Twentieth Century Fashion Goes Online

Thursday 28 May 2020

A collection tracing the fashion and style of twentieth century New Zealand can now be viewed on Canterbury Museum’s Collections Online portal.

Dr Jill Haley, Curator Human History with some of Mollie's collection

Dr Jill Haley, Curator Human History with some of the hats, bags and shoes from the Mollie Rodie Mackenzie Collection.

From fabulous frocks to everyday garments, Invercargill-born Mollie Rodie Mackenzie amassed one of New Zealand’s most comprehensive collections of twentieth century fashion. Almost half of the 2,000 collection items can now be seen online, as a tribute to Mollie who died last month in Queensland aged 100.

The collection includes nearly 800 accessories such as hats, shoes, handbags, gloves, necklaces, scarves, belts and neckties that complement the hundreds of dresses, jackets and shirts – women’s, men’s and children’s – that Mollie collected in her lifetime. She also collected fashion-related items such as cosmetics, perfumes, magazines and patterns. 

“Many of the items are every day, off-the-rack New Zealand-made examples of fashion. These are often underrepresented in museum collections that have tended to favour high-end or special occasion garments, such as wedding dresses or christening gowns,” says Dr Jill Haley, Curator Human History.

“Mollie’s collection is a treasure trove, put together by someone with an expert eye and who knew what would be important to keep for posterity. It is a delight to dip into and also repays more sustained study. Mollie’s collection is an incredible resource that has been used by students, writers, experts and the curious.”

Trained in art, Mollie began her working life in 1937 in a Wellington fashion house where she learned about fabrics, patterns and garment design and wear. Over a long career, she wrote columns, features and provided illustrations for a range of New Zealand newspapers, also illustrating fashion advertisements for Christchurch’s Ballantynes Department Store.

Canterbury Museum purchased the collection in 1984. Since then, the Museum has built upon Mollie’s legacy, actively collecting twentieth-century garments and accessories with an eye to local and New Zealand designers and manufacturers such as Barbara Lee, Thornton Hall, Southwell, Love Story, Early Bird and Fanny Buss.

It remains a living collection which has been added to steadily by successive curators and by Mollie’s daughter, Vickie. While most of the collection can only be viewed online, the Museum has an item on display in the Costume Gallery, a 1940s dress by New Zealand designer Maud Barrell of Fascinator Frocks.

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