lorewords t^ he Powerhouse Museum is delighted to be presenting the exhibition Christian Dior: the magic of fashion in association with Christian Dior, Paris and the Union Francaise des Arts du Costume (UFAC).
Christian Dior is undoubtedly the most famous name in twentieth century fashion. The Powerhouse Museum, which holds one of Australia's foremost collections of costume, is proud to stage this major retrospective of Dior. This is the first time such a significant collection of Dior gowns has been displayed outside Paris.
Drawn from the collections of Christian Dior and UFAC, the exhibition traces the remarkable decade of design by Christian Dior from 1947 to 1957 and brings it to the present with a selection of gowns by the House of Dior's later designers, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan and Gianfranco Ferre. A special section developed by the Powerhouse Museum focuses on Dior in postwar Australia, in particular the Dior parades held at David Jones in Sydney in 1948 and 1957.
The Powerhouse Museum is grateful for the cooperation of Christian Dior, Paris and the assistance of Michel-Henri Carriol, delegate for Christian Dior in Australia, in enabling this important exhibition to come to Australia.
I would also like to acknowledge the collaboration of the curators of the exhibition: Louise Mitchell, from the Powerhouse Museum, who worked on the exhibition in association with Marika Genty from Christian Dior and Lydia Kamitsis from UFAC; and Jane de Teliga who initiated and directed the project for the Powerhouse Museum.
Our grateful thanks go to all those who have generously supported the Christian Dior exhibition, particularly the following sponsors:
Air France • Union des Assurances de Paris • Parfums Christian Dior • Nine Network Australia • David Jones Australia • Hotel Inter- Continental.
Director, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
(Christian Dior — the magical name that for forty-seven years now has been synonymous the world over with the enchantment of French fashion, elegance and style.
Regardless of the intrinsically fleeting nature of this creative sphere and the endless cycle of seasonal collections, the House of Christian Dior has somehow withstood the cruelty of time: season after season, Dior has, almost paradoxically, built its own timelessness, eschewing the ephemeral and placing itself squarely in the realm of tradition.
Despite the untimely death of its founder, the House of Dior has grown and branched out beyond its original field, that of haute couture, to acquire the far more global dimension it enjoys today.
I am always moved when I re-read the visionary words taken from Monsieur Dior's personal correspondence: 'In troubled times like ours, we must uphold our tradition of luxury, the jewel of our culture.'
Bernard Arnault President, Christian Dior
L hristian Dior did not invent haute couture, but it was incontestably he who fixed its rules and set its bounds. Thanks to him, fashion became an art form in France and is now part of our national heritage. He invented licensing, and his name, famous throughout the world, has become synonymous with elegance and creativity. His reign was to last only ten years (1947—1957), but he made his mark in such a way that even today it has lost nothing of its magic.
In 1955 Dior discovered the talent of a young man as yet unheard of, Yves Saint Laurent. He took him on, made him his closest assistant and then his avowed successor. At the beginning of their collaboration, Yves Saint Laurent created a dress, photographed by Richard Avedon for
Harpers Bazaar on 30 August 1955 in the now famous composition 'Dovima and the elephants'. It was therefore quite natural, when Dior died in 1957, that Yves Saint Laurent should succeed him.
The Union Francaise des Arts du Costume (UFAC), which came into being in 1948, a year after the Dior adventure began, set itself the task of perpetuating French creativity.
UFAC has been able to preserve thousands of pieces of clothing, providing us today with a broad view of creative fashion history. Our collections of clothes and documentary resources make up one of the world's biggest reference centres, which designers continue to add to, season after season. As its custodian, UFAC has made this heritage available for nearly fifty years by taking part in international events like Christian Dior: the magic of fashion at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.
I trust that this exhibition in Australia will give a broad public the opportunity to admire some of the most original and interesting works of art of our times, and to appreciate the emergence, two years alter the end of the Second World War, of a designer whose name would resound like thunder down the decades.
President, Yves Saint Laurent
President, the Union Francaise des Arts du
H ouse of Dior today ty Gi an franco
The artists I admire are those who try to unleash a certain interplay in their work, creating within the parameters of tradition and innovation.
When I came to Dior my initial concern was to bring into contemporary focus what was generally considered to be a magical universe. By using trousers, for example, a fairly masculine garment, I was able to revive the classic Dior suit. Combined with a waisted jacket, highlighted by a blouse in organza or lace, they create the sort of shape I really like: something that is both romantic and contemporary, but remains extremely feminine.
Everything Christian Dior produced works on this basic polarity between strength and softness, tradition and innovation. He could put together a collection featuring a gown with the purest of lines alongside one sprinkled with mock daisies, in a trompe l'oeil effect. In the same vein, he would blend artificial forms with traditional materials and inject an air of modernity into every one of his designs.
That's my point of departure too. When designing my own collections I am constantly reworking the theme of contrasts.
There are many links between my work and that of Christian Dior. As a former architect I am accustomed to developing my designs in two steps, starting from research and experimentation and making free, flowing sketches. I concur with Christian Dior's words when he said: 'Sketches are the first form of an idea." They are the expression of a look, a line, a stance. They are a guide to volume and proportion. I create moving shapes and lines.
The next phase is pure technique, the architectural plan as it were, where the fabric of the design takes on volume and form.
The expertise of the Dior workrooms, heirs to the full tradition of couture, means the professional skills and techniques of the past can be applied to the present. Thanks to their skills, I can conjugate and decline lines, shapes and collections adapted to today's woman. Together we develop clothing combinations that allow a woman to feel elegant, confident and highly individual.
To perpetuate the spirit of Dior is to create pure, precisely drawn lines, with defined, perfectly balanced volume, and then underline them with amazing cutting techniques.
Playing with the masculine-feminine also follows the Dior image — the use, for example, of harsher fabrics, like Prince of Wales and hound's-tooth checks. I go beyond the historic tie
'Alcove' an evening ensemble designed by Gianfranco Ferre for the House of Dior, Autumn-Winter collection 1993-94. The rich colours and motifs of the East inspired this dramatic outfit, made in an unusual combination of mohair and organza.
trademarks of the House of Dior, but by doing so I also reinforce them, using the counterplay of colours like the notes of an organ, an exchange between the contrasts of black and white or the subtler shades of beige and grey.
This return to the source allows me to re-centre, purify or elaborate on my designs as my instinct dictates, and then to re-create a 'truly Dior universe' in conjunction with the staff of this prestigious establishment.
'I have been seduced by this marvellous instrument — Dior's workrooms, design teams and his image. It's as if I had been given a Stradivarius to play on entirely as I wished.'2
* Gianfranco Ferre is Creator of the Haute Couture, Haute Fourrure (Haute Couture Furs), Women s Pret-a-Porter andPret-a-Porter Furs at Christian Dior.
1. Elie Rabourdin and Alice Chavanne, eds. Je suis couturier (I am a couturier), by Christian Dior, Editions du Conquistador, Paris, 1951, p62. 2. Gianfranco Ferre, cited by Francois Baudot, 'Gianfranco Ferre', L'Officiel de la Couture, April 1989, pi 82.
ristian D ior: the magic of -Lasliion liy Louise Mitchell*
Throughout the history of French decorative arts and design, there has been a complex relationship between the continuity of French tradition and the spirit of innovation and change. In both form and function, a dialogue has been maintained between innovation and tradition that has given French decorative arts their distinctive appearance and unique history. The success story of Christian Dior and his couture house is representative of this theme in French design.
Before the French Revolution the court was the focal point of the creation and dissemination of style in matters of dress. Traditional values inherited from the ancient regime — fine crafting, respect for luxury materials, and refinement of detail and finish — were integrated into the expanding luxury industries that flourished in nineteenth-century France. After the role of the couturier emerged during the Second Empire (1852—1870), haute couture became stamped on the international consciousness as typically French. The standards of creativity and skill set by designers such as the Callot Soeurs, Poiret, Chanel, Vionnet and Balenciaga in the first half of the twentieth century reinforced Paris's role as the undisputed centre of fashion. By the time of the Second World War, haute couture had proved its monetary and cultural value for France.
Recognition of haute couture's worth as a symbol for France helped set the scene for Christian Dior's extraordinary success when he launched his house in the years immediately after the war. With a disregard for postwar rationing and a conscious effort to revive the spirit of the luxurious fashions of the Second Empire and the belle epoque, Dior brought excitement back to fashion and revived haute couture. In doing so, he demonstrated not only an outstanding flair for dress design, but also a shrewd understanding of French tradition in the decorative arts and its significance to markets abroad.
The exhibition Christian Dior: the magic of fashion is primarily a retrospective of Dior's decade of achievement as the most authoritative figure in the world of fashion. It begins with the 'Bar' suit of 1947, an outfit that encapsulates the New Look, which was to make Dior a household name. It continues with over sixty garments that represent his seasonal collections up to the time of his death in 1957. The exhibition concludes with designs by Dior's successors at the House of Dior: Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan and the present designer, the Italian Gianfranco Ferre. Extending the exhibition up to the present shows the continuity of the Dior tradition and house style.
A publication like this is an opportunity to expand on exhibition themes. The exhibition's storyline was developed by the major lenders, Christian Dior archives and the Union
Henry Clark's 1956 photograph of the mannequin Dovima wearing a Dior hat encapsulates the glamour and elegance of the Dior style and evokes nostalgia for a past age of luxury and good taste to which Dior aspired.
Francaise des Arts du Costume (UFAC). The French curators, Marika Genty from the House of Dior and Lydia Kamitsis from UFAC, have highlighted Dior's approach to design in terms of seasonal changes in silhouettes, cut and construction, as well as in the use of opulent fabric embellishments, such as embroidery, that reveal the dazzling technical skills of the Parisian workrooms.
A major section of the exhibition, entitled 'The Dior wardrobe', categorises clothes according to time of day and purpose, which again highlights the tradition of couture recalling court etiquette. The essays by curators Marika Genty and Lydia Kamitsis provide the background to the exhibition approach. Gianfranco Ferre in his essay acknowledges the interplay of tradition and innovation in his collections for the House of Dior and gives credit to the workrooms that realise his designs.
My own contribution has been to look at the influence that French fashion, particularly that of Christian Dior, had in Australia in the postwar years. Because of its relevance to a local audience, a section about the Australian response has been included in the exhibition. Only a year after the New Look was launched, Sydney had the opportunity to view a collection of Dior garments, billed as the first collection to be seen outside France. The collection was shown at David Jones department store in Sydney, one of the many stores around the country
Fashion illustration of Dior's 'Isphahan' ball gown by Rene Gruau, 1947. Illustrators and photographers played an important part in interpreting and disseminating the look and mood of Dior's latest collections. By creating a fantasy world around the dress they added to its desirability.
that had considerable interest in promoting French fashion to the Australian buyer. The late 1940s and 1950s was a time of intense interest in Paris fashion, and it was a period when the moderately priced market was flooded with fashion derivative of Paris.
At the heart of Dior's success was his ability to combine the seemingly inconsistent areas of exclusive design and mass merchandising. Christian Dior's business acumen ensured that his house reaped considerable benefits from cooperation with department stores the world over and from his being the first couturier to develop a licensing system. As Lydia Kamitsis points out in her essay, Dior founded a fashion empire on a past that took its strongest guidelines from the traditions of French art de vivre, whilst summoning a new era of couture in which underwriting by the mass market ensured the continuation of the unique and expensive handmade designs of the couturier.
Louise Mitchell is a curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.
Dior mannequins in 1957. For each collection Dior presented about 1 70 garments in a show lasting up to two hours. The order of each show was carefully set, beginning with suits, then formal town dresses, then more formal outfits, cocktail dresses, short evening dresses, and long evening dresses and ball gowns. The finale would be the wedding dress. Photo by Loomis Dean, Life Magazine, 1957.
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