I really enjoyed the Dior exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria; The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture. It’s now in it’s last days, closing on 7 November 2017, so if you haven’t seen it yet I recommend you get along. As an NGV member I was able to attend a preview the day it opened on 27 August at which we heard from a Dior expert associated with the exhibition. I also attended a talk by the NGV Fashion & Textiles curator Danielle Whitfield which was very informative about the history of Dior and the impact he had on the world of fashion. These opportunities make it very worthwhile being an NGV member, so I recommend that too.
I already knew a little of the Dior story, having seen the movie Dior and I at MIFF a while ago. This was a fly on the wall account of the development of the first collection by the newly appointed creative director, Raf Simons. It was interesting and informative about the whole creative process and included quite a bit about the history of the House of Dior and its founder. Here is the trailer. It was exciting to see some of the pieces you see being created in the documentary on display in this exhibition. We saw the red evening dress that you see briefly in this trailer and the very modern tent like dresses he created out of specially printed material. Raf’s designs are very modern. Here is a jumpsuit covered in incredibly detailed embroidery which is one of the features of Dior design. These are pieces folded over themselves to make exquisite little half moons. His timeless shift dress is completely covered in pearls individually sewn on! It’s the simplicity of many of the designs that is striking. Here just a black smudge amongst all that cream. I loved the red boots. This is his take on the traditional cocktail dress. Beautiful colours and anything but traditional.
As for Dior’s own creations, there are examples of most if not all of his signature looks. Including his radical, at the time, new look which greets you on entering the exhibition; cream jacket with padding at the hips, pinched in waist, mid calf length black skirt. Many of these original creations look so contemporary! You could wear them now. I loved this beautiful day dress. Lots of little black dresses. Here is one of Dior’ originals on the right. The length was a Dior signature. In the presentation at the preview we saw a Time magazine cover of Dior with a measuring tape achieving just that length. And here is another of Dior’s own creations. Classic design with a stand out feature; in this case, the texture of the material and interesting hemline. As explained in the talks I attended, subsequent designers have all continued to reinterpret aspects of Dior’s classic designs. Like this updated black dress which was so elegant. Polka dots are another recurring motif in the House of Dior. The dots on this suit by Saint Laurent are in fact individually embroidered, rather than printed onto the material. And here is an updated polka dot creation; so elegant, so refined. Here is my favourite Dior original. An evening dress that could have been created this year. In fact it was made in the 1950s. The beautifully flattering shape of this gown is replicated in a lot of dresses like this one. But none of them capture the ethereal quality of the one above. The exhibition is arranged around the different head creative designers. Yves Saint Laurent succeeded Dior after Christian’s death by heart attack in 1957. It’s extraordinary to think he, Dior, was so influential despite having only a ten year career. Saint Laurent was only 21 when he became head designer and he only stayed until 1960. His creations prefigure the fashions that predominated in the swinging sixties. Following Saint Laurent there was Marc Bohan (1960 – 1989) and Gianfranco Ferre (1989-1997). However by far the most exotic dresses by subsequent designers were by the British designer, John Galliano who replaced Ferre in 1997. However even his most flamboyant dresses followed the style of Christian himself. Here is an original ball gown from Dior. You can see the connection to this gown by Galliano; one of his more modest creations. This beautiful flowing Galliano gown also clearly draws on earlier Dior creations. He became increasingly flamboyant; always to great effect. Later in his career he started using indigenous motifs like these two; featuring bold colours and extraordinary shapes. He also took the House’s penchant for embroidery to the next level. Look at this outfit and the embroidery in detail. Galliano was sacked in disgrace (drunken anti-semitic comments in a cafe in Paris) and replaced by Raf Simons in 2012. The current head designer is the first woman to be appointed. Maria Grazia Chiuri commenced in 2015. Her designs are beautiful like this black and white dress. The star signs appliqued on the skirt refer back to Christian Dior’s highly superstitious nature and belief in astrology. Her first collection featured embroidered raffia. Very hard to do apparently. Nicole Kidman wore this dress at Cannes this year. The use of raffia referenced an earlier Dior original that was also on display. They are keen on history at this fashion house.
At the start of the exhibition there were actual ateliers who work for Dior in Paris, still in the original building bought by Dior, at work in the gallery. Lots of visitors were talking to them about their work. I am not such an accomplished seamstress to be able to hold a coherent conversation on such a topic, especially in French! They were very friendly and happy to show people the intricacies involved in their work. And it was very interesting seeing how they put a piece together. Each piece of paper represents a piece of material and all are numbered. The ateliers are coming back for either the last week, or the last week-end of the exhibition. I’ll conclude this post with two celebrity dresses. The beautiful chartreuse gown worn by Nicole Kidman when she won an Oscar for The Hours. It’s tiny and has incredible embroidery and I don’t think this photo quite captures the extraordinary colour. Very few women could wear this dress! And here is Miranda Kerr’s wedding dress, only because the curator was incredibly excited to get it into the exhibition. It arrived the day before it opened. Despite my views on marriage (anti) it’s a beautiful dress.
There are also displays of shoes and hats and bags; lots of them. But I was exhausted by the time I got to them; blown away by the beautiful dresses. There is a great deal to see. Do go and see this exhibition if you get the chance.