The Royal On­tario Mu­seum show­cases the early years of the House of Dior


Chris­tian Dior

is ar­guably the most in­flu­en­tial cou­turier from the golden age of dress­mak­ing. In Fe­bru­ary 1947, two years af­ter the end of the Sec­ond World War, the mas­ter of ul­tra-fem­i­nine shapes pre­sented his first haute cou­ture col­lec­tion in Paris at the age of 42, and re-es­tab­lished the war-rav­aged city as the cen­tre of the cou­ture in­dus­try.

Us­ing swathes and swathes of the rich­est fab­rics to cre­ate ex­ag­ger­ated full skirts, wasp-waisted sil­hou­ettes, and soft shoul­ders, Mon­sieur Dior swept away years of boxy, mas­cu­line, fab­ric-con­serv­ing shapes that were the re­sult of wartime dev­as­ta­tion. His revo­lu­tion­ary “New Look,” a term coined by the in­flu­en­tial ed­i­tor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, Carmel Snow, sold a dream of the good old days when women could af­ford to be ex­trav­a­gant and de­lib­er­ately glam­orous.

This win­ter, in cel­e­bra­tion of the House of Dior’s 70th an­niver­sary, the Royal On­tario Mu­seum is honour­ing the bril­liance be­hind the iconic French­man’s short-lived but pow­er­ful decade of cre­ations—from 1947 un­til his un­for­tu­nate death in 1957—with a unique ex­hi­bi­tion.

Oc­cu­py­ing the mu­seum’s Pa­tri­cia Har­ris Gallery of Tex­tiles & Cos­tume, the ret­ro­spec­tive, en­ti­tled sim­ply “Chris­tian Dior,” fea­tures over 40 breath­tak­ing dresses drawn from the ROM’s ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion, and loans from the mu­seum-wor­thy Dior Her­itage archive in Paris. “Plat­forms show­case the en­sem­bles, which are di­vided and posed in a log­i­cal way from day­time to late af­ter­noon to cock­tail to evening­wear,” ex­plains Dr. Alexan­dra Palmer, the ROM’s

se­nior cu­ra­tor. Em­broi­dery sam­ples, ac­ces­sories, beauty prod­ucts, and jew­ellery housed in glass cases around the gallery pe­riph­ery aug­ment the vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence, and dis­play the true might of the multi-bil­lion-dol­lar em­pire.

“This ex­hi­bi­tion is con­ceived from the ROM’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion, which has been do­nated in large part from pri­vate wardrobes, mainly by women from Toronto and Mon­treal who wore these dresses to im­por­tant so­cial events,” shares Palmer. “It’s both a global and lo­cal story.”

By fo­cus­ing on the early years of the 70-yearold brand, Palmer’s goal in mount­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion was to of­fer mes­mer­iz­ing in­sight into the cre­ative process and me­chan­ics of the Paris haute cou­ture in­dus­try dur­ing the 1950s, and to ex­plore why Dior’s ground­break­ing lines, mas­ter­ful cuts, and lux­ury tex­tile and em­broi­dery choices laid the foun­da­tion for the fash­ion house’s global suc­cess.

The ret­ro­spec­tive also pays trib­ute to the un­sung he­roes be­hind many of its sar­to­rial mas­ter­pieces. “There were an in­cred­i­ble num­ber of ar­ti­sans who worked and sup­ported the house. Dior was the man at the top of the pyra­mid, but un­der­neath him, there were many peo­ple and in­dus­tries with in­cred­i­ble creativ­ity,” says Palmer. “The num­ber of de­ci­sions made by the hun­dreds of peo­ple that ul­ti­mately cre­ated one de­sign is breath­tak­ing, and I’ve tried to name as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble,” she con­tin­ues.

For the sea­soned cu­ra­tor, it’s this com­plex­ity of the cou­ture world she hopes vis­i­tors will truly take in. “It makes peo­ple think in a dif­fer­ent way, and ap­pre­ci­ate fash­ion be­yond just shop­ping. It cer­tainly is a craft.” “Chris­tian Dior” is on view at the ROM from Novem­ber 25th, 2017, un­til March 18th, 2018.

Clock­wise from top: Palmyre gown from the A/W 1952 col­lec­tion; Zemire cock­tail dress from A/W 1955; Del­phine cock­tail dress from Win­ter 1956; Cara­cas dress from S/S 1957.

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