Inside the Collection

‘That Dress’- Lady Sonia McMahon (1932-2010)

The Powerhouse Museum acknowledges with sadness the recent passing of Lady Sonia McMahon on 2 April 2010.

Lady McMahon will be fondly remembered for her elegance and altruism (especially with regards to her tireless charity work) and of course – ‘that dress’, which Lady McMahon generously donated to the Powerhouse Museum back in 1987.

Dress designed by Victoria Cascajo, donated by Lady McMahon
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The dress was made famous when Mrs McMahon (she did not become Lady McMahon until 1977) wore it to a State Dinner hosted by President Richard Nixon at the White House, Washington DC, USA on 3 November 1971. She was accompanying her husband, the then Prime Minister, William ‘Bill’ McMahon (Australian Prime Minister, 1971-1972 and later Sir William).

Dress designed by Victoria Cascajo, donated by Lady McMahon
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The dress, designed by Melbourne couturier, Victoria Cascajo, is made from fully lined synthetic crepe held together with rhinestones infilled with flesh-coloured nylon fabric.

Mrs McMahon originally purchased the dress to be worn at the crowning of the Miss Australia contest, but sudden international travels to Downing Street, London and the White House commanded a change in plan!

Dress designed by Victoria Cascajo, donated by Lady McMahon
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Despite the somewhat ‘barely-there’ profile appearance of the dress, Mrs McMahon said that it was actually “very heavy and warm to wear”. In fact, Mrs McMahon never expected the dress to be so controversial and selected it for wear purely because it was “different” (in addition to the fact it was a firm favourite of her husband!). She said:

You had to wear so many long frocks to dinners all the time in those days, just one after the other, in all sorts of countries. And I was just sick of the normal frilly, frothy things”.

Detail of dress designed by Victoria Cascajo, donated by Lady McMahon
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Mrs McMahon wore the dress a few more times before she donated it to the Museum in 1987. And, in 2005, re-appeared it in again (this time a replica) at the Golden Globe Awards in which her son, Julian, was up for nomination for his role in the US series ‘Nip/Tuck’.

See here for Lady McMahon wearing ‘That Dress’ in 1971 and the other version with Julian.

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