Bendigo Art Gallery Director Jessica Bridgfoot. Photo; Andrew Perryman.

Excitement with a touch of tension was starting to build at the Bendigo Art Gallery earlier this week as staff began the business of unpacking the newly arrived garments to be displayed in the next fashion exhibition, Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion.

Gallery director Jessica Bridgfoot said the garments, sent from the Victoria and Albert Museum, had to acclimatise in the shipping crates inside the gallery before they could actually be unpacked.

Ms Bridgfoot said the textiles were fragile and the gallery had to be careful as extreme changes of temperature could effect the integrity of the dresses.

Unusually, the garments have been sent already fitted on the mannequins, Ms Bridgfoot said.

“This means we don’t have to alter the garments to fit the mannequins.”

Cristobal Balenciaga came from the Basque region of northern Spain and was introduced to fashion by his seamstress mother.

He began a tailoring apprenticeship when he was 12 in the resort of San Sebastian and opened his own fashion house 10 years later.

Ms Bridgfoot said this background underscored Balenciaga’s understanding of structuring garments.

“He always believed that women didn’t have to have perfect bodies to wear his clothes, but rather the dresses had to do the work for them.

“Apparently the actress Ava Gardner took to her bed when she heard that Balenciaga had retired.”

The gallery had unpacked two gorgeous examples pieces for previewing.

The embroidered dress made in 1962 was worn by Belinda Blew-Jones, the Viscountess Lambton in 1962. It’s hourglass shape, contours and attention to detail are classic examples of Balenciaga’s style.

The red dress was made in 1955, and, like the embroidered frock, has a distinct Spanish influence.

The exhibition will also feature examples of Balenciaga’s revolutionary shapes such as the tunic, the sack and the baby doll.

The exhibition also explores the lasting impact of Balenciaga through the work of designers he influenced across the last 50 years.

Balenciaga:Shaping Fashion Bendigo Art Gallery, View Street, Bendigo, August 17 – November 10.

Jessica Bridgfoot . Photo: Andrew Perryman.

Speculation was rife when the Bendigo Art Gallery was interviewing to replace its former director.

Jessica Bridgfoot had been working for the gallery for three years as a curator and says she came from a position of advantage when it came to applying for the position.

Given Karen Quinlan’s formidable reputation as someone who put the gallery on Australia’s cultural map, her replacement needed to be a person of exceptional calibre.

Finally, after interviewing some 50 applicants from central Victoria, Australia and overseas, the panel found the successful candidate in their own backyard, and Ms Bridgfoot was appointed

“I spent those three years thinking about the gallery and how we could extend Karen’s vision,” Ms Bridgfoot said.

“I put my hat in the ring twice for the job and the second time was asked in for an interview.

“I was notified by phone about the success of the interview. I tried to quietly go back to work but I was exploding on the inside with excitement. I couldn’t really relax until after the press call. And Mum couldn’t go out in public in case she told someone, she was so excited.

“That Friday night we bought a bottle of excellent champagne to celebrate. I went from elation to fear and back again.”

When the Weekly invited Ms Bridgfoot to choose a restaurant where we could have lunch and a chat, she quickly nominated Bunja Thai.

“My mum Sandy McLennan started the restaurant in the 1990s and sold it in about 2000.

“It was traditional dining then and I had great fun working the floor and wearing impractical things like white jeans.

“Mum was very ambitious and used various spaces as an art gallery.”

Ms Bridgfoot said her mother has been a considerable role model in her life.

“Mum eventually sold the restaurant and went back to teaching art at Camp Hill primary school.”

After graduating from Bendigo Senior Secondary College, Ms Bridgfoot studied Visual Arts at Monash University and a Masters of Arts Management at Melbourne University.

Study was followed by travelling and working overseas. Ms Bridgfoot returned to Bendigo 12 years ago.

“I thought I’d create my own opportunity as a curator. That’s when I had the idea of converting one of the View Street shops into the Alluvial Gallery. I used to live upstairs and the toilet was in the laneway. Mum called it my garret years. I didn’t starve but I was living hand to mouth,” Ms Bridgfoot said.

Back in Melbourne she worked in Newport at the Substation gallery in its visual arts program and then freelanced as a curator after her second child was born.

It was in her capacity as a freelance curator that she pitched the New Histories exhibition to Karen Quinlan, who was so impressed with the result that she employed Ms Bridgfoot as a full-time curator.

Ms Bridgfoot said she was confident about the content of her application because of the strength and cohesiveness of the gallery team.

She said she has plans to extend the size of the gallery, which continues to grow in terms of visitor numbers.

“We have great partnerships with institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, but we are making new relationships as well.”

On her appointment, the city’s strategy and growth director Bernie O’Sullivan said Ms Bridgfoot’s vision to raise the gallery’s engagement and visitor experience through digital platforms, diverse programming and education made her a stand out choice for the director’s position.

Ms Bridgfoot, 38, believes there has been a shift in the Bendigo’s demographic with younger families moving back to the city.

“Some of them are economic refugees from Melbourne but the result is a great feeling of energy and change.”

Ms Bridgfoot lives in Kyneton with her partner Peter Trott, a furniture craftsman.

“Peter and I met in Melbourne several years ago,” she said.

Her six-year-old daughter is named Sunday after the artist Sunday Reid and her son Jude is four years old.

As far as relaxing is concerned she said her children are wonderfully distracting. She also runs and loves reading.

As well as having specific plans for our gallery’s future, there’s no doubt Ms Bridgfoot has the charm and confidence to promote its growth.