You Can’t Do That: Australian fashion celebrates its greatest rule-breakers

Jenny Bannister’s 1977 Splash Plastic Ballerina Dress.


Psychedelic block colours and ’60s punk music allude to the rule-breaking designers and models featured in the current You Can’t Do That exhibition at Melbourne Museum.

In collaboration with the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival (VAMFF), the exhibition celebrates the triumphs of women and men nationally and internationally and their perseverance against racist, sexist and classist societal oppression.

The powerful title, You Can’t Do That, embodies the disadvantages and obstacles the featured designers and models have overcome in order to achieve their successes.

This exhibition, which coincides with International Women’s Day, accepts and commends each artist’s personal embodiment of femininity in their work.

Visually stimulating videos integrated into the exhibition introduce stories about past and present Australian fashion designers and models Stella Dare, Prue Acton, Lois Briggs, Jenny Bannister, Christopher Graf and Andreja Pejić.

With her outlandish outfits and larger than life personality, Bannister was the Melbourne fashion designer breaking all the rules in the 1970s. Bannister relied on recycled and repurposed materials to create her unforgettable pieces, some of which are on show. 

Her iconic 1977 Splash Plastic Ballerina Dress was not only made of resourced material but reinvents a classic ballerina style full skirt into a groundbreaking feminist dress. The punk-rock vibe of the dress portrays the strength of women through its progressive paint print.

Andreja Pejić features in the exhibition. Picture: Jas Shepard.

Bosnian-born beauty Andreja Pejić, one of the models featured, has taken her career in modeling further than she ever anticipated. The self-professed “alien” has graced both the male and female catwalks of Melbourne, Milan and Paris despite being repeatedly told it was impossible.

“I’m living at a time where the paradigm is shifting,” said the fully transitioned young woman in a video featured in the exhibition. “I’m lucky to be at the forefront. We need people to push boundaries.” 

Pejić embodies the ever-progressive concept of femininity. In a 2011 Jean Paul Gaultier show, she was cast to wear a show-stopping bridal gown, despite not yet having undergone a full transition. Pejić did not disappoint.

The ground-breaking and rebellious attitudes of the featured individuals in this exhibition highlight their unconventional and exciting representations of femininity.

The awe-inspiring stories of these designers and models leaves you pondering the endless possibilities open to everyone, as long as you have passion and a strong self-belief.

You Can’t Do That runs until July 15 and is free for concession-card holders.