The last Parisian retrospective dedicated to Christian Dior was held in 1987 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. It focused on ten years of the couturier’s designs, from 1947 to 1957. To celebrate the House of Dior’s seventieth anniversary, the new retrospective shows how Christian Dior and the six artistic directors who followed on his heels devised the brand and built up the influence of a name that is the very embodiment of haute couture in France and throughout the world. Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and today’s director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, have all drawn on their own creative sensibilities to formulate a style and a vocabulary that stay true to the original concept and to help define the House of Dior’s identity through the prism of its relationship to its era. This exploration of haute couture is enriched with Frédéric Castet’s fashion fur designs, beauty creations by Serge Lutens, Tyen and Peter Philips, as well as perfume creations by François Demachy.
A leading figure in the world of 20th-century fashion once he launched his New Look spring/summer collection in 1947, Christian Dior took the feminine shape in a totally new direction, relegating the masculine silhouette of the war years to the past. His dresses expressed a modern femininity, incarnated by his flower woman and producing a shape characterised by flowing curves and the bearing of a classical ballet dancer. The New Look featured soft shoulders, accentuated busts, nipped-in waists and hips amplified by swirling corolla-like skirts. Christian Dior relaunched the textile industry with his insistence on the use of great swaths of fabric, a controversial move after the years of shortage under the Occupation. He succeeded in breathing new life into the couture tradition, giving a central role to embroiderers and craftspeople making costume jewellery and accessories. He invented an internationally-focused couture that put Paris back in the spotlight as the capital of fashion.
The exhibition opens with the story of Christian Dior’s life: his childhood in Granville, the Roaring Twenties when he discovered the avant-garde art world and the pleasures of Parisian entertainment, his training as a fashion illustrator and his entry into the haute couture world. Before turning to fashion, Christian Dior ran an art gallery from 1928 to 1934 in partnership with his friends, first Jacques Bonjean then Pierre Colle. This part of his life is illustrated with a series of paintings, sculptures and documents that depict an eclectic approach to curating, the older generation of established artists rubbing shoulders with young artists who were Dior’s peers. These up-and-coming talents included Giacometti, Dalí, Calder, Leonor Fini, Max Jacob, Jean Cocteau and Christian Bérard. Christian Dior was a lover of antiques and objets d’art, an Art Nouveau collector, a decorator enthralled by the 18th century and a garden enthusiast. He drew on all these sources of inspiration to embellish his private residences and define the aesthetic for his couture house and designs. The exhibition shows us that his gowns were full of references to painting and sculpture as well as everything that makes up the art of living: wallpapers, fabrics, china and chinoiserie.