The Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Fashion Gift at NGV

By Joanna Elena Batsakis

This piece was written as part of the Fashion Writing Program 2019

Curiously, when one first walks into the Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Fashion Gift Exhibition, one does not immediately see any archival couture items but a row of vintage Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue Magazines dating back to 1918. On each cover, there are deliciously divine and mystical fashion illustrations that showcase female models in a variety of dreamy situations; there is a model walking a Dalmatian in a private garden, another watches a rainstorm with a young child while wearing a lime green kimono, a different cover has a woman dancing over a white cloud.

On the opposite wall and inside a glass case, three sculptural evening bags by Dolce and Gabbana eagerly await a glance from museum spectators. When I describe these evening bags as ‘sculptural’ I mean this in the most literal sense; one bag looks like a ceramic vase filled with red roses, another is a golden rectangular cube with a glass front that has an in-built light display with green and red flashing lights directed onto a small Cherub figurine. The combination of the archival fashion magazines and the Dolce and Gabbana evening bags organised together in the same space might turn the spectator’s expectations about this exhibition upside down. Walking into Krystyna Campbell-Pretty’s universe, the space demands that one immediately engages in an internal dialogue about the growing importance of archival resources within museums today, in particular, the growing significance of archiving fashion research collections.  


Installation view of The Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Fashion Gift at NGV International. Photo: Tom Ross


The NGV Fashion and Textiles collection has benefited from a truly significant donation by the leading philanthropist Krystyna Campbell-Pretty since 2015. The Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Collection was first acquired by the NGV from 2015 with the support and in memory of her late husband Harold Campbell-Pretty. Extraordinarily diverse in its scope, the collection comprises of 250 garments from Parisien haute couture and international fashion houses (from Chanel to Yves Saint Laurent, Elsa Schiaparelli, Dior, Balenciaga and Christian Lacroix) and designer workbooks and sketches, studio drawings, client books, editorial photographs and fashion publications.

This particular exhibition is extraordinary in its presentation because the collection is presented within NGV’s infamous International Art floor. This means that mannequins showcasing black silk and fringed Chanel dresses occupy the same space as paintings such as Briton Riviére’s A Roman Holiday (1881), Edwin Landseer’s Scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Titania and Bottom (1848-1851). Christian Dior dresses and accessories stand alongside René Gruau’s iconic Chizano (1954) illustration.

For both fans of art history and those who are not so familiar, The Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Fashion Gift provides an opportunity to travel through the eras while visually comprehending how the history of fashion relates to the history of the fine arts. To see the history of couture fashion and international textiles occupy the same space as some of the most legendary and renown fine artworks encourages the viewer to consider how fashion design can be collected and curated with the same enthusiasm and precision devoted to fine art exhibitions, such as NGV’s current ground-breaking Escher X Nendo exhibition.

The Krystyna Campbell-Pretty Fashion Research Collection is a growing and significant resource for the NGV Fashion and Textiles collection and a fertile repository for all scholars of design history. The exhibition is inviting and welcoming to all.

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