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DIOR: We are all aspirational cleaning ladies

Updated: Apr 3, 2021

Cecilia Macaulay NGV Foyer.

Dress by Emily Osborne

C an a great dress change your life? The other month I went all the way to Melbourne, to see the works of my favourite fashion designer, Christian Dior. When my eyes landed on the first breathtaking gown of the exhibit, I recalled this slender little paperback: Flowers for Mrs Harris, by Paul Gallico.

In this story Mrs Harris was a cleaning lady in dreary London, who one day entered a new mistress' room and there, beheld a creation that changed everything for her: a Dior dress. When I read this dress I was a teenager, still stitching together my character, wondering what kind of person I would become.

In Mrs Harris story, so enchanting was this creation she saw, all she could do was breathe in the realisation: "I have to have one'. The years that followed were years of denying herself her favourite biscuits at morning tea, walking instead of taking the bus, and being teased a bit by her fellow cleaning ladies, all fuelled by a beautiful vision. Then one day she set off to Paris, for the dress that would make her mundane life sparkle.

I won't tell the rest, it's lovely to read yourself.

For this exhibition I had intended to dress up my glamorous best. I had packed a new dress, made just for me by a young Sydney Fashion designer, Emily Osborne. It turned out, I camped the night at my mum's, and went without hair or makeup, my last day in Melbourne. Still, no matter how I'd dressed, everyone there was Mrs Harris. All of us were mesmerised, all of us uplifted, by the vague promises of these glorious creations.

I've had so many 'Mrs Harris moments' that have energised months or years of my life. As a poor teenager, I envisioned dresses I wanted to wear, then sat down at a sewing machine till I found a way to have them. Then there was Japan, CERES community Environment Park, Permaculture, grabbing my love, shaping me. Passions cool. That is their nature. Many loves are still glowing warm for me decades later, their shape having shifted but essence the same. Because I was active in my passions, they've gifted me good skills before waning: there is sewing. There is public speaking, expressive drawings, things that come from wanting to communicate something strongly, and finding ways to do it.

Whatever my Mrs Harris moments are, may they keep on leading me to a life of juicy, unregretted aliveness.

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