Vo: When did you two first meet?
Karen Quinlan: “It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact moment. In 2008, Jen Hawkins wore a fabulous Maticevski to our celebrated exhibition from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s The Golden Age of Couture, and I suspect this is when I first crossed paths with Toni. The conversation about an exhibition occurred on the runway of a Melbourne Fashion Festival show in 2013!”
Toni Maticevski: “Was it 2012 or 2013? I can’t actually remember either! But yes, it was around the time I did that custom gown for Jen, which later made an appearance in our fall 2009 collection in New York, and then a custom version for Abbie Cornish, which she wore to Cannes in 2009. I actually can’t remember if we were introduced or not.”
V: Fashion exhibitions took some time to get their foothold in the art museum world, but are now so successful. Why do you think that is? What fashion exhibitions have you seen over the years? How have they informed the Maticevski exhibition experience?
KQ: “I think that art museums had a collective revelation in the late 20th century and realised the importance of fashion beyond frivolity and indeed functionality, and recognised fashion design as mirroring the values held by society, providing inspiration for future generations. Once some successes occurred within the industry, it just took off.
“My first taste of being part of this world occurred when I was working at the NGV in the early 90s, and I have remained fairly addicted ever since. I have always been mindful of the fact that such exhibitions don’t necessarily bring in those hotly desired visitor numbers. However, if gallery directors are confident and cognisant with the science behind these specialised displays, they will undoubtedly get it right.
“I saw Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in London and left feeling overwhelmed by how outrageously brilliant it was. How could any museum do better than that? I saw the Met’s latest exhibition just a few days ago – Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology – and yes, it only gets better!
“As a gallery director I see exhibition after exhibition and they all have an impact and provide ideas and new thought processes. With contemporary artists, l like to provide a blank canvas and allow them to dictate to a large extent the design and shape of the display. We are blessed to have the beautiful Bendigo Art Gallery to offer Toni. The individual exhibits for Dark Wonderland have been selected with our backdrop as key to the overall exhibition design.
“To be honest, everything we display at Bendigo is part of a visual language offered by the gallery and Dark Wonderland will be an installation, a journey and place of contemplation. And that’s where the success is for me.”
TM: “I think that fashion as exhibition has been elevated beyond the context of art. There is definitely a cultural connection to things, there is emotion and desire, there is a real sense of wonder, and I love the idea that fashion doesn’t need to be described in its inspiration because everyone can find what they love or loath or are intrigued by and even not understand why they like something. I remember going to the NGV and seeing Balenciaga before I even knew who Balenciaga was. It was completely transformed by thinking about the art and craft of fashion and its transformative nature.
“With an art exhibition, it’s a totally different thing for me. I end up absorbed or sometimes not, in the place it takes me, its connection to the artist. Fashion for me at least has a deeper connection because I can articulate the cut, the woman who wore it, the place she was photographed in it, how it was constructed, the detail, the embellishment, the colour, the romance.
“I think to put these all on an equal level is difficult: each art form has a personal response. I can stare at a photograph for days or a painting or Francis Bacon until I am completely transfixed, appreciating all the above points too. I guess it always comes back to what connection one feels with the object and if it can transport them.”
V: Karen, you wear Maticevski clothing. Why are you drawn to his designs?
KQ: “I am not a tall model, but size and height isn’t an issue when you wear Maticevski. When a woman walks into a room in one of his creations she is immediately recognisable because the designs are unique. Sounds like a contradiction right? But we all yearn for uniqueness on the red carpet of life, so the Maticevski allure for me personally lives somewhere in there.”
V: Toni, how do your designs work for a woman like Karen, women that aren’t models?
TM: “Ha! I agree there. I think it is about feeling oneself transformed and enhanced by fashion. I hear so many times how over time when someone wears something of mine they feel different, transformed and the best version of themselves. The confidence it sometimes takes to wear a statement piece is more about the confidence that it imbues in the wearer. I can’t explain it any other way. With Karen she is petite and fine, and sometimes that can be tricky to get away with volume and structure. But I’ve never thought of it, as Karen puts it, about uniqueness and the red carpet of life.”