An Outfit for Every Occasion: Romance Was Born Party in Their First Exhibition

Pick your favourite party dress and break out the confetti cannons.

Shannon Connellan
Published on April 10, 2014

Life is one long list of shindigs. We pop a cork on New Year’s Eve, don a tinsel wig for Mardi Gras, throw confetti all over our houses to warm them properly; each a shining story to embellish and revel in down the track. Immortalising these chapters of celebration in the visual equivalent of being blasted in the face with a confetti cannon, Sydney designers Romance Was Born have launched their very first exhibition, Reflected Glory, teaming up with kinetic sculptor and installation artist Rebecca Baumann.

Launching in time for Mercedez-Benz Fashion Week Australia, Reflected Glory sees designers Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales veer off the runway and make a temporary, kaleidoscopic home within the industrial walls of Carriageworks. Rather than staring out the window and sobbing all over the past, RWB and Baumann seize the party blowers and celebrate the milestones that make our lives that extra bit spesh.

New Year's Eve - Romance Was Born

Life, Death, It’s One Big RSVP

Each piece in the collection represents a unique celebration, rite of passage or circled calendar date, from Mardi Gras to white weddings to that unavoidable final soiree, the wake. A sherbet-paletted, butterfly-beaded sweet sixteenth descends Baumann’s candy-coloured staircase, a Picnic at Hanging Rock-meets-Christina Ricci in Casper wedding dress hovers in a fairy floss pink haze, while a slowly revolving, truly magnificent mirrorball of a silver jacket triggers hazy New Year’s Eve memories.

There's a metaphoric reflectiveness to the garments, as well as literal. “[I] really like the idea of reflecting back on the past,” says Sales. “The way we celebrate different milestones and the memory that can bring back.” Sales likened the process to a big night out, forgotten the morning after but slowly and (for the most part) fondly pieced back together over time.

Sales points to one of the most striking pieces in the collection, an ode to Mardi Gras, a reflective hootenanny of a party dress. Shingled with the same multicoloured plastic making up Baumann’s kaleidoscopic disco floor nearby, the piece is fringed by a shaggy, shiny rainbow skirt that looks suspiciously like… wigs? “Yeah, tinsel wigs,” he triumphantly confirms. “And that’s New Year’s Eve, so it’s meant to be like a mirror ball. This is a house party, with the curtains and that t-shirt I was wearing the first time I met Anna at a house party.”

The pair met at said house party in 2005 while students at East Sydney Technical College. Plunkett and Sales have since gained an international reputation for their unmistakable RWB swag. The T-shirt in question sports a nautical Madonna, a sentimental relic found in the back of Sales’ wardrobe now emblazoned with the pair’s thematic, tightly packed sequins. Plunkett sees the garment as a perfect representation of the pair’s fused ideology, “We embellished the garment in clear sequins and now this piece embodies the creative spirit between the both of us,” she says.

Fashion, Meet Art. Art, Fashion.

Regularly blurring distinctions between fashion and art, Sales and Plunkett are no strangers to the spoils of influence and collaboration. Before paying tribute to legendary Marvel Comics artist Jack Kirby in their hugely popular Summer 2012 collection, Berserkergang, Plunkett and Sales celebrated the treasured memories of a small-town Australian childhood with Archibald Prize winner Del Kathryn Barton, employing her exclusive digital ‘eye’ and ‘magic’ prints for their Spring/Summer ‘06/07 collection Regional Australia.

It was in their Summer 2014 collection, Mushroom Magic, that the pair used a print from Rebecca Baumann’s work ‘Improvised Smoke Devise’. Scales and Plunkett met up with Baumann after the show and checked out some snaps of her installation works. Carriageworks had already commissioned RWB to create a work for their 2014 artistic program, timing the launch for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, thus the perfect opportunity to let their palettes blend.

Reflected Glory is a fusion of Baumann’s celebratory installation style and RWB’s whimsical experimentation with detail. Where an RWB embellished T-shirt starts, Baumann’s signature gold tinsel ends, her 2010 work ‘Untitled Cascade’, playfully making a cameo in an epic train to the ‘House Party’ piece. Baumann’s popping candy-like projections set a prom-night stage for RWB’s sparkling moments of nostalgia, a fusion RWB embraced within their designs. “It’s very collaborative, like, super organic. Elements just kind of fell into place and we went with it,” says Plunkett. “[It’s fun] to use an artist’s influence, like, directly influencing our prints. We’ve reinterpreted her artwork too, so it’s a lot more interactive.”

Every print in the exhibition comes from the Reflected Glory ready to wear collection, to be unleashed down the track. If there weren’t enough actual sequins sewed meticulously into each sleeve and bodice, the prints are magnified, saturated fields of photographic sequins. Each print was shot in direct sunlight for “maximum reflection” as Sales puts it.

Romance Was Born & Rebecca Baumann - Reflected Glory

Leave The Models Out Of This

Models have been left at the Carriageworks door for this exhibition. Working with mannequins instead of models, you’re working with a few advantages — the pieces aren’t bound by human restrictions like walking ability, plus mannequins don’t have homes to go to. In Reflected Glory viewers aren’t bound by their runwayside seats; instead, they are able to wander through the space and let the mirrorball motors unveil every last garment inch.

Plunkett says working in an exhibition space as opposed to sending pieces down a runway can be a welcome change. “It’s kind of refreshing. It’s fun to be able to explore clothing but spatially, with light and through texture and kinetics.” But Sales and Plunkett insist the design process would be the same, models or not. “In the beginning I thought we wouldn’t design dresses so much — it would be more like objects with bigger shapes, more sculptural. But I feel like that’s not really who we are,” says Sales. “We’re designers not artists, we’re not trying to make sculpture.”

A kinetic sculptor by trade, Baumann was a perfect partner in the duo’s quest to keep things moving. Baumann’s kaleidoscopic projections, bold geometric installations and carefully aimed lighting give each handsewn sequin, elaborate ruffled collar and tinsel-woven bodice its own glinting moment. “We didn’t just want to put mannequins in amongst some art and call that the exhibition,” says Sales, backed up by Plunkett. “We’re really interested in it not being a static thing,” she says. “The whole idea of suspending the garments with mannequins … We really wanted to be able to interact with the space, light and the eye.”

Mardi Gras - Romance Was Born

Don't Design For The Industry

With mirrorball outfits, oversized white sequins and embellished Madonna T-shirts supported by '80s love songs and candy store lighting, RWB definitely don’t create to please the fashion crowd. Both Sales and Plunkett see the shortcomings of an industry that can often suck the fun out of an essentially playful medium. “I guess we kind of have a bit of a sense of humour with what we do,” says Sales. “We don’t try and get too serious with fashion and I think, for me, fashion’s not about that. Fashion’s about expressing yourself and being fun and having fun with who you are and trying to communicate who you are to people.”

“In a way, it feels like we’ve kind of gone back to our roots a bit more, working together, hand-sewing the garments together, draping it on the dummy and stitching it together,” he says. “It’s a bit more organic.”

“I hope that people do take away that it is as uplifting as our usual runway show,” says Plunkett, pausing for a moment to consider the crowd attending. “Hopefully, but the fashion crowd can be very critical… Actually, bring it on.”

Romance Was Born & Rebecca Baumann - Reflected Glory

Romance Was Born & Rebecca Baumann - Reflected Glory

Romance Was Born & Rebecca Baumann - Reflected Glory

Romance Was Born & Rebecca Baumann - Reflected Glory

Romance Was Born & Rebecca Baumann - Reflected Glory

Romance Was Born & Rebecca Baumann - Reflected Glory

Romance Was Born & Rebecca Baumann - Reflected Glory

Romance Was Born & Rebecca Baumann - Reflected Glory

Romance Was Born & Rebecca Baumann - Reflected Glory

Romance Was Born & Rebecca Baumann - Reflected Glory

Reflected Glory runs April 9 to May 11 at Carriageworks. Images by Zan Wembley and Lindsay Smith.

Published on April 10, 2014 by Shannon Connellan
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