British designer Dame Zandra Rhodes donates Uluru Collection to Powerhouse

Garments inspired by Rhodes' 1970s trip to Australia will enter Powerhouse's collection.
Wool clock from 1942 Uluru Collection by Dame Zandra Rhodes, donated to Powerhouse. Image: Supplied. A model with dramatic makeup lying in a forest seen from bird's eye view with a patterned wool clock covering her body.

Fashion garments and textiles from an archive collected over 50 years will be donated to the Powerhouse by the Zandra Rhodes Foundation, established by British designer Dame Zandra Rhodes in 2020.

The octogenarian designer first visited Australia in 1971 as a guest of Sydney textile company, Sekers Fabrics. Shortly after this she released a set of designs inspired by the trip and returned to visit Uluru (then known as Ayers Rock) two years later.

Powerhouse cites Rhodes as ‘one of the first international designers to explore Australia’s unique natural environment in her work’, and in 1974, she presented her Ayers Rock Collection (later renamed the Uluru Collection) at London Fashion Week. The collection brought together Rhodes’ sketches of Uluru and the spinifex grass and galahs surrounding it with an 18th century French engraving technique, Toile de Jouy.

The donation includes banners of screenprinted silk chiffon, dresses and garments, such as a felt cloak featuring three print designs from the Uluru Collection – Rock All Over, Spinifex and Lace Mountain. The Uluru print was used on a one-shouldered silk chiffon dress worn by former US First Lady, Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

Rhodes says, ‘I am thrilled to have donated some of my most treasured pieces to the incredible Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Australia has always held a special place in my heart and my donation celebrates this, centring on garments inspired by my travels to this fabulous country.’

Dame Zandra Rhodes. Photo: Zan Wimberley.

This donation will join some of Rhodes’ pieces already in the Powerhouse collection, including the Renaissance Cloth of Gold Crinoline, which she wore to the first Australian Women’s Weekly Fashion Awards in 1982. The dress was recently displayed in Powerhouse’s 1001 Remarkable Objects exhibition.

The new donations include garments gifted by prominent female figures, including Lady Mary Fairfax, textiles manufacturer Vera Kaldor and English model Penelope Tree, as well as pieces from Rhodes’ own archive.

Read: A new storehouse for the Powerhouse Collection

Powerhouse Senior Collection Curator, Roger Leong, says, ‘Zandra Rhodes is that rare combination of boundless creativity and a methodical approach to design. Her acute observations are captured in photographs and sketchbooks, from which she creates her textile prints and, finally, the finished garments cut in tandem with her prints. This process produced magical results that are like nothing seen before. The Uluru Collection chronicles her wonder and appreciation of this ancient country’s special beauty and, ultimately, her unique contribution to fashion. It is so great to bring some of these pieces back to Australia and the Powerhouse Museum.’

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