the tassie dress of dreams

It was January the 3rd and I had exhausted the list of every potential dress shop in Hobart/nipaluna and I was in need of *the* outfit. There wasn’t a single option in any Hobart shop, minus a few closed boutique dress shops that were still fairly on their Christmas holiday. There was nothing. For maybe the biggest thing I’d be doing yet – Young Australian of The Year 2024… I left the last shop on my list with my Mummah Barnes with such a slumped feeling, it was totally my lack of time planning this and it felt utterly disappointing. We sat in my car in the rain, knowing I’d been to every store, online wasn’t an option and it was two days before I headed back to London for school with no time to go anywhere in the UK to look… 

Suddenly it clicked and I really felt like an ethereal presence touched me. I shouted HALLELUJAH to Mummah Barnes and turned my car on instantly and whizzed down to Salamanca to Ziolkowski Evening & Bridal Couture. I had worked in Salamanca Arts Centre for years in a previous arts administration job and walked past a dress shop almost every shift. I had never let myself go in because there was a sure feeling in my mind that I shouldn’t until the time was right and I needed something great. Then by absolute magic, ten minutes into meeting and chatting with Celyna Ziolkowski, the most perfect plan had been hatched. 

A moment of fate that led to the most exceptional outfit I have ever worn.

It turned out that a few months earlier Queensland artist, Rhondda Scott had made an artwork on silk organza that Celyna was going to create a dress with at some point in 2024 for Rhondda’s exhibition. There was no model or project in mind, but somehow in her door I walked unknowingly ready to be a perfect canvas for the project. Celyna saw me and knew the exact design of what she wanted to make and I fully trusted her artistry seeing her previous work on the racks and the years I’d admired the windows. She took measurements and we made elaborate plans for two fittings for it to be made in time to travel on the Spirit of Tasmania with my parents to meet me in Canberra less than two weeks later. The first fitting was for a calico mock-up of the dress, which was squished in before one of my best friend’s weddings, Dr Lila Landowski, who ironically was the same friend who nominated me for Young Australian Of The Year.

Then secondly a fitting where Celyna got working with the fabric on the morning of my flight to London. This was my first time seeing the fabric and wow I cried at first glance. It was beautiful and raw and so truly me, I felt like this wasn’t real. The beautiful earthy organza also came with a matching silk under layer which was hand dyed in a pot using loose eucalyptus to create the look of clouds. My ADHD struggles to stay still and a 1.5 hour fitting with pins everywhere is a bit of an internal nightmare but I knew it was worth it! I was pushing it for time but I left for London and Celyna had a time crunch of nine days to make the magic happen. 

Along with bridal jobs and other fashion projects, Celyna got to work keeping in touch with my Mummah Barnes. I was back in London for twelve huge days cramming as much of my studies and rehearsals as I could before jetsetting back to Oz to meet my parents and my dress in the nation’s capital, Canberra.

During this time there was a viral sound on TikTok that went “I think I like this little life” and I thought it was pretty and I should make some content with… but my inner circles of friends said someone who changes country as quick as I do absolutely cannot use that sound. “Naarah your life isn’t little.”

Fair point.

When I arrived in Canberra, there was perhaps one of the craziest schedules I had ever seen. It was four packed days with 3-5 outfit changes a day, ranging from events such as a night at the musuem through to morning tea with the Prime Minister. Anyway, my beloved parents had brought half of my Australian wardrobe (I live in two countries and it’s a real challenge haha) with them and we laid it all out in a thirty-minute afternoon tea break and made elaborate wardrobe plans for the schedule. The days were full to the brim and it turned out that my first time trying on the dress was right before I had to leave for the big event and oh my goodness… custom couture. There is absolutely nothing like it.

As a very tall woman, the height was perfect. The train was floaty but manageable and practical. The colours perfectly matched my skin tone and complexion. The neckline was perfect and sat right where it was marked to fit Francesca’s Origin necklace – a little map of Tassie showing my pride in my home.

As a teenager, I loved the Salamanca Markets and remember frequenting Francesca Jewellery’s stand and gazing at all the pretty pieces. Now they are a leading national success and led by the most incredible sisters Hannah & Rachel. They were so kind to get involved and gifted me the most amazing jewellery to wear with the gown. Together it really was a match made in heaven!

The dress was very purposeful and actually a two-piece with a removable skirt, perfect for dancing… (I made an Instagram reel showing this very moment!)

And finally, this beautiful moment was captured… a welcome smoking ceremony. This beautiful dress started with the leaves of an Eucalyptus tree and then was captured perfectly surrounded by the smoke of the same plant. Truly special!

When I look at my life, it’s full of these little moments of light that turn into my core memories and most grateful moments. Celyna is an incredible artist and I feel so honoured to have been her canvas for this piece. The gown truly was something unbelievably special and what’s exciting is, I know it won’t be the last!

Dress designer & maker: Celyna Ziolkowski – Ziolkowski Evening & Bridal Couture

Fabric artist: Rhondda Scott

Jewellery: Francesca Jewellery