Some opportunities in life just beg to be taken advantage of. Such was the case when I knew that Dior: From Paris to the World would be at the Denver Museum of Art from November, 2108 until March, 2019. Denver is a four-hour plane trip from my home on the East Coast of the United States, but, really, that did not deter me. My husband said he would join me on this expedition, and the icing on the cake was the fact that our son and his girlfriend, who live in California, would rendezvous with us in Denver to have a long weekend together.
Tickets to the Exhibition needed to be purchased in advance, as the Museum had timed entrance to view it.
I had read numerous professional reviews of the Exhibit before arriving in Denver, so I knew that the displays of the clothing did not have captions on them. Instead, attendees each received a “little black book” in which were listed the numbered captions and a replica of the storyboards on display throughout the Exhibit.
I loved this method of captioning. It allowed the clothing to appear uncluttered, reading the captions was easier than trying to share a small space with lots of other exhibition goers, and the little black book makes a wonderful reference to pair with the photos I took. (The only confusing aspect was that many of the fashions on display were not in numerical order, so I had to pay close attention to the numbers on the platforms as I read my little black book.) In addition, the Museum provided each attendee with an audio device, for intermittent descriptions and historical context throughout the Exhibit. Most of the designated audio stops in the Exhibit had not only an adult version, but also a “kids” version, which I thought was a brilliant idea.
The Exhibit was huge, incredibly comprehensive, and beautifully presented. It is not only a retrospective of the Fashion House founded and “grounded” by Christian Dior, it is also a visual history of some of the most important influences on modern, post-war fashion. It reminds us in no uncertain terms of the importance of Christian Dior himself in shaping our current interest and fascination with the world of haute couture – and for those of us who sew – the world of couture dressmaking and sewing.
In this Part I of my review, I will limit myself to the Artistic Directors/Fashion Designers – and their body of work – who have led the House from its beginning in 1947 up until the current day.
It was exactly 72 years ago today, February 12, 1947, when Christian Dior presented his first collection. Although he named the two lines of his collection Corolle (Flower) and En8 (Figure 8), the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, Carmel Snow, immediately gave a new name to this ground-breaking style, calling it the “New Look,” a designation which endures today. Of course, the most recognizable of this New Look is the Bar suit.
Other dresses from the reign of Dior himself include the following:
After Dior’s untimely death of a heart attack in 1957, the House was led by Yves Saint Laurent, who had been 19 when Christian Dior hired him as an assistant in 1955. Only 21 at this pivotal time for the fashion house, Saint Laurent boldly presented a departure in silhouette in his first collection in 1958. The Trapeze – or Triangle – collection was welcomed by fashionable women, and Saint Laurent was embraced as fashion’s new hero despite his young age.
By 1960, Saint Laurent veered again, presenting his “Beatnik” look, which was too radical at the time to be widely accepted. He left the House of Dior that year and was succeeded by Marc Bohan in 1961.
Bohan had the longest tenure as Creative Director for the House of Dior, leading the firm from 1961-1989. His first collection emphasized slim youthfulness, but with a classic nod to the founder of the House. Elegance, beautiful fabrics, embroidery, restrained but noteworthy color, and exacting fit were his hallmarks.
In 1989, the Italian designer Gianfranco Ferre became the Artistic Director of the House of Dior. After a rise in ready-to-wear in the world of fashion, Ferre was part of the revived interest in haute couture, and his designs are rich in color, ornamentation, and volume. He stayed at the House until 1996.
John Galliano took over the helm in 1997. Although still steeped in the precision and excellence of haute couture, Galliano became known for flamboyance, foreign influences in his designs, and his own rock-star status. And oops! I am lacking photos of examples of Galliano’s work. Never a fan, I read about every one of his works on display, but failed to concentrate on photos.
After the sometimes rocky tenure of Galliano, Raf Simons was a breath of fresh air. He became Artistic Director in 2012, and although known for his minimalism, he followed the heritage of the House of Dior. His designs showed a new romanticism, a love of color, and the influence of some of the world’s best modern art.
After Simons tenure ended in 2015, the House selected its first female Artistic Director. Maria Grazia Chiuri arrived in 2016. She is a great student of Christian Dior and her designs are freshly reminiscent of his. She features flowers, excellence in construction, with an occasional nod also to the modernist artists of the 20th century.
Are you exhausted yet? There is still so much more to come, but that will be in Part II. And – I have some sewing that needs attention, too. Imagine that! To be continued, both the Exhibit and my sewing.