Lyn Hughes is one of those people that you notice when she walks into a room.
She has a strong, confident and commanding presence to her. Which coupled with her unique sense of style, makes for a truly unforgettable individual.
I remember seeing Lyn frequent the store back when we were in the city and we had our famous Ivy wall. She would always have these colourful, well balanced concoctions on and after investigating her outfit with her one day, I came to learn that she was an avid collector of art and had already lived such a dense and wonderful life. She told me of her travels to India and the beginnings of her very own clothing line, and I realised we just had to share her story...
DIANA: Lyn, thank you so kindly for inviting us into your beautiful home! I remember the first time I visited and how overwhelmed I was by your incredible art collection, and I’m in just as much awe today.
How long have you and Graham lived here?
LYN: Well, let me start by just saying that I was just so thrilled when you came around the first time and were so enthusiastic! When you’ve got a collection it has a tendency to become a very personal thing, and not everybody gets to see it. So when someone comes along and shares in that same level of enthusiasm, it really lifts your spirits as a collector because I do love to talk about these pieces and share them with others.
It really was you who did me the favour! (laughs)
Graham and I have been here 17 years and we built the two units, one above and one underneath, and we weren’t sure which one we’d take. We consulted with the architect closely, and in the end opted for the space above. I knew I wanted the art in there, so we needed it to be more open. We haven’t got five bedrooms like everybody else around here, but I’ve got a beautiful space for all the art which for me was the most important thing.
So did you already have a lot of that collection when you started planning the house?
Yes, I’ve been collecting for a long time, and Graham’s been collecting for some time too actually. But his taste is completely different to mine, he’s very much into early Australian art, and European painting. Significant pieces from quite significant periods, but they don’t do much for me. My interest lies in the contemporary, and modernism. We’re very different in that way, but at the same time are very supportive of each other’s taste too.
You clearly have a passion for self-expression and creativity; can you share with us how your love for art has evolved over time? Was it something you have always been interested in?
Definitely - I’ve always held a very keen interest in art. When I was younger, I took evening classes in art. I was able to gain a much better understanding and appreciation for things like form, style and technique - the language of art so to speak. Not that I was ever brilliant mind you!
The years went on and after I married and I started to buy artworks at galleries and from private dealers. I still look very fondly back on one of the first things I bought; a beautiful sculpture back in 1972 by John Worth.
I’ve still got it, it’s a great piece, and I still love it every bit as much today.
My tastes have shifted over the years however, and I’ve got to say a lot of other things have been moved on. You definitely learn as you go and there are definitely certain things I adore now that are a far cry from what I was into years ago. I particularly enjoy artists who have an edge to them, Adam Cullen for example. What I really love is something that has the ability to shock and move you simultaneously.
You need to feel something I guess?
My favourite piece is that really big drawing you have just near the entry…
Yes, The Adam Cullen - that is my absolute favourite too!
If somebody was ever to yell “Fire! There’s only enough time to grab one piece!” that’s the one that is coming with me, I love it.
When did you acquire that?
Perhaps 12 years ago or more… I was introduced to him as an artist by the director of the Art Gallery of WA, Alan Dodge. I was working there as a friend of the Gallery, helping to raise money and organize events. He invited me into his office and showed me these two drawings he had bought for the Gallery and said “This young boy, Adam Cullen, I love his work!” and I said “Oh! so do I”
I immediately sought him out, found where he was showing over east and bought that piece.
Tell me about the collector’s club you belong to?
Well, it’s basically a group of like-minded collectors who regularly gather to visit galleries, studios and private collections. It’s a lovely learning exercise to help keep you interested, up to date and motivated to buy art.
They encourage you to buy at least one piece a year, and then in December we gather for what we like to call ‘Show and Tell’ where we put all the stuff on the wall and everyone gives a little spiel on their piece. It’s an opportunity to get to the heart of why you bought it and share with others what you saw in it, what it did for you.
So have you forged strong friendships through that kind of thing?
Yes I have, we see each other a lot. In the beginning a lot of them were my friends already. John Stringer, who was a fantastic promoter of art here, and served as a curator to Kerry Stokes, made it particularly wonderful for us. He took us to New York, to Venice and to any other notable art show in the world. We travelled with him and had every door opened to us wherever we went. It was truly fantastic.
Do you think that still exists here?
The Collector’s club is still going and although we haven’t got a John Stringer anymore, we’ve still got a lot of good curators that have helped us along the way. People like Margaret Moore who has always been involved in the arts and is more than willing to lend her advice and steer us in the right direction. There’s a great deal of people who serve as invaluable resources and will help you to build an incredible collection.
So next to the piece in the hallway, you have those brutal head sculptures next to the drawing?
Oh yes, Mike Parr’s work! Margaret Moore got me onto those in fact. When we first moved in here, she came and helped me hang what we had. She had some pieces by Mike Parr and thought they would look incredible in that spot, and sure enough when she bought some over they were a knockout. That corner is perfect for them in my opinion, and an area of the house that feels well and truly like a carefully curated gallery space.
I noticed that you have a piece from Abdul-Rahman Abdullah too! (A sculptor from Western Australia)
Yes, Incredible isn’t it! I saw him last night actually, and I said to him,
“I want to see your brother; Abdul Abdullah, because I want a piece of his to finish off my bucket list!” (Abdul-Rahman’s brother, who is also an incredible Australian artist in his own right)
So I sent him an email this morning and I said, “You know we’ve got the Show and Tell coming up and I’d love to show a piece of yours, please send me what you’ve got - I’m hot to buy!” (laughs)
I so hope he does, because it’s only a few weeks away, I still haven’t bought anything yet and I just love his work!
My daughter Pia works at the NSW art gallery and owns two of his pieces. She often acts as my interstate advisor and it was actually she who put me onto Abdul-Rahman’s work at the Melbourne art fair a couple of years ago when I couldn’t make it. I rang her and asked, “What did you see that was good this year?” and she said; “There was only one piece that stood out, and that was Abdul-Rahman Abdullah - you’ve got to buy it Mum!”
So she sent me some pictures and I said “Okay, Done!”
I loved it.
Can you tell us about the series of paintings you had commissioned in your outdoor area?
Adam Cullen did those not long after I bought that first piece of his - and of course by that stage I was just in love with his work!
I went to see him and I asked if he would do a commission for me, to which he agreed. So we spent some time talking about our backgrounds and heritage, which for both of us was sort of Irish-Catholic, and I said “I want four things that are iconic to Australia.”
I had mentioned the Jesus with the Sacred Heart motif when talking about my family, as every Catholic Grandmother seemed to have one in their bedroom. It was a vivid memory for me growing up and he shared a similar memory of his own family’s religious upbringing, and so that was where things started.
He described the horse as being a reference to the First World War – a reference to a time when they took their horses from Australia, only to have to shoot them later when they couldn’t bring them back. Then there’s the Unknown Soldier from the same war, and the other is of course the Australian grey kangaroo.
He was such a wonderful artist and I absolutely adore these four. They’re definitely some of the most personal pieces I own. I wouldn’t be able to carry them out ahead of the other Cullen in case of a fire, but they would definitely be ones I would make a second trip in for! (laughs)
Your home and wardrobe is so curated and well considered, which should really come as no surprise after learning about your avid interest in art collecting! I always see you come into the store with beautiful jewelry and brooches, with all the colours matching your outfit perfectly. I’ve always assumed you had an abundance of fantastic pieces hiding in a closet in all sorts of different colours, so I’m curious, do you methodically edit your collections? Do you move on from the old pieces when you buy something new?
Well unfortunately I did in my early days, I did get rid of some things but now I make a point to keep everything. When putting together an outfit for a special occasion, I will usually do it all the night before. I do work at it. For me, it is an art form. I don’t just throw on clothes. I want it to be considered and be just right, you know? Even if it is just a funny cheap necklace that just happens to brighten something up, anything like that.
As far as my plastic brooches are concerned I’ve been collecting them for almost 50 years. It’s something that doesn’t just happen overnight, I do work at it and am always adding to a collection of pieces that I can draw from.
It’s that juxtaposition that really makes it interesting though isn’t it? Those quirky plastic brooches breathe so much life into that incredible Comme des Garçons ensemble.
Exactly, it just makes it that much more interesting.
What is your first fashion memory?
My earliest encounter with the fashion world was when I worked in Melbourne on Flinders Lane.
I flew in from Perth and got a job as the house model in a factory and spent a great deal of time just getting dressed and sized up. It was really a good opportunity to get a foot in the door of the industry. I was soon helping to buy the fabric, and then went on to working as an assistant to the designer, before long I was allowed to do my own collection. I didn’t study fashion or receive any formal training, it was just a natural progression that came from being so immersed in that world.
So how old were you when you moved there?
I was in my early twenties, twenty-one, or thereabouts. All the factories were on Flinders Lane then. It was such a great community where everybody knew one another. People used to walk along in the morning, all the owners, would be out the front, you’d say 'good morning' to everyone. You knew who they were, you were welcome to go to their factory and get something if you needed it. It was such a great time and I consider myself lucky to be a part of it.
So you say you were the house model, was that something you did a bit growing up?
I had done a little a bit, but in those days being a model was a very different thing. We didn’t have anyone doing our makeup, we did our own hair, I hardly had any makeup on in fact and I wasn’t any great beauty, I was only a bit taller than I am now.
Back then it wasn’t the days of the glamour model, you just were a model. More than anything your body was used as their block - they graded on me and so much of my time was spent in the factory all day long getting fitted and being pinned for new designs.
It was an invaluable opportunity to build my own skills when it came to cutting and sewing. I can revamp any of my clothes these days, which I do often. I’m always at the machine and it’s a great skill to have.
So you still sew these days?
Absolutely, I let things out, take them in - change them ever so slightly. When I was young I would spend a day making a dress to wear that same night. My mother taught me how to sew, and I sometimes feel like a bad mother for neglecting to pass the skill onto my own daughters! (laughs)
Can you tell me about when you started making the beaded dresses and jackets? And your travels to India?
Well that was at a very interesting period of my life. It was during the 80’s and I had been designing knitwear after teaching myself how to design on a grid with a pattern. One day, a girl from India came knocking on my door and said “I’ve been trying to find you everywhere! I saw one of your jumpers at the art gallery, it had grapes hanging off it and it was all kinds of amazing!” Her name was Bronwyn Baillieu. She had a big garbage bag with her and tipped all the stuff out of it and went on to say “I make these in India!” I saw straight away that it was beautiful so I told her to leave it with me, and that I would ring up all my friends and tell them to come and see these incredible pieces.
I sold the lot almost immediately and said to her, “Now you go back to India, and make some more, but we’re going to forget Australia - we’re going to go to Europe with these. I’m coming with you and I’m going to help you sell it!” and that’s how our partnership started.
I knew someone in London who was an art dealer and she was going to help introduce me to people. We did Rome on the way and then met somebody in New York who was a socialite, loved to work and who seemingly knew everybody. The doors swung open for us all over the globe as a result and every May we did Rome and every September we did New York and we would just sell privately to collectors, we didn’t do retail or anything!
They were a bit expensive in those days, a couple of thousand each because they took weeks to hand bead, but people loved them so we were able to do it all through the 80s. It was just the best time of my life.
Whenever we finished a trip we would get all the money and stuff it down our bras because we were never quite legal! (laughs) We would never declare anything, and then go off on a lovely holiday, Bronwyn and I.
We did it for ten years and have remained friends to this day. She still comes down and stays with me and I’ll sometimes go up to visit in India.
Looking back on all of this, I feel so blessed to have been able to do something at every stage of my life. Im truly thankful to have had all of these opportunities to pursue those things in life that really interested me.
Do you think fashion can be art?
Absolutely. Fashion is art!
I’m curious to know what Graham thinks about your style? Does he enjoy your fantastic flair for elaborate outfits and individuality?
(laughing) Of course! I walk out and ask him, “What do you think?” and sometimes he’ll say “Hmmm... you’ve brushed up very well!” (laughs) but then sometimes he’ll also play devil’s advocate or be completely honest and say; “No it’s not quite right for you”.
But usually I think he’s quite amused by me dressing up… (laughs) he doesn’t do it a whole lot himself you see!
Outfit and Artwork credits listed Chronologically:
1. Comme Des Garçons shirt and tunic. Ann Demeulemeester boots. Collection of Vintage brooches.
Drawing and Sculpture by Mike Parr.
2. Sculpture by Mike Parr.
3. Painting by Adam Cullen.
4. Acne Studios floral dress.
Painting by Leith McGregor.
5. Comme Des Garçons shirt and tunic. Ann Demeulemeester boots. Collection of Vintage brooches.
Sculptures and Drawing by Mike Parr.
6. Sculpture by Abdul-Rahman Abdullah.
7. Tetraptych by Adam Cullen.
8. 33Poets jacket.
Tetraptych by Adam Cullen.
9. Pleats Please red dress. Lyn’s Archive Kimono and belt. Bao Bao clutch bag.
Sculpture by Mary Knott.
10. Vetements dress, Simon Rocha sweater.
Sculpture by Wang Shugang.