De­spite be­ing a world away from the fash­ion­able sa­lons of Paris, Aus­tralian women were among the first to em­brace a rev­o­lu­tion­ary new post-war style of French dress­ing.

Australian Geographic - - Contents - CHRISSIE GOLDRICK

AS FRANCE EMERGED from the gloom of war, for­eign oc­cu­pa­tion and years of de­pri­va­tion, Chris­tian Dior’s ground­break­ing ‘New Look’, un­veiled in Fe­bru­ary 1947, sig­nalled a re­turn to elegance and beauty for a coun­try long re­garded as the epit­ome of style and chic. Shock waves gen­er­ated by this land­mark fashion collection re­ver­ber­ated far be­yond the co­terie of wealthy so­ci­ety doyennes and style-con­scious celebri­ties who lined the cat­walk in Dior’s stu­dio at Av­enue Mon­taigne for that first post-war pa­rade.

Also in Paris that spring sea­son were fashion buy­ers from Aus­tralia’s David Jones, and a few key pieces from the collection made it back to be shown at the up­mar­ket re­tailer’s flag­ship Syd­ney store.With wasp-waisted, full-skirted sil­hou­ettes, Dior’s de­signs rein­tro­duced volup­tuous fem­i­nin­ity to women’s fashion, which had been miss­ing here since early in the cen­tury.

His use of lux­ury fab­rics was wel­comed af­ter wartime short­ages and en­forced ra­tioning, when hem­lines on women’s skirts were man­dated by law and full-length evening dresses were ex­pressly for­bid­den. Ac­cord­ing to Katie Somerville, cu­ra­tor of a ma­jor new Dior ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tional Gallery of Victoria (NGV), the French cou­turier was an as­tute busi­ness­man eye­ing new mar­kets for his prod­ucts and saw Aus­tralia’s po­ten­tial. “Here was a fashion mar­ket that hadn’t re­ally been im­pacted in the same way or to the same ex­tent as a lot of Europe and Bri­tain, in terms of the war,” Katie says. “There was a more op­ti­mistic at­ti­tude to­wards some­thing dif­fer­ent – a real hunger for it, in fact – and that de­vel­oped into a passion for all things French. A lot of Aus­tralian bou­tiques that opened in that pe­riod were all about ref­er­enc­ing France or al­lud­ing to the French cou­ture in­dus­try, even if they weren’t ac­tu­ally a part of it.”

A year af­ter the New Look launch, the 1948 Spring/Sum­mer collection of 50 pieces pre­miered at David Jones in Syd­ney, the first time a Dior collection had been shown out­side of France. In time, Dior de­signs would be pro­duced un­der li­cence by Aus­tralian cloth­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers. While his haute cou­ture pieces were re­served for the elite,

Dior’s ideas in­spired both local de­sign­ers and do­mes­tic dress­mak­ers as pho­tos of the out­fits were widely pub­lished in pop­u­lar mag­a­zines such as the Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly ( AWW), and sewing pat­terns be­came avail­able that ref­er­enced Dior.

House of Dior’s spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with Aus­tralia con­tin­ued to flour­ish, and in 1957 the AWW, in part­ner­ship with David Jones, ar­ranged to bring us the Au­tumn/Win­ter collection – Dior’s last, be­cause he died un­ex­pect­edly in Oc­to­ber, aged 51.The tour went ahead and seven of Dior’s most fa­mous man­nequins flew to Aus­tralia on a spe­cially char­tered flight with 80 out­fits for fashion shows in Syd­ney and Mel­bourne.This pho­to­graph of the man­nequins land­ing in Aus­tralia (right) is fea­tured in the NGV’s ex­hi­bi­tion The House of Dior: Seven­tyYears of Haute Cou­ture, along with more than 140 orig­i­nal gar­ments, in­clud­ing some from the 1947 collection.The ex­hi­bi­tion runs 27 Au­gust–7 Novem­ber.

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