He is arguably one of the greatest contributors to modern fashion – possibly the greatest. He is Christian Dior, and his name goes to many ears without a need of introduction. In his early days as a boy in Granville, through the influence of mother, beauty and gardens around him, Dior ascended to the fashion world mostly as a dreamer, contributing to the Paris fashion scene via such initial houses as Lucien Lelong, and culminating into this own iconic brand. He did not sew, nor did he really need to. He isn’t even considered by fashion historians to be among the most talented of his genre – his circumstance of being in the right place at the right time with the right people contributed to a perfect storm that simply couldn’t fail.
This post isn’t a biography lesson on Dior – you can get that here – it is however, a deconstruction of one of the most enchanting museum exhibits I have ever seen in my life (including the 2010 Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective in Paris). I missed the YSL mini in Richmond, VA…but it didn’t matter with Sandra Stilwell’s mind-blowing tribute to the era in miniature…and her exceptional reproductions…
The biggest difference from YSL to Dior in Paris? One was allowed to take photographs (well…mostly allowed).
There’s little wonder why Dior is my favorite…and why I have attempted to replicate his work in miniature…it is the most incredible learning process and journey through the art of hand sewing, layering, structure and design. And as such…here are some of my favorite Tommydoll flirtations with Dior and Dior-inspired design…
Christian Dior led his couture house for only ten short years before his sudden death. What would follow, however, is a string of amazing artists…each honoring Dior, but adding his or her own touch to the artist’s garden of fashion.
This exhibit ushers in a ray of hope that beauty has not died, and talent reigns supreme in the hands of visionary creatives we admire near and far. For therein lie the humanity of creation…and the art of enjoyable beauty.
Larger than life digital and literal recreations of the Dior Couture House open its doors and beckon you to enter. Everywhere – you are surrounded by crowds of admirers; yes, even those that don’t bathe frequently – and it is quite warm in this October Parisian evening. That being said, it is amazing how the exhibition surrounds you instantly with Dior’s inspirations from paintings and sculpture to soft light and sounds of both classical and modern musical styles.
There is an introduction to the man and his house. We see his pointing wand where he would observe from a distance and guide your eye to the area of his critique.
We are led into a dark chamber with faded light and protected treasures – this is Queen Elizabeth’s personal collection of Dior fashions – quite extraordinary (and somewhat scandalous) for English royalty to frequent a French business for its finery. No images were allowed here and I didn’t know that until I was sharply admonished by security – but I did manage a few snaps, thank you very much (What? It never stopped you cretins at doll shows where we had ‘No Photos’ signs posted – so there.)
We then walk into an area that pairs famous artworks with Dior creations (from all periods of the house’s history). The exhibit’s lighting design is at its best here, casting shadows against the walls that are as artful as the subjects, themselves.
Perhaps one of the most impressive portions of the show was realized as you are guided through sinewy vignettes sorted by color – a rainbow of fashion in both human scale, and any pieces from the diminutive and charming Le Petit Théâtre Dior – each one perfectly finished, and just as masterful as its larger parent.
Black, white, houndstooth – is it all a dream? No. it’s Dior.
The collections invoke Dior’s intelligence as a marketing genius – all seen in not only clothes, but accessories and fragrances, illustrations by René Gruau, licensed goods and all the hallmarks of a growing fashion empire.
Ahhh…a miniature of Charlize Theron’s J’adore Hollywood tribute ad gown…
As the colors change…we are reminded of the fantastic details in the clothing, the sublime matching of seams and patterns, the hand work and invisible stitches that make many of the work appear virtually effortless.
Coco Chanel hated Dior…she felt designers like he and Balenciaga did not design for women, but for men’s eyes – and that they ‘upholstered‘ women in constrictive cages, daring to call it ‘fashionable‘. Whatever your views are on women’s liberation, perhaps it is not best represented in 1950s fashion – be that as it may – it is nonetheless, spectacular to behold…via anyone’s eyes.
All of these images were taken with my iPad…and although I am very pleased with most of them – there are some in the extremely low-lit areas that resulted in blurry captures. I could have taken the Nikon…but without a tripod, I’m afraid the quality wouldn’t have changed.
Departure from these areas walks you past decades of the magazine covers featuring Dior and his successors’ work.
As with the opening of the exhibit, we are treated to mini-collections of themed displays that are driven by the influences of history and world culture on the collections. Each is contrasted with originals from Dior’s reign…and those of the unique artists to follow – Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Bill Gaytten, Raf Simons,
We also see the history of Dior’s perfumes among the themed displays…strange there is no influential scent to pipe into the museum’s air that would have reminded us we were in Dior’s garden.
Exiting this portion of the exhibit, one might think it’s over…but a simple passage into a new space tells me it is anything but.
The ‘Bar’ Suit – the ambassador of Dior’s inaugural ‘Corolle’ Collection (later coined ‘New Look‘ by the American Press) – and a fine example of what Dior was accomplishing as France wearily walked away from WWII, and emerged a liberated nation of new ideas – and luxuries. Dior’s New Look returned fashion to its rightful capital, and showered women with yards and yards of silks and woolens, once rationed heavily during wartime. It was a time to indulge again…and Dior rose to the occasion.
We are now shown each of Dior’s successors and iconic contributions from his and her visions. Sadly, Bill Gaytten (who worked under Galliano) isn’t featured…or if he was, I certainly didn’t notice.
Oops…a photograph I wasn’t supposed to take…it’s OK, I blamed the woman next to me who was taking flash photographs…you really have to think fast with this level of security!
Despite what you may think about Galliano’s controversial end at Dior…his mini-collection is clearly, above and beyond, the most inspired – not only in terms of haute couture, but with modern takes on Dior’s vision. Many feel YSL was the second greatest next to Dior, himself – but I disagree. I feel YSL‘s work was worthy of his own label and direction, for the harsh transition between the 1950s and 1960s was best realized by Saint Laurent…but not as ‘Christian Dior’ couture. ‘Minimalism‘ is one of the last things I would ponder when it comes to Dior couture.
Perhaps my favorite part of the entire exhibit was the Toile Room.
Here, you can see many muslin toiles from the Atelier workers who transform vision into wearing apparel through means of draping and flat pattern mastery. In the toiles you can see how the design is built, supported and embellished. Galliano would sketch directly onto the toile to communicate embroidery and beadwork. Each toile is a masterpiece in and of itself. This is the room that brought me to tears.
As a transition from the Toile Room to the exhibit’s finale, we tour through the years from Dior to present…and although I wasn’t 100% certain what the purpose of this line-up was (who could read with the 300+ photos I was in the process of taking?
I’ll read the book later)…it was impressive to see the lines, shapes and colors that possibly were most attributed to Dior’s legacy.
And before I get to the finale, I was disappointed that my two favorite gowns from Dior, Compiègne and that mammoth black ‘Marie Antoinette’ gown by Galliano, were not present.
Oh well…there are some dramas I just have to let go, right?
The final chamber was easily some 3-4 stories tall and was digitally enhanced with animation, lighting, music and mood. The show repeats app. Every 20 minutes…with a shower of gold glitter, to line-by-line animation of the architectural elements, to changing seasons and celebrities on the red carpet. It is pure joy…and I start to cry again – I’m so very moved by the beauty I have had the most honored pleasure of seeing in person.
This, my Puddings…is dedicated to you…the faithful lovers of fashion. I love you dearly…and the haters can kindly fuck off…
J’adore Dior. If you’d like to see a complete collection of the images – this is a Facebook public folder…you do not need to be a member of Facebook, and even if you are, you do not need to be signed in to view this public folder – click here – Enjoy!
Deep in every heart slumbers a dream –