Romance Was Born by Jaklyn Babington
Excerpted from the Know My Name publication (2020).
A childhood spent exploring the Australian bush—its sounds, images and limitless invitations to adventure— must be one of the most wonder‑filled childhoods among any. Nostalgic recollections of a bush childhood have inspired numerous Australian artists, the writer and illustrator May Gibbs being one of the country’s most cherished: ‘As far as I can remember … everything [in the bush] had a character of its own, and everything came alive to me. It was just a lovely fairy‑tale all the time.’(1) Nearly 100 years since May Gibbs published her children’s book Tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie: Their adventures wonderful the author’s magic continues to inspire across multiple artistic fields. In 2015 the Australian fashion house Romance Was Born (RWB) revisited Gibbs’ illustrations for their distinctive Bush magic collection in a trans‑historical collaboration that reverberated through both the Australian fashion and art worlds.
Since its 2005 formation, Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales have built RWB into one of our country’s most coveted fashion labels. Underlying an offbeat aesthetic striking in its inventive embellishment, RWB constructions demonstrate a considered exploration of Australiana. It is no surprise that the fashion duo found Gibbs’ bush wonderland imaginatively synchronous with their own work. RWB have proven they too have the magical skills of transportation: an ability to trigger our childhood memories of never‑ending summer holidays and adventure. As Plunkett recalls: ‘We both grew up in the outskirts of regional areas, me in Albury/Wodonga and Luke in Newcastle … I used to play in the park next to our house, I remember sometimes the grass getting so long that my brothers had to wear ice cream containers on their heads so my mum could see where they were.’(2) It is this sense of youthful make‑believe that RWB have fostered as their own, and functions as the active element within Bush magic.
An intricately embroidered lace dress, the Bush magic beaded gown is positioned as the collection centrepiece. Black, branch‑like and form‑fitting, the gown is sprayed with the bright yellow flecks of the wattle flower and dotted with three‑dimensional clusters of pink ragged blossom. Gibbs’ villainous Banksia men chase the cherubic Snugglepot and Cuddlepie up the length of the dress. The Gumnut babies escape amid the green gum leaves used as repetitive decorative segments, layered across the garment like a eucalyptus canopy.
After nearly 15 years, the RWB ethos of responding to and reflecting the particulars of the country in which we live stands as a significant collaboration with Australia itself. Australia appears as a unique natural environment, but more importantly in RWB’s work is the recognition of Australia as the motherland of an affecting and long reverberating psychology: a magical playground for children and a formative narrative for adults. Romance Was Born’s ‘Aussie’ nostalgia is a powerful force.
(1) May Gibbs interview by Hazel de Berg, 25 May 1968, session 2 of 2 at 8.49 min, available at nla.gov.au/nla.obj-214559229/listen.
(2) Anna Plunkett in correspondence with Jaklyn Babington, 4 November 2019.
Citation: Cite this excerpt as: Babington, Jaklyn. "Romance Was Born" in N Bullock, K Cole, D Hart & E Pitt (eds), Know My Name, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2020, pp 316–317.
JAKLYN BABINGTON is Senior Curator, Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.