Clue: where would you find the loot, the dame, and the most fabulous costumes from the heady 1920s?
Answer: Aha … at the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Costume Exhibition at Old Government House, of course.
I have long been a fan of Kerry Greenwood’s series of whodunnit novels, made into a series aired on the ABC, and part of the appeal and cult status of the show revolves around the amazing costumes created by Marion Boyce and her wonderful team.
The costumes from series three are now on display in the ornate, sandstone surroundings of Queensland’s heritage listed Old Government House. This setting is a perfect showcase for all the glitz and glamour featured on the show.
So many favourites …
I fell in love with a navy silk shift dress sporting tabards to create a fascinating silhouette, and the gold sequin slip dress with draping wrap. Then there was the crimson tea-length dress with a matching cape. Spoilt for choice, it is difficult to decide on just one favourite from the elegant designs.
There are flowing tunics with wide-legged pants that Miss Fisher has made her signature outfit; a startling array of her iconic hats (some made by Marion’s talented team, others reworked from existing hats); vintage handbags which are draped on the mannequin’s arms; brooches, pendants, fans and headpieces in several beautiful glass display cabinets.
The men are not forgotten either as there are snappy suits and tuxedos worn by Detective Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) and the uniforms of Constable Hugh Collins (Hugo Johnstone) and yes, he must be as tall as he seems on the show for the mannequins are very tall. The guides inform me that this is why Marion had to create many of the costumes herself:
“People are taller and of a bigger build these days, so most times the vintage clothes are way too small.”
Even the dresses of Aunt Prudence (Miriam Margoyles which you will recognise from the Harry Potter series) are beautifully cut from the finest of fabrics complete with sequins and shimmer.
The development of Phryne’s maid, Dorothy ‘ Dot’ Williams (Ashleigh Cummings, star of Puberty Blues) is shown in the evolution of her outfits – from her linen shifts, to her first grown up floral dress, through to her wedding dress which is on display in the workroom.
Watch out for the many props from the era as you walk along the veranda, past some mannequins sporting tennis gear from the 1920s, through to the wonderful world of Marion Boyce’s workroom. What fun Marion would have had envisaging Phryne Fisher’s iconic look.
The TV series is playing in the background so that you can see the different looks on the perfectly coiffed star, Essie Davis, in her capacity as the feisty super sleuth, Phryne Fisher.
Davis has said: “I feel transformed when I put on the outfits,” and who wouldn’t?
The knowledgeable guides manning the exhibition provide snippets of insight, encouraging you to touch the material swatches. You can get a feel for the vintage fabrics and contrast the looks on film with the real life fashion on display. Some of the fabrics’ patterns are more defined in real life and the materials take on a different hue in the light of day.
Marion sources fashion from the era as much as possible and will sometimes rework it to get the look just right. The guides informed me:
“Some garments have been re-dyed, some she had taken off the lacework and pieced onto another dress, and others were made from vintage fabric, much of it from her own collection.”
One Tasmanian lady even gifted Marion swathes of fabric that had been stored in her father’s old fashioned haberdashery store.
An ornately embroidered wrap was an original 1920s piece. If you look closely you can see evidence of its age. Most other outfits are completely new but patterned after styles from the time.
And you get to dress up!
Don’t miss the fun of the dress up room where you can try on sparkly gowns and wraps paired with some glittering headpieces, or get yourself ready for some sleuthing in the oversized 1920s coats that Phryne dons in the series.
In the cellar is another surprise – a recreation of one of the episodes featuring some of my favourites, Burt and Cec – two larrikin communists who assist Phryne in her adventures.
So whether you’re a Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries reader, a fan of the ABC series, a fashionista, or lover of vintage clothing, this exquisite and elegant exhibition should not be missed.
Finally after much contemplation, feeling all the fabrics, pondering cut and the sparkle factor, my ultimate favourite was the gold sparkle dress with matching sparkly wrap. The cut was so flattering and the material sparkles jumped out at you, but not in a gaudy way.
I wonder which you will choose.
Tickets can be purchased online (a discount is available for group bookings of 10 or more people or for National Trust members):
Adult $21.50 / Concession $19.50 / Child (5-15yr) $12.00.