Costume Designer Marion  Boyce celebrating at the opening of her exhibiition at the Old Government House, Parramatta
AACTA Award winning costume designer Marion Boyce in great spirits at the opening of her exhibition at Old Government House, Parramatta. Pic John Gollings

From a very early age, Marion Boyce discovered her love of clothes and fabrics.  She says, “I used to drive my mother nuts,  and at about age eleven I’d say, I want a full length denim coat, and she’d come home with one and I’d say, No, it’s the wrong cut”. After that, Marion was given a budget to buy her own clothes.

The talent for costume making could well be in Marion’s genes as her great grandmother was a master lace maker in Italy. Marion went on to study fashion design at RMIT college in Melbourne and began presenting fashion parades in nightclubs.  A producer/director saw her show and asked her to do a film, which is how it all began.

Marion has worked continuously in film and TV since then and has just won the AACTA Award for best costume design this year for her work on the TV series, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.  Such is the power of the magnificent 1928 wardrobe of lead character Phryne, that the National Trust of Australia has hosted an exhibition of Marion’s costumes, firstly in Melbourne and now in Sydney at the appropriately stylish Old Government House in Parramatta Park.

These beautiful costumes have been put together with painstaking detail and most of the fabrics are original – some from Marion’s collection and others hunted down.  Costume cutters Ailsa Woodyard and John Van Gastel are specialists in their field.  Cutting of clothes in the late 20s was an artform and extra panels were added for flow and movement.

Marion has used enormous amounts of original buckles, buttons, ribbons, lace and trims.  Especially important are the original feathers, which were made with more natural dyes, giving them a beautiful lustre.

When the costumes are ready, art finisher, Margot McCartney has the all important job of ‘ageing’ the clothes.  Exact knee and elbow measurements are taken from the actors so as to be weighted and sprayed to look worn in and often-used pockets are ‘dirtied’.

In designing the costumes, Marion says that “you have to be true to the character, and you have to be extremely careful to depict them in the right manner.”  She says they were very lucky to have Essie Davis play Phryne Fisher.  “Early on it became really obvious that she could actually manage cloth and she could wear clothes”.  “Phryne changes all the time.  She has clothes for the bedroom, clothes for the morning, clothes for outings, afternoon tea, day wear, bridge coats, dinner clothing, soirees, opera clothes.  She was a woman of wealth and means.”

In several episodes, Phryne wears white in contrast to the characters around her to highlight the class struggle.  The further down the social ladder, the darker the clothes got, mainly due to cleaning.  Hats and gloves were always worn then, so the milliner has helped Marion create some fabulous hats.  Only one was bought from a store to match the coat.

Another maverick of the series is Dr MacMillan, (Tammy MacIntosh) whose well-cut, masculine suits reflect the world of the 1920s female doctor and Aunt Prudence (Miriam Margolyes) retains the wardrobe of the more conservative pre- war woman.

This exhibition is definitely worth visiting, especially for those of you who, like me, have enjoyed Miss Fisher’s series with great relish.  Kerry Greenwood, whose books the TV Series was based on should also be acknowledged.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Costume Exhibition runs from 1st March until 1st June at Old Government House, Parramatta.