Deus, Dieu, Dior: how to conjugate fashion at the ROM
by Sebastiano Bazzichetto
TORONTO – Wednesday morning, grey outside, some faltering snowflakes.
To lighten such a dull morning, nothing can be better than going to the press preview of one of the most exciting exhibitions housed within the walls of the ROM.
With the gracious support of Holt Renfrew, the Royal Ontario Museum is ready to open its archives and textile collection to the public to showcase some pieces by the internationally renowned maison de haute couture founded by monsieur Christian Dior seventy years ago.
The room where the press conference is held feels Canadianly fancy, garnished with white and pale-pink flowers, silver tiffany chairs and black-and-white videos projected on the wall, showing monsieur Dior sketching and working in his atelier. A jewellery sparkle here, a chiffon morning skirt rubs shoulders with a fur scarf there amidst the tinkle of coffee cups and china plates brimming with delicious French pastries (who ever said that a press conference cannot be smart?).
Born in 1905 in the Normandy little town of Granville, Christian Dior rose, worked and shone like a shooting star, dying at the early age of 52 in 1957. From 1947 until his death, in merely ten years, he was able to devise some of most iconic silhouettes for ladies, to found a major fashion house, creating the utmost revolutionary look of the post-war era, the famously known “New Look”. After two decades of deprivation and poverty, during which women earned their freedom and independency in society as primary agents in the economy of their distressed countries, monsieur Dior gave them back their dreams and conceived a new way to be feminine, sophisticated, ornate and attractive again, a way destined to become a (neo)classic. He brushed up the late Romantic fashion lines and reintroduced crinolines, corsets, wasp-like bodices, winning reluctant dressmakers to use once again measureless yards of (precious) fabric with pleasure, for the sake of beauty. Peculiar heir to André Breton’s principle of “l’art pour l’art” (art for art’s sake) – now meant as beauty for beauty’s sake – Christian Dior lengthened skirt hems, tossed away the rigidity of plain factory and hospital clothes, cinched women’s waist to create a sensual eight-shape for their body.
The ROM exhibition Christian Dior focusses on the foundational years of Dior’s signature haute couture style, and offers the visitor a well-orchestrated selection of garments (38), enhanced by accessories, such as jewellery, hats, gloves, cologne bottles and shoes (from the Bata Shoe Museum). The exhibition cleverly displays clothes in a thematic arrangement, according to the fancy liturgy of a fashionable woman’s day: afternoon ensembles, early evening attires and evening formal gowns (for theatre, stately dinners, balls and much more). Dr. Alexandra Palmer, the exhibition’s curator, together with her wonderful team, has been able to bring to life an original parade to celebrate the House od Dior’s 70th anniversary and, at the same time, Canadian allure. Many of the pieces on display have been in the ROM’s permanent collection of Textiles and Fashions for many decades, purchased and worn by Canadian ladies from Montreal and Toronto. Among 100 objects on view in the Patricia Harris Gallery of Textile and Costumes, stands out a valuable array of embroidery samples by Rébé, Ginisty and Maison Hurel, which still works for Dior today.
If it is true that the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting, in the years following World War II, Christian Dior was able to tenderly subdue women, giving them the power of a new look synonym for eternal elegance.
[Christian Dior runs through March 18, 2018]
[An insightful short documentary Christian Dior: the Man behind the Myth can be found here]