On Saturday, March 19th, 2016 the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia will present an evening fashion performance titled “Culture Couture” at the Jefferson Theater. This project, sponsored by the U.Va. Arts Council, the Embassy of Australia, the U.Va. Parents Committee, the U.Va. Department of Drama, and the Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts, will introduce Charlottesville to Indigenous Australian fashion and the remarkable creativity of U.Va. students.
Lauren Maupin, Education and Program Coordinator at the Kluge-Ruhe Collection, was first exposed to Indigenous fashion during a trip to Australia in the summer of 2014. She attended a fashion performance at Cairns Indigenous Art Fair that showcased the colorful, contemporary, and unique textiles and designs being produced by Indigenous Australian artists. “I was overwhelmed and impressed by the ease with which the artists transferred their designs to the new medium of fabric and the context of a runway. Given that U.Va. has no fashion program, I felt Kluge-Ruhe could fill a need for students by bringing the two together.”
To realize this goal, the Kluge-Ruhe Collection created a fashion design contest in January 2015, prompting students to submit original sketches for garments which would honor Indigenous hand-printed textiles as artworks themselves. Marcy Linton in the Department of Drama agreed to offer an advanced course in Costume Technology (DRAM4598) in which students would fabricate the winning designs. After receiving numerous sketched designs, Maupin and Linton selected ten and paired them with fabric from four different communities in northern Australia: Babbarra Women’s Corporation, Injalak Arts and Crafts, Erub Erwer Meta, and Merrepen Arts. Alison Copley, an Australian arts and fashion professional, consulted on the project.
Patterns were made by Linton and Dorothy Smith, Costume Shop Supervisor in the Department of Drama, and local seamstress Beth Neville Evans. Seven students from various disciplines enrolled in Linton’s course and successfully constructed their garments during the Fall 2015 semester. Part of the course involved learning about Indigenous Australian art and culture through visits to the Kluge-Ruhe Collection and by skyping with textile artists in one of the communities where the fabric was made.
Olivia Tritschler, who designed and fabricated a pant suit for Culture Couture, said: “As a Global Developmental Studies major, this project has enabled me to pursue my interest in fashion and cultivate an appreciation for cultures that are different from my own. It intrigued me to learn more about the designs of my fabric and how some of them were so important to the artists that they couldn’t be shared. I am honored that I get to be a part of bringing these unique and contemporary cultural traditions to a wider audience in an innovative and respectful way.”
In addition to showing the student designs, the fashion performance will also feature garments and accessories made by leading Indigenous designers specifically for Culture Couture. The performance will feature eight to ten looks by Nicole Monks (Wajarri Yamatji), a Sydney based designer of Aboriginal, Dutch and English heritage who founded the company ‘blackandwhite creative’ to weave Aboriginal philosophies of sustainability, innovation and collaboration into art, interior design, and fashion.
The show will also feature a collaborative portfolio by Lucy Simpson (Yuwaalaraay), a textile designer, and Julie Shaw (Yuwaalaraay), a fashion designer. Simpson is Artistic Director and Principal Designer of the textile label Gaawaa Miyay, which she founded in 2009. Shaw recently launched her label Mayrah, which combines inspiration from her home country with a luxe fashion aesthetic.
Finally, the show will also include the famous ‘weaves,’ or woven necklaces of Grace Lillian Lee. She also runs her own label, Jetty Love, which includes couture garments that highlight the weaves, and are inspired by the landscapes of north Queensland, the Torres Strait Islands and the Great Barrier Reef.
Music trio Biliirr, featuring Lucy Simpson and her sisters Nardi Simpson and Jilda Andrews (Yuwaalaraay), will give their first American performance as part of the evening’s celebration of Indigenous creativity. Singer-songwriter Nardi Simpson performed at the Kluge-Ruhe Collection in 2001 as a member of The Stiff Gins. Jilda Andrews is a museum practitioner at National Museum Australia and a Ph.D. candidate at Australian National University. Performing as Biliirr (“bill-ear” translated as black cockatoo) they offer audiences a gift of country through song and story.
Tickets for Culture Couture go on sale on Monday, February 1st through the U.Va. Box Office at $12 per regular admission ticket. Kluge-Ruhe members receive a discounted ticket of $10 and tickets are free for U.Va. Students with Arts$.