I’m back studying 3 days a week at the moment, which means that I am feeling the urge to procrastinate. I’m not sure why the two go together – I’m enjoying the study so far – but whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing, you can guarantee that I’m doing something else. And the something else very rarely involves work, either. You’d think by now I would have managed to play off my two main causes of procrastinating against each other. But no. So, instead of reading about cultural material conservation, like a good little masters candidate, I’m wondering how to start a museum of fashion in Australia. As far as I know, there is nothing of the kind already.
It might be that I was inspired from my travels through the UK last year during the lost months of blogging, and just how many places there are for a costume nerd to visit. Everywhere from Killerton House, in the wilds of Devon, to the V & A in London, or the civilised Museum of Costume in Bath. And that’s without moving off a single train line. After I dragged an uncomplaining friend through 2 weeks of clothing historicism – complete with dress ups, which were photographed but will never, ever be shared with anyone who wasn’t there – I was very upset at the lack of similar enjoyment opportunities at this end of my flight. That was after I got over, or at least accepted, the terrible quality of almost every photo I took on the trip. Camera shaking in excited hands, where you can’t use a flash? Leads to blur, reflection, and frustration. Guess which picture from this post was taken by me. A quick google search both before and after my trip led to disappointment on all sides. There are a couple of private collections which are occasionally open for viewing; there are touring exhibitions, like the Edward Steichen exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria – worth a trip for anyone in Melbourne, just to marvel at the beading on the exquisite 1920s evening wear if nothing else – but there is nothing more permanent. And this made me sad. Australian fashion history is neither long nor, according to some, terribly illustrious. But it is being lost. The online Australian Dress Register is probably the closest we have to a permanent display. It suggests that there are collectors out there, and that there is enough interest for people to have begun a digital record of what is held in private hands. It is a missed opportunity to let it slide.
So, while I put off finishing a reading about the need for uncertainty in conservation, I’ve been daydreaming and finding ways to spend millions of dollars. And that was before it occurred to me to check fashion and costume auction listings… As a semi-employed student, there’s no hope of me ever realising this particular day dream. But a girl can dream. And in the mean time, she can procrastinate some more looking into funding and finding the perfect building to house it…and making lists of potential acquisitions…and drooling over photos… and, in short, anything that isn’t what she is supposed to be doing.
I was out and about in Melbourne Town on Saturday night, catching up with a girlfriend I hadn’t seen in what turned out to be a couple of months. We know, we sat down to work it out. Horrified at the thought, we decided to cram a few nights out into one so, from our Gin Palace beginnings – Singapore Slings and Pink Ladies all round – we headed to dinner at Alexanders (turns out the Sensational Steak Sandwich is, in fact, sensational. Even if only half of the sandwich is steak and the other half is pork. But I digress) before finishing up at a venue I’ve been meaning to try for an eternity but never seem to get to. Seamstress.
You can see why I’m bringing it up here. A former textile warehouse, it shows its history in at least a superficial way that I found both intriguing and depressing. It is essentially just another one of Melbourne’s many bars, hidden upstairs for cocktails or downstairs for Sweatshop – the place of beers and DJs – or food in between. The twist is that they have festooned the roof of the upstairs area with child-size cheong sams, and a couple of the tables are in fact old industrial sewing machines. As much as I loved the art on the walls (excellent use of industrial sized reels of many-coloured sewing thread), I was appalled to find that the machines appeared to be in working order.
Or they would have been if needles and belts hadn’t been removed to make them safe for drunk people to be around. Turning the wheels by hand, however, the feed dogs still moved, much to the delight of one girl seated at a mid-twentieth century Singer. I couldn’t get close to the Jones machine to check it out as well, but if it also worked, I couldn’t help but think what a waste it was. These machines have done the hard yards. They are the work horses of the clothing industry, and they are often still cited as machines used by current professionals. They don’t die. Ever. And as someone with a yen for machines, I feel that they deserve better than to be put through the indignities of drunken people sprawling on them. In short, I believe that they deserve to be taken home by a loving wanna-be seamstress and put to the use that they were intended for. Architect Louis Kahn may have advocated a design approach of “Ask a brick what it wants to be”, but I prefer “ask a machine what it wants to sew”. To be blunt, these machines deserve to be owned by someone who can appreciate them for what they do, not for tenuous links to a history open for exploitation.
That said, the moderately over-priced cocktails at the bar were tasty (silver fizz, anyone?). The ambiance was cosy, the early-mid twentieth century jazz soundtrack just right. The bartenders were aloof rather than friendly, but the – not sure what to call him really, maitre’d? concierge? seating arranger? anyhoo – boy buzzing around like a blue-arsed fly was exceedingly friendly and almost made up for them. I will probably be back to this bar. But I refuse to be as enthralled by it as others have been. It’s the principle of the thing. Wasting good sewing machines on a bar. Hmph.