Presenting the enduring legacy of the House of Dior, the exhibit Dior: From Paris to the World just premiered at the Denver Art Museum. This history of the celebrated fashion house is revealed in a display of more than 200 couture dresses, alongside accessories, photographs, original sketches, and atelier patterns. The vision of Monsieur Christian Dior and his successive artistic directors is unveiled in a visual record of the brand’s ascent to international acclaim.
“My hope [was] to present an ambitious and spectacular exhibition that showcases the creative processes of the House of Dior’s artistic directors,” curator Florence Müller tells CR. “Dior is known for its sophisticated design heritage that has influenced fashion history for more than seven decades. The harmonious visual journey created for visitors includes moments of quietness, as well as extravagant bursts of color, draping and design, all of which reflect the iconic fashion House.”
Dior was born in 1905 near Normandy in Granville, France. His family moved to Paris several years later, and he went on to attend the École des Sciences Politiques at his traditional family’s urging. After graduating in 1928, he followed his own path and opened a Parisian art gallery, exhibiting prominent artists like Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. Dior then immersed himself in art and design work, including fashion sketching and magazine illustration. He was hired as a design assistant to Parisian couturier Robert Piguet and later by dress couturier Lucien Lelong, where Dior honed the principles of styling with fellow designer and fashion great Pierre Balmain.
The moment Dior truly distinguished himself in fashion occurred in 1947 with his famous debut, the revolutionary New Look collection. Moving beyond the practical aesthetics of World War II fashion, Dior embraced modernity and refinement. His looks accentuated the feminine silhouette with voluminous shapes and corseting to emphasize a womanly profile. This approach was echoed in Dior’s continuing dress designs, Palmyre in 1952 and Fanny in 1953. The New Look was generally very well-received and admired by fashionphiles. Quickly, the House of Dior became renowned for its luxurious attitude: the finest fabrics and deft attention to design, detail, and embroidery.
A distinctive reputation among elite clientele popularized Dior’s designs, establishing the fashion house on five continents in only a decade. North and South American patrons embraced the uniqueness of Dior’s daring, ornate designs, and Hollywood actresses became notable clients such as Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, and Elizabeth Taylor. Their support proved essential to the brand’s international visibility and esteem. Only months after Dior appeared on the cover of Time magazine, he died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1957. The hailed couturier’s funeral was attended by more than 2,500 people, including many of his most famous clients.
Since Dior himself six artistic directors have followed, each bearing a unique stamp on the identity of the fashion house: Yves Saint Laurent (1958–1960), Marc Bohan (1961–1989), Gianfranco Ferré (1989–1996), John Galliano (1997–2011), Raf Simons (2012–2015), and Maria Grazia Chiuri (2016–present). As Dior’s head assistant, Saint Laurent went on to lead the fashion line in 1958. Under his guidance, shapes and materials remained similar but Saint Laurent began to style clothes in a youthful, softer tact as with Banco and Bal Masque in 1958. He continued to push the limits of fashion-forward Dior designs, until he was succeeded by more conservative designer Marc Bohan in 1960. Bohan’s moderated fashions appealed to social figures and actresses such as Elizabeth Taylor, who the designer dressed in Soirée à Rio in 1961. Then Italian-born Gianfranco Ferré became artistic director in 1989. As the first non-French designer, Ferré eschewed romantic looks, preferring more refined fashion concepts as in dresses, Palladio in 1992 and Robe Hellébore in 1995.
The fashion house took a very different turn under British designer John Galliano, the next to lead Dior in 1997. Galliano was known for extravagant designs like Embroidered satin dress in 2004 and Gold embroidered mohair bouclette coat in 2009. His bold vantage led to notorious fashion shows with controversial themes like homelessness for Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2000, as well as provocative erotic ad campaigns. Following moments of scandal, Galliano was dismissed in 2011 and the Dior brand then hired minimalist Belgian designer Raf Simons in 2012. Simons’ direct aesthetics brought Dior fashion back to a more uncomplicated path in creations like the 3/4th-length duchess satin evening gown with Sterling Ruby SP178 shadow print in 2012 and Embroidered tulle and silk evening gown in 2013.
Maria Grazia Chiuri became the latest artistic director—and the first woman to lead the creative side of Dior—in 2016. Her approach embraces individualism and expression, targeting millennial audiences. Chiuri’s collections often include slogan attire with phrases such as, “We should all be feminists” and “C’est non non non et non!” (“It’s no, no, no, and no!”) referencing female rights and independence. Her design work merges the traditions of what Dior has been with where it is going in beautiful, inventive pieces like “Dior Red” ball gown in tiered tulle fans in 2018.
Dior: From Paris to the World discovers the full journey of the iconic brand. From its 1947 New Look to the contemporary moment, Dior has remained the vanguard of fashion and culture. Ever-modernizing and renewing, the house designs push boundaries, anticipating the modern woman’s style needs. The original couturier himself sought to make women look and feel their most beautiful in his feminine, graceful clothing. Today’s design history-makers Thom Browne, Miuccia Prada, Vivienne Westwood, and Alexander McQueen have all referenced Dior’s fashion inspiration in their work. The House of Dior retains the full elegance of its founding vision, Christian Dior’s couture artistry.
Dior: From Paris to the World is on view at the Denver Art Museum now until March 3, 2019.
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