Let’s frock ‘n’ roll

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GORGEOUS gowns may be draped over dinosaur skeletons or antique book shelves, but you won’t find any rats at the WA Museum’s double exhibition of Australian fashion.

It’s hard to get noticed in the frenetic world of fashion, especially during Australian Fashion Week, but streetwear label Ksubi made the front page in 2001 when 169 live rats were released on the catwalk.

“Buyers were horrified, some walked out,” Frock Star curator Glynis Jones recalls.

The rodents were corralled by a perspex fence for easy round-up, “but reportedly one went missing at the end,” the Sydney Powerhouse Museum curator says.

Strangling snake

With back-to-back shows over fashion week, competition is fierce and it’s all bets are off in the lace-and-satin lined trenches when it comes to attracting attention, whether it’s a snake that came close to strangling the model it was draped around, pearl-encrusted bikinis or attention-grabbing celebrity models such as Elle, Ms Jones says.

Frock Stars: Inside Australian Fashion Week is a virtual backstage pass to one of the industry’s most prestigious, invitation-only events, a look at the history, highlights, glamour, controversie and achievements of Australia’s rag trade.

Running in conjunction is a retrospective of WA fashionista Aurelio Costarella, 49, a 30-year industry veteran who’d turned his back on architecture just two years into a Curtin University degree.

“I started stitching clothing together on mum’s Singer treadley,” he says.

The machine had been his grandmother’s, brought from Italy in the 1960s, by Costarella’s dressmaking mum.

Unable to find a boutique in WA to sell his range he headed east.

“I literally packed a suitcase with clothing and headed to Sydney and cold-called.”

On day one he had an agent and a $25,000 order (a huge amount in 1987). Melbourne and Brisbane followed with equal success.

Moving onto the world catwalk, the Costarella range was soon gracing shops internationally, especially after a showing at New York Fashion Week.

“It was an incredible experience [and] opened up a whole new market for me.”

The Aurelio Costarella: A 30-Year Retrospective features photographs, video and textiles, and many of his exquisite frocks, including those worn by celebrity clients such as Rihanna, Dita Von Teese, Melissa George, Geri Halliwell, Tina Arena, Dannii Minogue and Jennifer Hawkins.

Costarella and the museum didn’t have to beg, borrow or buy back the dresses for the exhibition: “Celebrities don’t buy anything, they borrow,” Costarella reveals.

“They only ever wear pieces once. They get the gown for a night and we get the exposure.”

Despite his standing in the glittering world of international fashion, Costarella hasn’t moved far from his Perth roots.

His flagship shop Post Emporium (in the old North Perth post office) is across the road from his primary school and he lives in Mt Lawley.

Costarella may not have strayed far from his North Perth home turf, but he has taken on the world and will be having his first Paris show in coming months.

Frock Stars and the Costarella Retrospective are on until February 2, 2014. Entry free.

by JENNY D’ANGER

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