NGV's the House of Dior

The exceptional fashion exhibition, The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture, is well worth seeing, particularly for those who ever doubted fashion is art.

Following are some notes I took listening to a talk by Katie Somerville, senior curator at NGV (National Gallery of Victoria).

Christian Dior was born in 1905 in Granville, a seaside holiday town. He loved music, theatre, dance and especially architecture, which is evident in his designs – Dior was very interested in the tailoring and sculptural aspects of fashion though he became known for his ball gowns.

He began his fashion career with sketching and eventually asked textile industrialist, Marcelle Busac, for financial support to open his own fashion house in 1946. A brilliant investment – Busac made over 900% on his investment! The Dior collections were shown in the very same house he established with Busac’s backing from 1947 until the early 1980s.

The most famous Dior silhouette is undoubtedly the Bar suite, which was based on two distinct silhouettes: the skirt represents an upside down flower and the overall silhouette is a figure eight. Surprisingly, it was not the most popular design commercially but it did capture the press’s imagination and attention.

The design signalled optimism and leaving behind the horrors of the war. However, women didn’t appreciate his suggestion they return to less functional fashion, being reluctant to surrender their newly discovered freedoms gained during the war years when they had assumed more active roles in the community.

Christian Dior was inherently a businessman, initiating the concept of top to toe dressing including hosiery and perfume, which he began to sell. Dior’s sister Catherine worked at the major wholesale flower market in Paris, and his Miss Dior perfume was named for her.

Each piece in his 150-200 piece collection had a name and savvily, he often used international city names for his pieces, thereby increasing his global appeal.

There was a connection between the House of Dior and Australia: in July 1947 his pieces were shown here first, at David Jones. Again, in 1957 just before he died, Dior presented a collection here in Australia bringing his own French mannequins (models) with him.

“The Dior exhibition is not a chronology but highlights some key themes”, said Katie Somerville. Themes throughout the exhibition include:

  • Polka dots – he loved them
  • Extraordinary coat silhouettes
  • Red – being a favourite colour of Christian Dior’s – as was grey*
  • The line – each collection had one or two key lines / silhouettes
  • The flower – Dior loved gardening
  • Eighteenth century – Dior loved history of all types and drew upon many elements including Belle Époque

If you attended the exhibition, you may have noticed there are single (not pairs of) shoes on display. This is because there is a simultaneous exhibition on in Paris so the curators ingeniously agreed to split the pairs between them.

* Christian Dior famously said that grey is the most flattering hair colour for women. (Katie Somerville did not say this)