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A never-before seen exhibition arrives at the Town Hall Gallery in Hawthorn on 27 August, showcasing works by prominent Australian artist Louis Kahan. Kahan is well known for his work as a portrait artist and painter, however this is the first time his work as a fashion illustrator and theatre designer has been showcased.

The exhibition, ‘Louis Kahan: Art, Theatre and Fashion’ tells the little-known story of his work with the great fashion houses and celebrities of early 20th century Europe. Kahan’s family, now based in the City of Boroondara, have worked with the Town Hall Gallery to exhibit his prominent work and celebrate his long and vibrant career.

Curated by Laura Jocic, who was previously a curator in the department of Australian Fashion and Textiles at the NGV, said, “This exhibition showcases an exciting artist who moved seamlessly across theatre, dress and illustration. It’s been a personal highlight to work closely with the Kahan family to showcase the multimedia nature of Kahan’s work, and an untold ‘migrant story’ of the talent that arrived unheralded in Australia in the 1940s and 1950s. Kahan was a significant part of the wave of extraordinary talent arriving in Australia from Europe pre and post WWII.”

Born into a family of master tailors in Vienna, Louis Kahan was drawn to 
incorporating art and tailoring from an early age. His lengthy career spans
 the 20th century, starting in Paris with the renowned couturier Paul Poiret
, where Kahan was soon made the house designer. Kahan collaborated with 
many leading artists of the day, including Matisse, Derain, Dufy and
Vlaminck, among others. He created costumes for the acclaimed entertainer Josephine Baker and also designed costumes for the historic Théâtre du Gymnase and the Folies Bergère cabaret.

In Paris, Kahan immersed himself in the bohemian life of the city and began life drawing and was a freelance illustrator for newspapers and magazines. In 1947, Kahan set out to visit his family in Australia. Travelling via California, he sketched several Hollywood stars on set, including Randolph Scott, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour and Bing Crosby.

Not long after his arrival in Perth, Kahan decided to remain in Australia, quickly establishing himself as an artist of note. Moving to Melbourne in 1950, Kahan became a set and costume designer for opera and theatre in Australia. The comprehensive collections of his portraits of musicians, and set and costume designs can now be found at Arts Centre Melbourne. He designed costumes and sets for Gertrude Johnson’s National Opera, the Elizabethan Theatre Trust and the Australian Opera.

In the 1990s Kahan began to explore his tailoring past in his paintings. In Australia, Kahan contributed to a vibrant post-war arts scene where his training in art and tailoring in early 20th century Vienna and Paris influenced his later work.

Previous exhibitions have focused on Kahan’s work as a portrait artist and painter, until now, none have explored his work as a tailor, fashion illustrator and theatre designer and how these strands of his artistic output have meshed with his more formal work as a painter.

Spanning three gallery spaces, the Town Hall Gallery features a diverse range of contemporary public programs, curated exhibitions and exhibitions drawn from the Town Hall Gallery Collection, celebrating the rich cultural heritage of the City of Boroondara. Part of the Public Galleries Association of Victoria, Town Hall Gallery supports local, national and international artists at varying stage of their careers, and offers a space for local artists and community groups to exhibit professional on the Community Project Wall. 

The Fashion Advocate x 

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