More than a pretty dress maker, the Dior name is a staple of elegance, innovation and artistry that I, like many others, admire. As such, I am thrilled that the McCord Museum will be hosting the Christian Dior exhibit from September 25, 2020, to January 3, 2021. The exhibit features the work of the famed haute couture house from its inception in 1947 to the designer’s death in 1957.
In the Footsteps of Christian Dior
First of all, the exhibit is divided into seven sections. More specifically, you will be taken through each step of the couture creation process “from the sketch to the final dress”. That is to say, the dresses donated to the Royal Ontario and McCord Museums by the women who wore them are accompanied by sketches, samples, photos and notes from the Dior archives.
As you walk in, you are introduced to the House of Christian Dior, established in Paris in 1947. To clarify, this is where you learn about the couture house’s eponymous designer, his origins and his growth into a true artiste and businessman.
The following section presents the world of ateliers, or workrooms. On one hand, there was the atelier flou for dressmaking where delicate materials like silk were transformed through techniques like draping. On the other hand, there was the atelier tailleur for tailoring where heavier materials like wool were shaped.
Next, there are three sections displaying the outfits Dior ateliers produced for every moment of the modern woman’s day.
To begin, daytime outfits consisted of suits and dresses mostly made in the atelier tailleur. Moreover, Dior designed feminine features that were not constricting “for the woman on the move.”
Late afternoon into the evening
Secondly, Dior introduced the “cocktail dress” in various lengths as well as the concept of over-skirts that could also be worn as capes.
Finally, evening wear included extravagant dresses for special events. Dior got his inspiration from historical French styles. For example, he loved the Second Empire style (1852-1870) of off the shoulder dresses and big crinolines which can be observed in Dior’s Delphine dress below.
Christian Dior revived the French artisan industry after WWII. In fact, the designer collaborated with hundreds of specialized artisans to make each of his pieces. Therefore, the sixth section of the exhibit is dedicated to these artisans of varying expertise from textiles to ribbons and to embroidery to name only a few.
Accessories & Co.
The final accessories, shoes and perfume section is a clear indicator of Dior’s business savvy. A true marketer, he was the first to present an haute couture collection with its corresponding accessories which were sold in their stores and by international retailers. As such, this is one of the reasons that after only 10 years on the market, the House of Christian Dior represented 5% of ALL French exports!
Christian Dior, Visionary
Despite his family’s hopes that he would become a diplomat, Dior was an artist at heart. After finishing his Political studies, he became a partner in two art galleries before learning how to sketch and selling his designs all around Paris. Then, only two years after the end of the Second World War, he established his own couture house with the help of financial backers who believed in his great talent.
The New Look
Until then, women’s fashion meant a conservative and functional masculine style with austere fabrics. When his first collection came out in 1947, Dior changed the game and the “New Look” was born. In contrast to wartime fashion, the New Look displayed ultra feminine silhouettes by accentuating the bosom and waist. On top of that, Dior would use a lot more fabric than necessary to create longer skirts that “moved fluidly when walking and pooled luxuriously when sitting” – the refreshed look of peacetime fashion.
Above all, Dior didn’t believe fashion only belonged to the rich elite. To him, any woman could be a fashionista. All she needed was “simplicity, good taste and grooming” which could be attained by women of every class.
What’s in a name?
It is my belief that the most exquisite things lie in the details. Therefore, one of my favorite things about the Dior pieces in this exhibit was their name. The designer gave each dress a name with “a romantic Parisian and Proustian aura” with the purpose of making the wearer dream!
For example, Paimpolaise (navy and white striped dress below, third from the left) means woman from Paimpol, which is a town on the coast of Brittany known for “its traditional dress, food and folklore”. Fun fact: Montrealer Ann Ruth Walker Levitt wore this actual dress in 1950 at an evening party hosted by renown Montreal philanthropist Saidye Bronfman.
Inspired by Christian Dior
Furthermore, to mark this iconic exhibit, the McCord invited Montreal designer and haute couture expert Helmer Joseph to recreate a few Dior designs from the original 1950s patterns found in the museum archive. In addition, the recreated dresses are also a part of the exhibit!
In conclusion, even as Montreal faces higher COVID-19 restrictions this month, rest assured that the Christian Dior exhibit will be waiting for you with open arms until the new year, and boy is it worth it! So, whether you are a fashion connoisseur or a newbie, I think you will be enchanted by the world of Dior. For more information and tickets, you can head over here.
On a last note, as the McCord Museum is a premium venue for fashion exhibits, I invite you to check out our article on their incredible homage to Balenciaga!
JMSB alumna with a business mind and a creative heart. Prefers any environment where she can combine the two. World traveler who is at her happiest in airports/train stations/bus stands because that usually means she is on her way to explore a fascinating new destination. Curious about the process and history of creators such as Gaudí, Dalí, and Chanel to name just a few. Montrealer who loves discovering art and stories that set the soul on fire, making them all the more exciting to share!