Dior: The House of Dior Seventy Years of Haute Couture a fabulous fairytale exhibition exclusive to Melbourne on show at the National Gallery of Victoria until November 7, 2017 is truly glamorous. It is a supreme fashion coup and the most “… ambitious presentation we have ever done” said NGV curator Katie Sommerville.
This visual feast of fashion first and foremost reveals the fabulous story associated with the Parisian couturier Christian Dior (1905-1957) and his now famous atelier House of Dior, as one of the world’s great dictators of true costume style.
It truly represents ‘the dream of who you can be, not who you are’.*
Everywhere you look in this most outstanding display of historical costume yet seen in Australia the colour, the form and the at times overwhelming beauty, completely ravishes all the senses.
All around the people attending the media preview were animated and excited, talking at the top of their voices with sheer delight. It was easy for Belinda our Deputy Editor and I to buy into their enthusiasm.
Oooh, aaagh, Miranda Kerr’s wedding dress worn only a few months ago is there, as is the form fitting glamour gown worn by our own Aussie international actor Nicole Kidman at the Academy Awards in 1997, and so much more.
An important aspect of the coup for the National Gallery of Victoria as if the exhibition wasn’t enough, was that on Saturday August 26 Australian actors including Nicole Kidman, would be among the many celebrities, sponsors and supporters attending the NGV Gala enjoying their own viewing of the show.
The first event of its kind celebrating beauty and art and also perhaps being in the ‘world’s most liveable city’, Nicole Kidman kept company with Rachel Griffiths, Adam Goodes, Tina Arena, Rebecca Judd, Kate Ceberano, Sarah Ellen, Olympia Valance and the Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews and his wife Catherine among others.
We spent two and a half hours at the preview and hadn’t felt as if we had seen it all. It’s one of those shows you will go back to again if you can.
So few of us can afford a Dior dress, but we can all aspire to owning and wearing one, especially a ‘little black dress’ Melbourne’s favourite frock.
A classically designed sweeping staircase as homage to the one at the Dior Atelier on the Avenue Montaigne in Paris, which excited models have traversed over the years has been constructed. It leads to a mezzanine level from where you can look down on some of the 140 garments, 50 bespoke headpieces, cases of sensational shoes and yet more.
Wrapped in classical panelling as befits a fabulous French fashion historical house for the fifties, the design and presentation of the show at NGV International is exceptional.
Serge Brunschwig, Chief Operating Office of Christian Dior Couture, President of Dior Homme declared he was deeply moved at the reception he had received and admired the strength of cooperation he had enjoyed in telling the stories of the famous fashion house.
It was 1946 when Christian Dior a mature man who had embraced political science studies before working for years in the ‘art gallery industry’, was invited to manage a ‘flagging couture house’ owned by textile industrialist Marcel Boussac.
Instead he asked Boussac to agree to fund a business that was his own. When his sponsor agreed, Dior began whipping up enthusiasm and anticipation of what was to come and by the time the first collection hit the catwalk, public feelings were running high and very intense.
Christian Dior employed some sixty staff when he opened in December 1946, including four women who became integral to his successful design process and the daily functioning of his new fashion house. They were Raymonde Zehnacker, director of the designers’ studio; Marguerite Carré, his technical director; Mitzah Bricard, his muse and head of the hat department; and childhood friend Suzanne Luling.
This influential quartet oversaw the running of the salons and in-house mannequins (models) and supported superbly, Christian Dior presented his ‘New Look’ first to the world in 1947.
His designs celebrated a shapely lady and her captivating curves, accentuating her wasp waist by adding a full skirt and defining her rounded shoulders. Simple, elegant and stylish, he captured all hearts.
Following years of restrictions during WWII, he restored the confidence and self esteem of women around the world by making them both feel and look all brand new.
He spurred a frenzied fury of home sewing that would last for decades. At the local Home Science High School where I was completing a ‘dressmaking’ course in the 50’s the House of Dior was certainly the role model for many entries to attain good marks.
“Women, with their intuitive instinct, understood that I dreamed not only of making them more beautiful, but happier too” he said. And he was right, he put smiles on the faces of women everywhere.
During the single decade and the twenty two collections he presented while at the pinnacle of the fashion world (1947-1957), Christian Dior in many ways determined the standards by which artistic achievement in haute couture would be judged in the future.
He ensured the city of Paris struggling to rise from occupation during Word War II, confirmed its reputation as the worldwide capital of fashion. He helped kick start both the post war travel and fashion industries, boosting the French economy.
Designed to visually narrate the rich history of the fashion house, the exhibition at NGV International also pays compliment to the unique affinity Dior has with Australia where our economy was affected too.
The current very happy CEO of David Jones today David Thomas was on hand for the opening preview where Director, NGV, Tony Ellwood announced …
“We are delighted that 68 years after the historic Dior fashion parade at its Sydney store, David Jones is once again helping Australia celebrate the House of Dior, as the exhibition’s Principal Partner,” he said.
It was 1957 when a fashion parade showcasing the ‘first representative Dior collection to be shown outside Paris’ was held at David Jones, Sydney and received enthusiastically. My Aunt, who used to work on the ‘Seventh Floor’ at the time, regaled the family with tales of it happening for years afterwards.
Svetlana Lloyd, the 81 year old Dior model who had modelled in this very special show had flown into Melbourne for the NGV Gala.
Talking to Director Tony Ellwood at the preview, she regaled the media and the crowd of supporters and sponsors with anecdotes from her time walking in the historic Dior fashion parade held at David Jones in Sydney in 1957.
Reunited with a ball gown she famously modelled for Mr Dior in the 1950s she said “I love the way it is exhibited. I’m seeing gowns from later Dior collections for the first time myself which is wonderful,” she said.
Minister for Creative Industries with the Victorian government Martin Foley commented “…the exhibition is another must-see that demonstrates why the NGV is Australia’s most popular gallery and one of the top 20 most visited across the globe.”
Christian Dior established a fashion design house that has continued to forge a place for itself on the world stage following his sudden death in 1957.
Six successive designers Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri picked up his mantle and forged forward creating frocks that create a frenzy at each fashionable launch.
While presenting their own point of view they have ensured that the ‘relevance and evolution in balance with tradition and heritage’ remains firm.
They have kept abreast of change, while paying homage and respect to Christian Dior and his vision along with the firm’s tradition of ‘taste’, which in all matters relating to the arts, is in many ways an unsatisfactory word.
However it does remain perhaps the only single word, which expresses an immutable quality of discernment, criticism and perception.
British milliner Stephen Jones continues to communicate the vision first established and he was on hand personally at the preview to talk about the working relationship he has enjoyed with the house over the past twenty years.
French footwear designer Roger Vivier (1907 – 1998) was the first such designer associated with the house 1953-1963, using embroidered fabrics and fabrics that were very abundant, he made sure his creations became synonymous with the house’s reputation for excellence.
He would love the ‘rainboots’ from the latest collection I am sure.
A duo of artisans from the Christian Dior Couture atelier in Paris were on hand and will be working on couture garments in the exhibition space during the first and last weeks of the exhibition.
They were kept busy demonstrating the extraordinary technical skills of Christian Dior Couture and explaining how everything is finished by hand.
The textiles used in so many ways are quite simply sublime.
Those made from silk whose history now spans over 4,500 years have exceeded the subliminal level, proving this magical textiles staying power. They retain its intrinsic characteristic; luminosity.
Luxurious textiles played an increasingly important role in decorative schemes and costume for centuries in Europe.
France played its part in encouraging the establishment of its weaving and silk industry.
From the seventeenth century they produced fabulous fabrics in a variety of colours and exquisite patterns, responding to changes in style and fashion.
Some fabrics are totally unique, such as Maria Grazia Chirui’s Essence d’Herbier ecru fringed cocktail dress made from floral raffia and thread embroidery, worn with a hedgerow headdress in silk flowers and corn.
As the known borders of their world expanded, Europeans were able to draw on many different cultural sources for inspiration to embellish garments for personal, state and ceremonial use.
Needlework evolved to become a powerful transmitter of wealth and status, as well as a measure for the development of a society.
Essence d’Herbier is one of two Dior haute couture works, especially commissioned for and acquired by the NGV for their renowned costume collection of over 8,500 garments.
Look 10, a Bar coat from the autumn-winter 2012–13 collection designed by Raf Simons is the other.
Personally Dior loved the elegance and sheer beauty associated with the eighteenth century in France, admiring its architecture, decorative arts, fashionable styles and textiles and these are showcased in a myriad of glorious ways for you to discover.
There are many relevant events to take place throughout the exhibition, you need to log onto the website to expand your own knowledge and to choose those that appeal to your interests.
They are all sure to be heavily booked.
NGV Friday Nights are very popular and from September 1 – November 4 (6-10 pm) live entertainment by a variety of Australian artists will add to your special experience.
The sensational exhibition catalogue by curators Katie Somerville and Danielle Whitefield with fashion historian is a weighty tome, but an ideal gift for anyone to give the woman they love.
The Christian Dior story is compelling… and perhaps the best thing about it is that the fairytale is still in the making.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
August 27 – November 7, 2017
St Kilda Road, Melbourne
* British Milliner Stephen Jones