In late 2015 the National Gallery of Victoria made a transformative acquisition with the support of Mrs Krystyna Campbell-Pretty in memory of her late husband. The acquisition comprises an important collection of 130 fashion works from 1800 to 2003 by more than thirty different fashion houses. It is the most significant French haute couture collection ever to be acquired by an Australian museum or gallery. The majority of the works fall within the period 1890–1960 and are of French haute couture. The group includes important early and mid career works by designers the NGV had long wished to represent in more depth, such as Worth, Callot Soeurs, Paquin, Chanel, Lanvin, Patou, Vionnet, Madame Grés, Christian Dior, Molyneaux, Jacques Fath, Givenchy and Pierre Cardin.
Within the group there are six early works by the father of haute couture, Charles Frederick Worth, and twelve works by Chanel that span the important early decades of her label, the 1910s to 1930s. Vionnet and Madame Grés, Callot Soeurs and Dior are likewise represented by at least a further ten works each. Existing holdings of items by Dior have swelled with the inclusion of a further eleven significant works, including two from Christian Dior’s influential first collections in 1947. The designs of Madame Grés featured in this landmark collection span fifty years of her career from 1935 to 1985 and demonstrate her remarkable mastery of the iconic draped Grecian-style gown. This collection also marks our first representation of highly desirable and influential French couture designers such as Schiaparelli, Doucet, Drecoll, Félix, Jacques Griffe, Jacques Heim, Maggy Rouff and Paul Poiret.
The collection was developed over several decades by Parisian collector and couturier Dominique Sirop, who began his career at Yves Saint Laurent. Sirop acquired his first work of vintage fashion, a 1945 Paquin black wool dress, when he was fourteen years old with money borrowed from his grandmother. Paquin holds significance to him as his mother modelled there for six years from 1946 until 1952 before she married. He went on to acquire the majority of the works in the collection from auction houses and specialist dealers in the United States, France and London between 1989 and 2014, while working as assistant designer to Hubert Givenchy at the House of Givenchy and at his own couture house.
The acquisition of garments is supported by an important fashion research archive that will form the basis of a specialist fashion research library, the Campbell-Pretty Fashion Research Collection. The archive includes original fashion designs from Jeanne Lanvin, Boue Soeurs, Jean Desses, Yves Saint Laurent and Paquin, with precious couture house sketchbooks by Madame Grés. Extensive fashion photography holdings from designers such as Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, Lanvin, Schiaparelli, Vionnet and Worth are also part of the archive, along with rare fashion magazines including coveted early issues of Gazette du Bon Ton (1912–25), Harper’s Bazaar (1909–66), L’Officiel (1929–2003), Vogue France (1923–54), and Vogue USA (1913–69). The Dominique Sirop Collection and fashion research library was purchased and generously donated to the NGV by major donor and NGV Foundation Board member Mrs Krystyna Campbell-Pretty in memory of Mr Harold Campbell-Pretty.
Katie Somerville, Senior Curator, Fashion and Textiles, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2016)