The Paris Couture House Holds its First U.S. Retrospective at the Denver Art Museum.
By Katie Weisman
Christian Dior was one of the world’s most important fashion designers, and the Denver Art Museum (DAM) intends for you to know nearly everything about him through its current exhibit, Dior: From Paris to the World. With more than 200 couture dresses along with accessories, videos, original sketches and other pieces from the Dior archives spanning more than 70 years, the show gives visitors an intimate and extensive look at Christian Dior himself and his work as a couturier. It also showcases fashion from the six designers who assumed the creative direction of the Dior label following Dior’s death in 1957, just 11 years after he opened the doors to his couture house.
Christian Dior founded his couture house in 1946, a year after the end of World War II, and his designs shook the fashion world. Fabric had been rationed in France and other countries during the war, and extravagance was shunned. At his first fashion show in 1947, Dior unveiled his Bar Suit, the ensemble of a tightly cinched jacket in ivory shantung paired with an intricately pleated full wool skirt made from nearly 13 yards of fabric, not including the tulle petticoats. It was a shock of design because its form-fitting shape abandoned the styles of the two previous decades, and the indulgent fabrics were a surprise after the scarcity of the war years. The press dubbed Dior’s style “The New Look,” launching his career and changing the course of fashion in France and around the world.
The iconic Bar suit is one of the many highlights of the Dior exhibit curated by Florence Müller, DAM’s Avenir Foundation curator of Textile Art and Fashion. It’s interesting to compare the Bar suit to a 2009 mohair coat in a similar silhouette from designer John Galliano, the fourth artistic director of the house of Dior. But such comparisons exist throughout Dior’s history after his death in 1957. The designers who followed Dior—Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and currently Maria Grazia Chiuri—took inspiration from the legendary designer, but they have also added their own personal aesthetic. Müller’s choice of fashion pieces and…
accessories illustrates this beautifully. As the exhibit’s name suggests, the show emphasizes the global scope of Christian Dior, who was a pioneer in how he expanded his signature label around the world. He opened his first U.S. boutique in New York in 1948, and in the years following, he did an extensive visit to the U.S., held fashion shows abroad and attracted an international clientele, including the U.K.’s Princess Margaret and Hollywood’s Marlene Dietrich, whom he outfitted for the 1950 Alfred Hitchcock film, “Stage Fright.” The house of Dior had a major retrospective celebrating its 70th anniversary in Paris in 2017, co-curated by Müller, but the Denver show is completely different.
“The Denver Art Museum’s presentation is entirely new, a dramatic and modern departure from the Paris show,” Müller explains. “About two-thirds of the objects that will be on view in Denver were not on view in Paris.”Architect Shohei Shigematsu, a partner in Rem Koolhaas’ firm, Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), designed the exhibit. His modern approach “plays off the architecturally structured Dior dresses, as Christian Dior had the ambition of being an architect when he was a teenager, prior to becoming a renowned fashion designer,” Müller notes. Shigematsu enjoyed critical acclaim for his design of the 2015 exhibitManus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“The Denver Art Museum is the ideal venue for Dior: From Paris to the World, as theDAM has an ambitious program of impressive art exhibitions, and fashion is a major art form,” says Müller. “We previously showcased two world-exclusive fashion exhibitions, including an Yves Saint Laurent retrospective in 2012, and a Cartier exhibition in 2014. With Dior, we are continuing this series of major fashion exhibitions, which pay homage to the world’s most brilliant artistic fashion designers.”