliar to me. I had only ever seen the bright colours, the polyesters, the flares and the florals of this era in photographs and movies. “That 70’s show” comes to mind. However, I still found this exhibition to be exciting and very interesting; it brought the 70s to life more than an American sit-com ever could have. Although I could never see myself in any of the garments that were on display, there were nevertheless a lot of things I was drawn to.

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The exhibition was held in the glistening new geyser tower of glass and concrete on Parnell rise, nestled in an expansive showroom in the heart of the building. The opening of the exhibition saw large crowds of people mixed in amongst the mannequins and furniture. Many of the attendees had dressed to the theme and I found it difficult to tell who was living and who was a mannequin. I felt a little out of place wearing so much black, which has never happened to me at a fashion event. The exhibition was organised by the New Zealand Fashion Museum, which recently launched its online museum, with fashion designer turned fashion historian Doris de Pont at its head.

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Fashion has always been a structure which can be examined to reveal the economic, political and social structures of a particular period or era. The mannequins were accompanied by text which provided a context for the clothing. It described what was happening politically and socially, and how this was reflected in the clothing that people made and wore. The exhibition captures a period in New Zealand history when clothing hand-made or altered by the majority of the population, and fabrics stores lined the streets. I found that the historical context behind the clothing really brought the clothing to life. It was a New Zealand history lesson of post-war consumerism, social upheaval and idealogical shifts in the form of platforms, velvet, prints and embroidery.

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Blocks of text on the walls highlighted key designers of the time and expanded on the processes of production and retail. Although it was less than half a century ago, it seems like fashion system in New Zealand was so different from how it is now. Even though everything in the exhibition described a time far before my own, I still found it to be very relevant. The clothing and the historical context in which it sits informs how we think about clothing today. Sure there is a 40 odd year gap between now and then, but it explains a lot about New Zealand’s unique approach to clothing and clothing production as it now stands.

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The fashion museum has brought due recognition to a part of New Zealand and its history which is often looked past. Even if you don’t like the 70s and you don’t wear colour or polyester, I would still recommend going.

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Author: Steven Park

I live in Auckland and am currently doing my Honours in Fine Arts at Elam. I run a design label called "6x4", where I make clothing, furniture, home-ware and other exciting things. Say hello if you see me walking around! Read More

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