THE EM­PIRE LINEA

A new ex­hi­bi­tion com­mem­o­rates a mile­stone for the house of Chris­tian Dior, the saviour of haute cou­ture, and its con­nec­tion to Aus­tralia.

VOGUE Australia - - News - By So­phie Ted­man­son.

new ex­hi­bi­tion com­mem­o­rates a mile­stone for the house of Chris­tian Dior, the saviour of haute cou­ture, and its con­nec­tion to Aus­tralia.

“(Aus­tralia is) a young coun­try rel­a­tively un­scathed by war, some­thing that made the land the per­fect place to show­case my de­signs” – Chris­tian Dior, 1948.

When Paris-based models trav­elled to Aus­tralia to ex­clu­sively model Chris­tian Dior’s cou­ture col­lec­tion in 1957, there was one rule for the seven women with the tiny waists and per­fectly coiffed French chignons: no sun­bathing.

“Al­though I vis­ited Bondi Beach, we cer­tainly had to be very care­ful not get a sun­tan, be­cause it would not go with the clothes,” re­calls Svet­lana Lloyd of the his­toric Aus­tralian tour.

A for­mer bal­le­rina, Ms Lloyd was one of seven models – then known as man­nequins – who pa­raded the 83-piece col­lec­tion in David Jones’s Syd­ney and Mel­bourne stores. It was an ex­tra­or­di­nary coup for the Aus­tralian depart­ment store, al­beit one marked with extra poignancy: Mon­sieur Dior had died sud­denly just a month be­fore the Syd­ney event took place. Re­mark­ably, how­ever, it was not the first time Chris­tian Dior had been pre­sented in Aus­tralia; nine years ear­lier, just a year af­ter the founder had cre­ated his epony­mous house, 50 Dior dresses had been shipped to our shores and mod­elled by lo­cal man­nequins whose body shapes repli­cated the cou­ture models with the in­fa­mous 20-inch waists in Paris. It was the first time an en­tire Chris­tian Dior col­lec­tion had been shown out­side Paris.

“Tiny waists and whirl­away skirts cause a sen­sa­tion,” ran a lo­cal head­line of the show. These pro­por­tions had be­come syn­ony­mous with Chris­tian Dior’s de­signs, most fa­mously rep­re­sented by the Bar suit, which de­buted in the iconic New Look col­lec­tion in 1947 – a tiny waist cinched atop a vo­lu­mi­nous skirt with ir­reg­u­lar hem­line, and sheath dresses ac­cen­tu­at­ing the curves of a woman’s hips. It rev­o­lu­tionised the post-World War II fash­ion in­dus­try, and in turn the way women viewed fash­ion.

It is this re­mark­able his­tory and the house’s 70th anniversary that are be­ing cel­e­brated with The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Cou­ture, a ground­break­ing ex­hi­bi­tion that opens at the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria (NGV) this month. On dis­play are more than 140 garments cre­ated by Chris­tian Dior Cou­ture, in­clud­ing out­fits from ev­ery decade of the his­tory of the house and ev­ery cre­ative di­rec­tor, in­clud­ing Mon­sieur Dior him­self.

“I think of my work as ephemeral ar­chi­tec­ture, ded­i­cated to the beauty of the fe­male body,” the founder wrote in his 1957 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Dior by Dior. It was from this idea of beauty, born

in his child­hood home by the sea in Nor­mandy sur­rounded by gar­dens, that Mon­sieur Dior’s vi­sion of form­ing a cou­ture house, and in turn cre­at­ing an em­pire brand, was formed. It was to be an em­pire, he dreamt, that used fash­ion to “sell the dream” of a range of per­fumes, lux­ury goods and cos­met­ics. And so, on Fe­bru­ary 21, 1947, when he pre­sented his de­but col­lec­tion at 30 Av­enue Mon­taigne in Paris’s 8th ar­rondisse­ment, the house of Dior was of­fi­cially born. Seven decades and seven head de­sign­ers later, it re­mains one of the most iconic fash­ion brands, turn­ing over a re­ported $56 bil­lion in rev­enue last year, still from 30 Av­enue Mon­taigne, which is now the head­quar­ters of the house of Dior.

Mon­sieur Dior once said his dream was sim­ply “to make women hap­pier and more beau­ti­ful”. And this in­cluded women from all walks of life: roy­alty, Hol­ly­wood, so­ci­ety. Princess Mar­garet, who was Mon­sieur Dior’s spe­cial guest at the Blen­heim Palace show in 1954 (the same aris­to­cratic venue hosted Dior again in 1958 and for its re­sort ’17 pre­sen­ta­tion last year) fa­mously wore a ro­man­tic white Chris­tian Dior cou­ture ball gown for her 21st birth­day party, de­scrib­ing it as “my favourite dress of all”. In the decades since, the house has re­mained a favourite among the rich and fa­mous, from Diana, Princess of Wales, Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren and El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor to the cur­rent faces of the brand – Char­l­ize Theron, Natalie Port­man, Jennifer Lawrence, Ri­hanna and Bella Ha­did – and the high-so­ci­ety cou­ture clien­tele who fly to Paris from around the globe ev­ery sea­son for per­sonal fit­ting ses­sions. These are women who can af­ford to pay up to $100,000 for a cus­tom gown that can take more than 150 hours to cre­ate in the Chris­tian Dior ate­lier by the ex­tra­or­di­nary team of white-lab-coated seam­stresses, em­broi­der­ers and tai­lors. Women whose body shapes – of all dif­fer­ent sizes and fits – are recre­ated in scores of per­son­alised dress­maker’s dum­mies that line the walls of the cou­ture ate­lier in the light-filled rooftop of the Av­enue Mon­taigne head­quar­ters.

Mon­sieur Dior was “al­ways ex­tremely cour­te­ous”, re­calls Svet­lana Lloyd. “He cared very much for his ladies, as he called us; he didn’t like us to be too tired. In fact, dur­ing the fran­tic two weeks of a new col­lec­tion be­ing shown, he would make sure a sec­ond lot of 15 man­nequins was hired to do the other show­ings. They didn’t have to be any­thing to look at, so long as they [could] get into the clothes, and could just stand there.

“[Mon­sieur Dior] was very soft-spo­ken. He had a high-pitched but very soft voice. When I knew him, he was a di­a­betic, and he was a bit portly. He had prob­lems with not be­ing al­lowed to eat choco­lates, which he loved! He was ex­tremely cour­te­ous, and thought­ful, and pleas­ant, and treated us with im­mense re­spect.”

The famed cou­turier would use a stick to point to the gowns dur­ing fit­tings so as not to touch the gar­ment, she re­calls. “He was so def­er­en­tial, in that he didn’t want to be putting his hand on his man­nequin’s shoul­der or sleeve, he didn’t want to han­dle with his hands; he was pos­si­bly think­ing about the fab­ric, he didn’t want to touch the fab­ric, in case one could leave a mark or some­thing. It was also practical that if he pointed with a stick, every­body else would be able to see what he was talk­ing about.”

Dur­ing those re­hearsals the hats, gloves, jew­ellery, some­times even an um­brella, would be se­lected, how­ever, the rest of the styling was al­ready com­plete: the man­nequins wore stan­dard is­sue beige or flesh-coloured satin shoes for evening and black suede for day­time, would do their own make-up, and were given chits to go to the hair­dresser ev­ery week. “But there was only one style per­mit­ted,” adds Ms Lloyd: “the French chignon.”

As for their walk, Lloyd says, the women were given no guid­ance: “When I asked the ma­tron in charge of out­fits and man­nequins, when I asked her how, she said: ‘You just walk.’” She says the fa­mous cou­ture glide – where man­nequins seem­ingly floated through the salon with no hip move­ment – was com­pletely dif­fer­ent to to­day’s model walk. “The po­si­tion of the body is to­tally dif­fer­ent,” she says. “Now they have a dif­fer­ent sort of walk, much more de­ter­mined … and it’s the pre­vail­ing taste. I hap­pen to not par­tic­u­larly like it, but I wouldn’t, would I? There’s 60 years be­tween us!” Con­tin­ued on page 168

A John Gal­liano-de­signed cou­ture gown from spring/sum­mer ’09.

An Yves Saint Lau­rent-de­signed cou­ture gown from au­tumn/win­ter ’59/’60.

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