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Three things with Lisa Gorman: ‘I had to muster up the courage to tell Mum her engagement dress was gone’ | Fashion

It was the end of an era for Australian fashion when Lisa Gorman announced she was exiting the label that bears her name. But Gorman hasn’t stopped creating in the two years since – rather, she’s had more time to devote to other artistic pursuits. “And coming back to more of a personal art practice has been really good for me,” Gorman says. “I just think it’s a healthy practice to keep it balanced and not always create for commercial outcomes.”

She’s been focused on making neon-hued acrylic sculptures, a collection of which are on display at Warrnambool Art Gallery as part of a joint exhibition with the painter Mirka Mora, who died in 2018.

Here, Gorman tells us about the cheap but effective Officeworks purchase essential to her sculptures, as well as the story of two other important belongings.

What I’d save from my house in a fire

A self-portrait that my dad drew when he was in his 50s. He’d retired and decided he was going to take up some new hobbies, one of which was developing his drawing skills. So he enrolled in a short course at Tafe.

After he passed away, Mum was clearing out the house and gave me a folio of his artwork that I’d never seen. I’d never really taken much interest in it, to be honest. His art was never really present in the house. I took it home and put it in my cellar. Recently I dug it out and was blown away by his style, which was quite dark. I found a self-portrait in there and was really taken by it, so I had it framed and hung up at home.

It reminds me of him whenever I see it. But more than that, I just admire that he went back to study and had a skill about him that no one ever really realised. He was such a quiet achiever.

My most useful object

I asked my 15-year-old: what do you think my most useful object is? She stared at me and said: “Your phone.” Well yes, of course but that’s not very romantic. So besides the phone, it’s my light box. Just a little A4 number from Officeworks – nothing fancy.

I use it when I’m putting the colours together for my sculptures so I can get an understanding of what the acrylic sheets are going to do once they’re lit and the colours are stacked together. In saying that, daylight still behaves completely differently to artificial light. So it doesn’t deliver a complete picture but I wouldn’t be able to produce that work without it.

The item I most regret losing

A family photo showing Lisa Gorman’s mother, right, in her ice-blue tiered tunic that had long caught her daughter’s eye

I don’t want to talk about it! My mum had this engagement dress. She got engaged in the late 60s, so it’s really short. It was an ice-blue tiered tunic that had all these layers of frills down it – absolutely classic. I started eying it off from the moment I became interested in pretty dresses.

Once I started my label I decided I’d do a version of it so I took her dress to the office and had a pattern cut. I didn’t want to send the actual garment abroad, because I didn’t want to risk losing it – it was very precious to Mum. So her dress was just hanging around in my office while I had my garment made. Then when I went to move offices it was gone. No one knew where it was. And there was a lot of stuff in the office – my archive was massive. I went through it all with a fine-tooth comb for weeks and months and years but it never showed up.

Eventually I had to muster up the courage to tell Mum that it had gone. It was such a loss not just for her but for the whole family. My version of it was black and cotton, so not as authentic as hers. Nor was it styled with sheer white crystalline stockings, white pumps, or a classic beehive and frosted lipstick.

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