"Gwen Gillam was the leading dress designer in Queensland during the 1950s and 1960s. She was regarded as 'the best' by her country and city clientele, as her garments reflected European design and were initially made from exclusive imported fabrics.
By 1936, following the completion of her apprenticeship under the well known city dressmaker Evelyn Dixon, she had established her own business. From there, she went on to develop a career spanning 46 years and, at a time when women in business were a rarity, she established herself as a successful entrepreneur."
Gillam was, and still is, a pillar for fashion, womens' abilities and design of the 50's and 60's. Her Brisbane Arcade store once featured an elaborate staircase leading up to a mezzanine floor, a cactus garden, and a mirrored wall that allowed clients to obtain a full view of their garments. A white leather five-seater sofa which was positioned near the shop window served as a display prop when the store was closed. Garments that had been draped over the sofa attracted the attention of women who walked through the Arcade on Sundays. On the following day many of the women would phone the store requesting similar outfits. To the Gillam legacy, fashion was more than the clothes in the shop, but the overall experience itself, an experience which demanded a white leather sofa!
"Gwen Gillam's workrooms were situated on the top floor of the Brisbane Arcade and it was here that young apprentices learned their trade from the celebrated designer. Gillam's work continues to inspire young designers, and this exhibition also showcases the work of some of the next generation of Queensland fashion designers."
"Bringing together garments from the Queensland Museum archives as well as items donated by Gillam's family, friends and clients, this exhibition sheds light on the life and work of this unique Queensland trailblazer. The retrospective incorporates 35 of Gillam's elegant garments, drawn from the Museum's collection, donations and community loans."
The exhibition features garments representing the truly bespoke style, class and sophistication of 50's and 60's fashion, including a version of the iconic living room atmosphere as displayed in Gillam's shops. Many of which were designed and made especially for a client, the garments display richly intense colour, lady like hemlines, flattering clinched waists, luxurious materials, intricate detailing, and perfectly coordinated accessories. Gillam's admiration for French designer Coco Chanel was reflected in her custom-made and ready-to-wear garments, quite literally an icon leading an icon.
Dressed by the Best will continue until February 24 at Queensland Museum.