Melbourne lives up to its reputation as Australia's arts and culture capital, discovers Colin Mathura-Jeffree during a visit to the Winter Masterpieces series.

I'm a cinema junkie. There are days when I cancel everything and sneak into an almost empty early movie session. Movies provide such gorgeous escapism ... you can laugh out loud, cringe, cry or totally freak out. Being alone in a dark cinema during the day permits you the luxury of being undisturbed, fully attentive and absolutely inspired.

And where does my inspiration lie? In the story-telling, the visuals and most definitely in the fashion. Costumes enhance the reality of any great movie.

As part of my great adventure exploring my passion for shopping and shows in Aussie, I'm invited to Hollywood Costume, borrowed from London's Victoria & Albert Museum and transported to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Federation Square as a part of the annual Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series.

Fed Square is a space of 10,000sq m on five levels dedicated to the development, production, exhibition and knowledge of digital media, film and television. Amazing!


As I walk to Federation Square with tourism guide Samantha Caffin, again I appreciate how much of a wonderful personality-plus city Melbourne is.

We grab a coffee outside the ACMI and sit and look at the views, enjoying the hustle and bustle of a living, breathing city.

Three schoolgirls come up to us brandishing a questionnaire on "How Melbourne could improve its image ..." or some such hilarious social studies task. They all giggle at my answers and ask if they can have photographs taken with me. Samantha thinks they know who I am. I, on the other hand, reckon they think I am the purple Wiggle ...

It's time for us to visit Hollywood Costume. The set-up is far more than just walking past outfits from movies.

It's also an educational tool ... with sketches, facts, statistics, interviews with key Hollywood designers, directors and actors on the role the designed costume plays in bringing life to the character. The use of montages, film clips and projections is pure genius.

The designs are grouped so you can see trends rise and fall. Trust me, there are items that make you stop and stare ... that dress made from curtains for Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) or the stylish black dress that styled a generation and still influences womenswear today from Breakfast at Tiffany's as brought to life by Audrey Hepburn (1961) ... to the urban cowboy outfits in Brokeback Mountain (RIP Heath Ledger) ... even Christian Bale's latest Batman suit broods darkly.

I am captivated by the sensual subway scene-stealing dress worn by actress Marilyn Monroe ... she wore that dress? She was petite and gorgeous ...

To be so close to such significant garments worn by iconic stars is beyond amazing. The fashion in movies influences street style as well as being influenced by street style. From an anthropological view it defines all the ages of cinema and the lifetimes they represent.

Australia knows how to put on a good show. And the annual Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series offers the city's people and visitors a chance to appreciate cultural diversity in one place.

It certainly put a huge smile on my face.

Art puts your life into perspective

One of the great joys of travelling is people-watching in foreign cities, and I'm loving the vibe of Melbourne. Even on a dress-down Saturday this city is a bustling, noisy, fun fashion hub.

The only noticeable difference from a weekday is there are more children out and about on the streets, with that young parental set looking all chic as their kids bound along with them looking like mini versions of their cool mums and dads.

Don't worry, though. I don't get so carried away to start imagining I'd make a cool dad. But I do think about how I would look walking beside them with an accessory such as a sleek black jaguar ... or an elephant.

But those whimsical daydreams dissipate in the excitement of being invited to the National Gallery of Victoria's exclusive Monet's Garden. This is all part of the city's annual Winter Masterpieces series that Melbourne introduced in 2004. The series soon became an incredibly popular part of the cultural landscape.

We make our way to the gallery, walking through the city streets to savour the atmosphere. I am learning that it is impossible to do everything in Melbourne, even on a schedule. Rather than rushing around madly, the trick is to sort out the things you most want to see and do.

Today's lunch is a long, noisy affair at The Deck as we discuss the adventure ahead, talking art over divine food, before arriving at the National Gallery of Victoria at 3pm on the dot. I love this building. It's a great, grey slab of sophistication with a water feature.

As you approach it you see giant windows with water flowing within, creating an artistic visual deformation of people inside - they become living art.

Now I am an art lover. I buy art and firmly believe you can't go wrong giving art.

Even if a piece is not to your personal aesthetic liking, art has an ability to grow on you in such a peculiar way that even if you hate the piece you have had the misfortune of being gifted, when it's gone you will miss it. And that is because, with art, you invest emotion.

Having studied art at school and university, I recall that appreciating art is more than the sum of the artist and subject; it's the raw unashamed emotion that washes over you through experiencing it.

If you get nothing, then you move to the next frame. Why waste time trying to fake an "artgasm" to fit in? Art doesn't give a damn who you are. It's you who is defined.

When I look at Monet's work, it takes me back to times when I've watched light dance across a pond on a farm in Taumarunui, or how the light flickers in the overhanging trees in my grandparents' secret garden.

The contradiction of Monet's Impressionistic style is that, up close, it's a riot of ferocious colourful paint strokes - a chaos that, once viewed from a little more distance, becomes a landscape of breathtaking serenity.

The paintbrush scars the canvas, there is no blending or smoothing ... it's just smashed in a direction that in completion is so alive ... a blatantly obvious perfection.

We enjoy more than 60 of Monet's works. So many, like the waterlily pond and weeping willow, touch the sweet side of my soul.

To experience the immense beauty of his Giverny garden provides an insight into his love of honest, natural beauty.

It reminds us to open our eyes and see truthfully what's around us; to never take our nature for granted.

Art always creates an opinion, and our opinions must never be lost in the equation of the human experience. Art will save us because art defines us.

The 2013 Winter Masterpieces are just one example of what Melbourne has to offer. Look out for similar exhibitions in the series next year.

Art Series Hotels

Experience the Art Series Hotels: The Cullen Hotel, The Olsen Hotel and The Blackman Hotel. Located throughout Australia's cultural and major event capital, Art Series Hotels in Melbourne are set in the city's hottest locations. With hotels encompassing the vibrant CBD, including the country's best restaurants, Art Series Hotels can be found in the stylish shopping precinct of Chapel St, South Yarra, uber-cool Commercial Rd in Prahran. and St Kilda Rd, Melbourne.

Each Art Series Hotel is unique, taking design inspiration from one of Australia's artistic greats, whether it be living legend John Olsen or the controversially inclined Adam Cullen. Each suite is appointed with up-to-the-minute comforts and technology, while original artworks and prints adorn every wall.

White Night

Come and experience the best Melbourne has to offer as the city is transformed into an all-night wonderland for everyone to explore. White Night is on in the city from February 22-23. From dusk till dawn discover more than 80 free events celebrating music, food, film, art and light. This truly will be a night like no other.

Discover Melbourne in a new light including its streets, laneways, public buildings and parks. With over 40 sites, more than 300 artists and acts by local and international artists, ranging from small intimate experiences to large spectacles. There will be delicious food stalls all night, plus the top cultural institutions, theatres, galleries, restaurants and bars will keep their doors open to provide extra-special encounters in this nocturnal journey.

White Night Melbourne is part of an internationally renowned phenomenon that began in Paris. It is the first event of its kind in Australia, with Melbourne joining 23 other global cities.

Getting there: Fly there with Air New Zealand. Book now.

For more information see: Explore - Shopping and shows.

Colin Mathura-Jeffree travelled with the assistance of Tourism Australia, Air New Zealand and Tourism Victoria.