Two Minutes with The Fashion Archives

By Kim Barnard
8th Sep 2013

We love a new website, and we particularly love a new website based in Brisbane that celebrates Brisbane (and Queensland). Enter, The Fashion Archives. Focused on our state's fashion history, with stunning imagery and commentary throughout, this new endeavour from local Brisbane ladies, Nadia Buick and Madeleine King is a must-see for anyone that calls themselves a fashion lover.

We took two with the gals to find out more about their new venture. 

TUL: Tell us about The Fashion Archives. How did the concept come about?
The Fashion Archives is a new online publication about the history of fashion in Queensland created and curated by us: Nadia Buick and Madeleine King. We are releasing a new issue each fortnight, and our first issue came out on August 27. A new one will go live this Tuesday!

It all started a year or two ago. We'd been looking to collaborate on a new project for some time, because we share many similar interests in art and fashion and have really complimentary backgrounds in research and curation. The idea for The Fashion Archives came out of a number of discussions we had about all the great fashion collections, designers and thinkers we have in Queensland that we felt weren't getting the attention they deserved. We were familiar with the many challenges of making historical dress collections visible (they are often quite fragile and need very special exhibition conditions) and thought an online project might help overcome some of these issues as well as allow us to reach new, bigger and perhaps younger audiences. It was a very ambitious plan we had to try to cover fashion in Queensland from the late 19th century to the present, but no one had really attempted it before and we thought it was worth a shot.  So far we've had a great response!

TUL: What would you like people to get out of the site?
We hope that our readers get to enjoy some of the wonderful fashion treasures we have in Queensland.  We've searched high and low to find some of the most interesting fashion-related pieces in the state: in small historical houses, major museums and library institutions, and even in people's wardrobes!  We've also tried to strike a balance between beautiful image-based features, personal interview-style pieces and more weighty written articles, and we hope people enjoy a bit of each.

TUL: What do you love about Queensland fashion? What do you think best epitomises Queensland style throughout history?
We've been researching and developing this project for over a year, and we still haven't tired of the subject!  Our quest has been to find out if there is such a thing as a distinctive Queensland style. We get just as excited when we find examples of Queensland fashion that support the idea of Queensland difference, as we do when we find something that seems out of step with our laid-back tropical lifestyles.  There were some great designers in the 1950s, such as the inimitable Paula Stafford (credited with bringing the bikini to Australia) and Olive Ashworth, who were really driven to develop a style of dress authentic to our state.  It's hard to go past their wonderful stylised interpretations of our flora & fauna – and could you get any more Queensland than a Great Barrier Reef motif on a bikini?

TUL: Have there been any particular icons or influences that have steered the direction of the publication or the concept?
We've drawn together lots of types of material through the publication, including historical dress collections and new contemporary design commissions, and have designed the project to accommodate many different perspectives, figures, ideas and histories.  It's been interesting trying to create something that has its own vision or direction, and yet is able to take on so many influences, across such a vast period of time. It's a great time for online fashion projects. Locally resources like the Australian Dress Register have been important. Internationally, Europeana is a massive undertaking that is incredibly inspiring. And online fashion journals like Fashion Projects are great too.

TUL: Where do you source all of your information?
The greatest challenge of creating a publication on Queensland fashion is that not much has been written on the subject! There are only a handful of researchers who have taken an interest in this area, and we are eternally indebted to the work of leading dress historian, Margaret Maynard, who has been both a contributor and an informal mentor to the project.  She is one of the few to write about fashion in Queensland, and therefore intimately understands the many challenges of working in this area.  On the whole, fashion has been neglected as a subject of serious study, although things are starting to change. This means we've had to be a bit cunning to dig up what information we have – by looking at primary source material, such as dress collections and photographs (we draw heavily on these!), by interviewing key figures of the Queensland fashion scene, past and present, and by talking to historians across a number of different disciplines. There are also some great resources on local history more generally (including some wonderful online projects like Queensland Historical Atlas and Queensland Places), that make some mention of fashion retail throughout Queensland's history. We're actually covering the history region-by-region and the further you get away from the major centres, the harder it gets!

TUL: What has been the most interesting thing you've discovered through your research?
We've been continually blown away by the many photographs we've found depicting unexpected style in some very harsh rural outposts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We're particularly fascinated by the lives of women in such places, and the lengths they would go to keep up with the fashionable dress of their European counterparts. Most interesting, however, has been debunking the myth that early Queensland settlers were slaves to European trends in spite of the hot and humid climate. We've learnt that in fact people would cleverly adapt their garb to suit the weather, and that in some cases, seemingly heavy items, like crinolines, were enjoyed for their cooling properties!

TUL: What's the best part of running the site?
We've met so many wonderful designers, artists, historians and writers through The Fashion Archives, and are constantly delighted by their contributions. It's also great to have an excuse to rummage through public and private dress collections!

TUL: What's the worst part?
It's usually the mundane bits that get you down: dealing with various logistics like tax and web servers!

TUL: How much is involved in the day-to-day running of the site?
There's a lot happening behind the scenes, and not many people realise how small our team is.  The two of us manage all the content – commissioning and coordinating all external contributions, doing a lot of our own research and a ton of original writing. Plus collating archival images, visiting and documenting collections, conducting interviews and whatever else comes our way!  Our unofficial third member is our designer, Patrick King, who has done a tremendous amount of work in creating all of our branding, design and web development.  Though much of his work went into launching the site, he's still continually developing our very bespoke site features. 

TUL: What can readers expect to see coming up on The Fashion Archives?
There's a new issue out each fortnight, so there's a lot to look forward to! Each issue features a new commission from a designer, writer or artist who responds to a treasure from a historical collection, and it's always really exciting to see what they come up with.  We have heaps of interviews with some of the best-loved identities of Queensland style, more peeks into the state's fabulous dress collections, and our image-based features like 'Vintage Street Style' are real crowd-pleasers.  We're also developing a few public programs and exhibitions to bring some of this content to life, and next year we'd really like to hear all of our readers' stories about fashion in Queensland!

Image credit: The Fashion Archives

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