When Tony Ellwood, director of the National Gallery of Victoria ( NGV), told me that he had secured an independently curated exhibition of the best of Christian Dior couture, which would celebrate and include the work of all seven designers to head up the house, I was beyond thrilled. The show is world class. Beautifully curated by Katie Somerville, it represents, I would argue, the best and most comprehensive fashion exhibition that has ever been staged in Australia.
Christian Dior chose three cities in which to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the house this year, and Melbourne is one of them (alongside New York and Paris), thanks to this wonderful show.
The special connection with Australia is nothing new for Dior. In fact, the relationship spans back decades to 1948, when 50 Dior dresses were shipped to Australia to show to wealthy patrons of the squattocracy. It was the first Dior show ever staged outside of Paris.
The Second World War had left Australia relatively unscathed, and unlike in the US, where Monsieur Dior’s collection was greeted with riots because of the abundant fabric used in his New Look, which seemed indulgent in a time of continuing rations, Australian clients and the press alike fawned over the collection.
In the 1950s, clothing soldiers to fight the Korean War in cold winters contributed to the price of wool skyrocketing. Our sheep farmers were making fortunes and there were stories of them driving around paddocks in RollsRoyces and shopping for couture. With his house just 10 years old, Christian Dior could see the opportunity and planned a second and even bigger show, one hosted at David Jones in 1957.
Seven models made the long journey to Australia for the event, and our deputy editor Sophie Tedmanson spoke to one of them, Svetlana Lloyd, who recalls her time working with Monsieur Dior, who sadly died one month before the show was staged. Svetlana also modelled for his protégé and successor Yves Saint Laurent, and talks about the pennies she made personally each time a garment was sold, which must make her one of the world’s first financially compensated influencers.
At Vogue we’ve celebrated the NGV exhibition by collaborating with renowned photographer Paolo Roversi to create a special cover and portfolio of the looks. Paolo chose to photograph Australian actress Bella Heathcote in the most recent Christian Dior couture collection, and models wear some of the finest examples of the pieces in the exhibition. I am sure you will agree the images, taken in his studio in Paris, are stunning. They capture the silhouettes, colour and beauty audiences will enjoy at the NGV.
This is a very special issue for us and a wonderful way to celebrate the art of fashion. Enormous thanks to Tony and his professional and delightful team at the NGV for making this fashion dream a reality.
A Christian Dior haute couture spring/summer ’95 dress from “Through the looking glass”, from page 118.