For Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion, a beautiful Art Deco Jacket c.1933 was bought by the NGV from Sydney vintage dealer and collector Clarence Chai. He collected actively from the 1960s and had sold an Art Deco dress c.1926 to the gallery in 1971. He had kept this sequined Jacket for so long as it was one of his favourite pieces.
Paola Di Trocchio: Clarence, can you tell me a little more about the Jacket and how you acquired it?
Clarence Chai: The sequin Jacket was bought from a charity store in the late 1960s. When I saw it lying in the backroom, my heart skipped a beat. I asked the sales lady about purchasing it. The lady went to find out, came back and said it was not for sale. I was so disheartened as it was such a beautiful item. A few weeks later, I was in the store again and the lady recognised me and asked if I was still interested in the jacket. My heart skipped a beat again and I had to restrain myself from getting too excited. Apparently, it was put aside for a lady but fortunately for me, it didn’t fit her. The sales lady remembered me and put it away until I returned to the shop. This was a shop I don’t frequent very often, so it was pure luck that I was destined to have it. If it was put out for sale, it would have sold immediately for sure. I literally skipped out of the shop with joy!
PD: This must be one of the thrills of being a collector. Do you know anything else about it?
CC: As with most beaded & sequin garments of that era, there were rarely any designer labels but it did have a label ‘Made in France’ on it.
PD: This piece is a prize for our collection, as it represents the Egyptian influence on Art Deco fashion. Can you tell me about your Art Deco Fashion collection?
CC: I used to have a large collection of vintage clothes from the Deco era and have sold them gradually over the years. I still have a collection of shawls, textiles, trimmings, etc from period as well as other clothing from other eras.
PD: There is another dress from your collection in the exhibition as well.
CC: Yes, back in the early 1970s, my partner Paul Craft and I sold a superb 1920s flapper style dress with handkerchief hem to the NGV. It was completely covered in white beads & pearls and it weighed a few kilos. It was worn in a vintage fashion parade before we decided to sell it to the NGV. We decided that the dress was too good and fragile to wear as the beading was on thin silk chiffon and it was best to be displayed in a museum to be enjoyed by future generations. My only recollection so far is that it was bought privately and might even have been a wedding outfit.
PD: It is a beautiful piece which represents the high fashion of the day incredibly well. I’m so glad you thought of us in the 1970s and again now. Your contributions have been incredibly important for the collection.