THE constant tousle between Melbourne and Sydney as to which is the country’s fashion ‘leader’ has been given a nudge. Yet again.

Well before fast fashion became the style du jour, it was haute couture (high fashion) that was the most talked about and studied fashion art-form.

With the couture collections in Paris still a major event on the international calendar and still occur twice a year, the National Gallery of Victoria has just announced the acquisition of one of the world’s most sought-after couture collections.

The collection includes the most significant French haute couture ever to be acquired by an Australian museum.

Works from names like Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Vionnet and Jeanne Lanvin, and an outstanding fashion research archive including rare workbooks and photography by Yves Saint Laurent and Madame Grès will all be featured at the NGV.

The vintage couture collection was developed over several decades by Parisian collector and former Givenchy couturier, Dominique Sirop. The $1.4 million Dominique Sirop Collection was then purchased and generously donated to the NGV by major donor, philanthropist and Gallery Foundation board member Krystyna Campbell-Pretty.

Mrs Campbell-Pretty has made the donation in memory of Harold Campbell-Pretty.

“My late husband, Harold Campbell-Pretty, was a committed supporter of the NGV and a great lover of women’s fashion,’’ said Mrs Campbell-Pretty.

“This gift, in his memory, is an outstanding opportunity to recognise both of these passions in honouring a most elegant man, a true gentleman.

“It would have pleased him greatly to know that such an important collection and archive are now with us in Melbourne, to be shared with the community. It is very satisfying to think that the exquisite beauty of these pieces can now be enjoyed by so many others.”

The 130 works in the highly-coveted collection represent more than 30 different fashion designers from 1800-2003 and has a transformative effect on the NGV’s Fashion and Textiles Collection.

It includes a staggering 11 gowns by Christian Dior including a highly-prized couture dress from his first ever collection, as well as 12 exquisite works designed by Coco Chanel, including rare 1920s-era gowns, draped Grecian-style sheaths by Madame Grès and stunning examples from the father of haute couture Charles Frederick Worth.

The collection is the kind of stuff lovers of fashion and the pages of Vogue will totally understand.

“We are deeply grateful to Krystyna Campbell-Pretty for her extraordinary generosity and ongoing support of the NGV Collection,’’ said Tony Ellwood, director of the NGV.

“As the largest acquisition of French haute couture in the NGV’s history, this donation further cements the NGV’s Fashion and Textiles Collection as the most significant fashion collection in Australia.”

Other pieces in The Dominique Sirop Collection include a feathered evening cape, embellished ball gowns and bias-cut silk sheaths by highly desirable and influential French couture designers, such as Elsa Schiaparelli, Paul Poiret, Jean Patou and Jeanne Paquin, the majority of which were designed between 1890 and 1960.

The fashion research archive donated as part of the acquisition includes original fashion designs and couture house workbooks by Jeanne Lanvin, fashion photography from Paris fashion houses including Balenciaga and rare fashion magazines including coveted early issues of Gazette du Bon Ton, Vogue and L’Officiel.

Collector Dominique Sirop acquired the first piece, a 1945 Paquin black wool dress, when he was 14 years old with money borrowed from his grandmother.

Paquin holds significance to him as his mother modelled there for six years from 1946 until 1952 before she married.

Mr Sirop then collected the majority of the works in both collection and archive from auction houses and specialist dealers in the US, France and London between 1989 and 2014, while assistant designer to Hubert Givenchy at the House of Givenchy and at his own couture house.

Mr Sirop said his collection would provide an important heritage for younger generations and he wanted to pass on this history to them.

“I also wanted to find a museum that understands my passion for fashion,’’ he said.

“I never imagined when I did this research that I would meet a woman like Krystyna with the same sensibility and understanding of fashion, and for me this is a gift from god.”

This article was originally posted on news.com.au