From a library basement comes a fashion history

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 20 April 2024

Fashion, ephemera and Kiwi history at Auckland Central City Library's newest exhibition 

Zoë Colling's favourite piece in the That's So Last Century collection is a lubrication chart for a sewing machine from the 1960s. It's about the size of a postcard, and carefully maintained. 

"I like it that this piece of ephemera highlights that manual and technical side of the skill involved in home sewing and what you need to do to keep your sewing machine in good nick," she explains.

The mirror: the home journal of New Zealand. Auckland: Mirror Publishing Company, October 1962. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

Photo: Zoë Collings

As associate curator of ephemera, Colling has had plenty of time to immerse herself in the history now on display at the Auckland Central City Library's latest exhibition. From the post-war elegance of the 1950s to the laidback nature of the '90s, the exhibition showcases New Zealand fashion and culture through magazines, photography and ephemera held by Auckland Council Libraries Heritage Collections. 

Lubrication chart for an Elna sewing machine. 1961. Eph-Sewing and knitting. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.Lubrication chart for an Elna sewing machine. 1961. Eph-Sewing and knitting. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

Photo: Zoë Collings

Ephemera are printed materials with a limited life span, such as posters, leaflets and movie tickets, Colling explains. 

The basement of Auckland City Library holds hundreds of thousands of these kinds of pieces, from ball cards to early editions of Woman's Weekly. The current exhibition is modern, by comparison. 

"Last year we had an exhibition focused on the medieval manuscripts, with items from 500 years ago, and we like to contrast exhibitions so we thought of focusing on a more recent time period and showing different collections like the amazing photographs that we have," she says.

The collection feature photographs from John Rykenberg, a street photographer who migrated here from Holland in the '60s. 

He built a business in Auckland by photographing people in public, then selling them the photos. 

"There's people from all different cultural backgrounds and economic backgrounds, you can see that from the clothing they're wearing," Colling says.

Many of the people featured in the photos are unknown and Colling is hoping people who come and see the exhibition may recognise themselves, or someone they know.

"We'd love to be able to identify people in our images and because these were taken in a period of time where people connected to the people in the images are [still] alive, there's a chance we can have them identified and connected back to their families," she says.

All of the photos in the exhibition can be found in the library's Kura Heritage Collections online and in one example, it meant the three boys in a photograph could be identified. 

"People can search these and I guess that's how they found themselves," she says.

That's So Last Century: What We Wore 1950s - 1990s is showing at Auckland Central City Library until 13 July, but Colling says anyone can come and browse the archives by making an appointment.

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