Exhibition review: Zampatti Powerhouse

An exclusive retrospective on an Australian designer that deserves the international stage.

So much of fashion today has come to be about the values of a brand, as much as it is about style. What you wear is a signifier of social status, taste, cultural influence and personality, as well as your attitude to sustainability, innovation and ethics.

In Zampatti Powerhouse, fashion pieces are more than garments; they reveal stories and memories of the people who wore them.

Carla Zampatti’s story can be traced through her passion for fashion, which began in childhood, through to her courage in pursuing her own opportunities into the field. The Italian-born Australian fashion designer began designing her own garments in 1965, only two years after starting work as a secretary in the industry.

In many ways, Zampatti’s career was defined by bold moves that encouraged freedom and confidence for women. In 1973, she was one of the first Australian designers to introduce swimwear into her collection, and in 1994 she was named Australian Designer of the Year.

Read: More than frock-clad mannequins, Zampatti empowered change

The diversity of style, pattern and silhouette is presented in full scope as soon as one enters Zampatti Powerhouse, which features garments spanning her 56-year career.

From wide-legged pants that scream the 60s to goddess-like gowns of silk that seem to flow and ripple, these looks are united by the sense of confidence that Zampatti imbued in all of her designs. There is that ’main character energy’, regardless of whether it’s an olive jumpsuit or zebra-patterned cape.

With around 50% of the garments on view collected from a call-out to the public to share their Zampatti moments, the quotes and testimonies included in the exhibition elevate the experience and engagement. Collected from celebrity figures and ordinary folks alike, these varied pieces speak of who Zampatti was as a person, as well as a designer, while offering a little slice of history.

A selection of garments on display as part of ‘Zampatti Powerhouse’, installation view. Photo: ArtsHub.

Unlike many blockbuster fashion exhibitions, archival photographs, sketches and visual documentation play less of a role, but the inclusion of audio testimonies, including comments from Zampatti’s family and friends, as well as her own interviews, offer a good point of contact for those less familiar with the designer and her work.

Two custom-made ‘pods’ housing 360-degree video interviews are an interesting architectural feature, offering full immersion into the stories behind Zampatti and those close to her heart.

In addition, every garment is paired with custom-measured mannequins (though never quite diverging from the supermodel figure) and wigs specially produced and curated for the exhibition. A gradient blue backdrop creates the atmosphere of an oasis, one that Zampatti forged via her own zest and ambition throughout her celebrated life and career.

An exclusive retrospective, Zampatti Powerhouse is an encouraging step in the right direction to profile home-grown talents and their achievements on the international stage.

Read: Inside the incredible mind of Alexander McQueen

It’s a show that this reviewer could see touring to other countries – an artistically curated exhibition that presents a multiplicity of voices among show-stopping fashion that empowered the women of a whole generation.

Zampatti Powerhouse is on view at Powerhouse Ultimo until 11 June 2023; free.

This writer travelled to Sydney as a guest of Destination NSW.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. She took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs and was the project manager of ArtsHub’s diverse writers initiative, Amplify Collective. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram @lleizy_