In celebration of the 70th anniversary of The House of Dior, one of the world’s most prestigious couture houses – and arguably the most influential in both the 20th and 21st centuries – is holding its most extensive exhibition in collaboration with the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).
On display at The House of Dior: 70 Years of Haute Couture exhibition are more than 140 exquisite garments created by the world’s most celebrated designers beginning with founder and creative director Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ and subsequent creative directors Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Guanfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Bill Gaytten, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri.
Some Dior dresses are so iconic you’ll recognise them instantly, like the chartreuse sheath dress our very own Nicole Kidman wore to the 1997 Oscars. Dresses worn by Naomi Watts, Jennifer Lawrence, Mirander Kerr and Charlize Theron are also on show.
Deciding which of Dior’s couture garments to put on display, Katie Somerville, NGV’s senior curator, sifted through vast collections from Dior’s fashion house in Paris to the Metropolitan Museum in New York to curate the exhibition.
“With this exhibition we’ve got 20 amazing things from our own collection that are Christian Dior couture. Then we’ve borrowed from a further 13 lenders, the main one being Christian Dior’s own archives in Paris where we’ve borrowed in excess of 90 fantastic pieces,” Somerville told Australian Associated Press.
Haute couture is slow fashion at its most brilliant and what better way to show off Dior’s meticulously constructed garments than in an exhibition space of equal brilliance. The use of soft lighting and open space, sparkling chandeliers and two-story elegant staircase and mezzanine perfectly contributes to the dreamy ambience of this fashion exhibition. In fact, the transitional space is a replica of Dior’s headquarters in Paris.
The brainchild of a middle-aged Christian Dior, the House of Dior was established in Paris 1946 with the couture house first opening its doors in the following year. Dior’s first collection ‘New Look’ – epitomised by its feminine silhouette of rounded shoulders, cinched waist and bell-shaped skirt – achieved critical acclaim for its unapologetic appreciation of the female form, as well as resurrecting opulence and extravagant use of fabric, which brought optimism and hope to the post-WWII generation of women.
Synonymous with fine taste and luxury, the House of Dior has continued to maintain specialist ateliars to execute its couture designs. During Dior’s heyday there were 572 employees working in twenty-eight workrooms across five buildings at their headquarters located at 30 Avenue Montaigne, Paris. Today there are only sixty permanent staff across the two specialist workrooms.
These workrooms are home to exceptional craftsmanship and the finest sewing and tailoring techniques. It is divided into two streams: flou (soft dressmaking) and tailleur (tailoring) supervised by a première (head).
Staff in the flou typically work with lavish embroideries, crepes, fine wools, satins, chiffons and silk, while those in the tailleur handle dense materials and heavy fabrics. There are times, however, when these ‘workroom rules’ are flouted as in the case of the ‘Bar Suit 1947′ where staff from different workrooms worked on the one outfit.
Little about the Dior dressmaking process has changed since 1946. Every couture garment is first made up as a toile (prototype) using basic fabrics, which is then reviewed by the head designer. Once approved, the work is then constructed in the final fabric and made to individual measurements.
To complete some of the ensembles, the fashion house would occasionally commission exceptional milliner Stephen Jones to create extravagant hats. These hats are also on display at this glamorous Australian fashion exhibition.
Australia was the first country outside of France to show a complete House of Dior collection. Just one year after Christian Dior launched his revolutionary ‘New Look’ collection, several of his house mannequins (models as we now call them) arrived in Sydney in 1948. And so began Australia’s love affair with the luxury brand that endures to this very day.
If you’re a fan of haute couture and want to see sewing artistry at its finest, this sumptuous exhibition is highly recommended.
The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture runs until November 7th at the NGV International. Get your tickets here.