One of the world’s largest fashion collections, worth over $1.4 million, heads to Melbourne.

The National Gallery of Victoria has recently acquired one of the world’s most extensive French haute couture collections, featuring pieces from leading designers such as Christian Dior, Coco Chanel and Jeanne Lanvin. The highly sought-after $1.4 million collection features 130 works spanning 1800-2003 and also includes rare workbooks and photography by Yves Saint Laurent and Madame Grès.

National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) Foundation Board member and major donor Mrs Krystyna Campbell-Pretty gifted the gallery with the collection in memory of her late husband, Mr Harold Campbell-Pretty. “He was a committed supporter of the NGV and a great lover of women’s fashion,” said Krystyna Campbell-Pretty. “The gift, in his memory, is an outstanding opportunity to recognise both of these passions in honouring a most elegant man, a true gentleman. It would have pleased him greatly to know that such an important collection and archive are now with us in Melbourne, to be shared with the community. It is very satisfying to think that the exquisite beauty of these pieces can now be enjoyed by so many others.” 

The collection itself was amassed by Parisian collector and former leading Givenchy designer, Dominique Sirop, who acquired the first piece – a 1945 Paquin black wool dress – when he was 14, with money borrowed from his grandmother. Since then, the collection has grown over five decades to include 11 gowns by Christian Dior. These include a dress from the revered designer’s first collection, plus 12 garments by Coco Chanel, and rare gowns from the 1920s. Other highlights include a feathered evening cape, embellished ball gowns and silk sheaths from designers such as Elsa Schiaparelli and Paul Poiret. “We are deeply grateful to Krystyna Campbell-Pretty for her extraordinary generosity and ongoing support of the NGV Collection,” said NGV’s Director Tony Ellwood. “As the largest acquisition of French haute couture in the NGV’s history, this collection further cements the NGV’s Fashion and Textiles Collection as the most significant fashion collection in Australia.”

The research archive donated alongside the priceless dress pieces includes original fashion designs and couture house workbooks by Jeanne Lanvin, fashion photography from Paris fashion houses (including Balenciaga) and rare early issues of magazines such as Gazette du Bon Ton, Vogue and L’Officiel. These material resources form the beginnings of a new specialist fashion research library at the Gallery, titled the Campbell-Pretty Fashion Research Collection.

The National Gallery of Victoria hopes to open the exhibition and research collection to the public in 2018.