Arts / Museums

Your Sneak Peek of the Blockbuster Fashion Exhibit Headed to Dallas

Behind the Curtain With Dior in Denver

BY // 01.31.19
photography Courtesy Denver Art Museum

DENVER — Exploring the rooms of Dior: From Paris to the World at the Denver Art Museum feels like I’ve been given a privileged peek into Christian Dior’s atelier. I can almost hear couturier hands combing through swaths of plush fabrics, sharp pencils drafting sketches for the next season, chatter about dressing Marlene Dietrich and Josephine Baker. It is pure magic.

Mere inches from where I stand are a 1947 wool afternoon dress and pleated skirt, part of Christian Dior’s Corolle line from his debut collection; a satin dress worn by Lee Radziwill; Elizabeth Taylor’s chiffon and embroidered faille evening gown from 1961; that slinky sheath dinner dress Nicole Kidman wore to the 1997 Academy Awards; the unforgettably exquisite brocaded silk satin evening gown Princess Grace of Monaco donned in 1957.

For the exhibit, couture is displayed chronologically, showcasing the work of Dior and the six artistic directors who succeeded him. There’s also incredible archival material: sketches and fabric swatches by Dior and his protégé, Yves Saint Laurent; correspondence from the house of Dior to Marilyn Monroe; a 1958 program from Dior’s Paris Winter Collection shown at Blenheim Palace in the presence of H.R.H. Princess Margaret.

Elizabeth Taylor in Marc Bohan for Christian Dior
Elizabeth Taylor in Marc Bohan for Christian Dior

It feels otherworldly to be in the presence of such extraordinary fashion history — a history that begins with Dior’s feminine post-war designs and carries through the decades with unprecedented global influence.

Dior: From Paris to the World, a 70-year retrospective of the iconic house of Dior, made its United States debut this past November at the DAM. Its next — and final — stop, is the Dallas Museum of Art, where it will run May 19 through September 1.

Ahead of the exhibit’s Dallas opening, its curator Florence Müller shares the significance of a few of her favorite Dior ensembles, and her experience conceptualizing such an extensive exhibition.

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What was it like to curate Dior: From Paris to the World? The amount of couture and accessories is so impressive.
The process of curating an exhibit is most comparable to writing a screenplay. I drafted the content of the narrative I was interested in telling and reworked it until it was perfect.

Focusing on the inspirations and creative processes was especially important to me, so that visitors could rediscover what artistic directors such as Marc Bohan and Gianfranco Ferré contributed to the house’s history.

I also thought it was important to show additional archival materials such as accessories, in tandem with the dresses. A good example of this is a crown that John Galliano had reproduced by Stephen Jones (Dior’s official milliner and milliner to the stars) of the Crown of England worn by Queen Elizabeth, while the [corresponding] dress is homage to the Empress of Austria, “Sisi.”

Christian Dior with his models, circa 1955

What are the most memorable Dior looks from each designer?
The 1949 Miss Dior dress was named after Christian Dior’s sister Catherine and features flower petals reminiscent of the garden at their family home.

Yves Saint Laurent’s haute couture Fall/Winter look from 1960 titled Chicago features a black leather jacket with mink trim and was the first creation in black leather for the couture world.

In 1986, Marc Bohan created an evening gown inspired by artist Jackson Pollock — a speckled black-and-white dress that resembles artworks from Pollock’s unique drip paintings.

A dress Gianfranco Ferré created in 1992 titled Palladio pays homage to his training as an architect.

A pink John Galliano dress from the Fall/Winter 2009 haute couture collection is intentionally meant to look unfinished to demonstrate how difficult it is to shape and drape a dress.

Raf Simons took inspiration from artist Sterling Ruby for his 2012 haute couture Fall/Winter collection, making dresses look as if they mimicked a blurred and painted effect.

In 2017, Maria Grazia Chiuri designed a white taffeta evening gown ensemble for Rihanna to wear to the Cannes Film Festival. It’s memorable because Rihanna’s style is seen as strong and cutting-edge, but she wore the dress with Hollywood glamour and sophistication.

"Dior: From Paris to the World" features 150 couture dresses, including those worn by Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Elizabeth Taylor, and Zoe Kravitz. (Photo by James Florio)
“Dior: From Paris to the World” features 150 couture dresses, including those worn by Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman, Elizabeth Taylor, and Zoe Kravitz. (Photo by James Florio)

Favorite Dior red carpet moment?
A Spring/Summer 2013 silk ballgown worn by Jennifer Lawrence to the 85th Academy Awards.

The shape of the dress is simple, while featuring a new structure and cut that had the effect of elongating the silhouette to present Jennifer in a royal-like manner.

Something about Christian Dior that many people might not know?
A simple and fun tidbit is that he did not grow up as a Parisian. He was born in a little town in Normandy called Granville. He was also quiet, shy, and simple. He loved to stay at home, be in his garden and with good friends.

He also didn’t like to travel because, at the time, traveling primarily took place by sea. Yet he knew he had to make the voyages to create his vision of a global brand.

How are Dior’s successors able to communicate his magic in their collections while still adding their own point of view?
Dior’s successors are each known for creating a sophisticated design heritage that uses Christian Dior’s initial collections as inspiration but have all influenced fashion history in their own ways.

The results are a harmonious visual spectacle with moments of quietness in design, as well as extravagant bursts of color and creativity.

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