NIDA 50s Cocktail Frocks, Indigenous Prints

Rebecca Varidel
18th Jul 2019

Costume students from NIDA (the National Institute of Dramatic Art) have created stunning 1950s-style cocktail dresses utilising unique and original Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prints. The fabrics were designed and produced at the Bábbarra Women's Centre Maningrida in the remote dessert country of the Northern Territory in Australia. Bábbarra Women's Centre opened in 1989. The centre designs and hand-prints exquisite textiles that are sold all around the world. Each length of fabric is unique and tells the ancestral stories of Arnhem Land country and cultures.

The project was inspired in part by Georgia Lee, a prominent blues singer in the 1950s and 1960s and the first Indigenous Australian artist to record blues songs.

The second-year Bachelor of Fine Arts (Costume) course students researched typical daywear dresses that may have been worn by Georgia Lee in the 1950s for a radio recording. They learnt how to cut and construct 1950s petticoats to create the correct silhouette as well as identifying and fitting the correct underwear for the era. Students advanced their pattern-making skills to develop their individual designs and fitting skills for a bespoke result.

"This is the first time that I am aware of that NIDA has collaborated with a fabric producer," NIDA Head of Costume Annette Ribbons said. "I had thought for many years that 1950s dresses could be used to showcase some of the wonderful bold Indigenous fabric prints on the market. Prints were very popular for daywear at this time and some of these prints are indicative of the 1950s styles."

Jessica Phillips, Assistant Manager at Bábbarra Women’s Centre, said that the women designers were happy to work on the project with NIDA, "to see people making beautiful dresses and having fun. There are a lot of artists here who love designing stories, and really enjoy coming to work printing fabrics in unique colours."

Jessica said that over the last few years Bábbarra fabrics have been selling quickly including in the USA, United Kingdom and Switzerland. She said that the common garment that is made with the fabrics was dresses and they were perfect for the NIDA project.

For information on Bábbarra Women’s Centre >> here
For more about NIDA >> here