Indian snakes and ladders outfit is one of a group of works produced by Gavin Brown between 1984 and 1987 for his Plain Jane label. The selection of outfits and screenprinted fabric lengths reflects the vibrant and experimental nature of the independent Australian fashion scene in the 1980s, which was greatly influenced by artistic practice in other disciplines.
As a fine arts student majoring in painting at RMIT University in 1984, Brown chose to present his graduate body of work as a fashion parade. Turning to fashion as an alternative means of expression, Brown established the Plain Jane label the same year and became known for his technically complex, screenprinted fabric designs in iridescent colours that were often infused with social commentary.
The 1980s saw a renaissance in the production of hand-printed textiles in Australia; Brown, along with other artists such as Bruce Slorach, Sara Thorn and Matthew Flinn, experimented with bold and lively imagery which lent a particularly expressive quality to fashion. Indian snakes and ladders outfit takes its name from the title of the print used in Brown’s Indian-style long overshirt and slim-legged pants. Referencing the children’s board game, the fabric features twisting snakes and ladders on a chequerboard ground, interspersed with images of Indian deities, their hands laden with wrist watches, bangles and rings.
Brown exploits the theatrical possibilities of applying his art – often cheeky and irreverent – to the textile medium. The sampling and layering of motifs in his designs reflect his interest in collage and decoupage, and they gain an extra dimension when cut up and reconstructed into garments that move freely when worn.
Brown participated in the parades staged by the Fashion Design Council (FDC), established in Melbourne in 1983 to provide a forum in which an emerging group of designers could present their innovative work. Members saw fashion as part of an integrated artistic practice, with parades being staged as interdisciplinary events incorporating music, film, video and fashion. Indian snakes and ladders outfit was shown at the FDC Fashion ’85 parade organised under the theme ‘Revolt into style’. Challenging the notion of typical menswear, Brown made this flamboyant outfit for himself, styling it with an oversized red wooden bead necklace. He has humorously played on notions of vice and virtue which are implicit in the game of snakes and ladders. Donned for a night of hedonistic partying, the outfit becomes a means of self-expression and encapsulates the creative directions of the period.
Laura Jocic, Curator, Australian Fashion and Textiles, NGV (in 2010)