Dior @ des Arts Décoratifs, Paris

The fashion exhibitions at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris makes those held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London look like child’s play. Across multiple stunning galleries, the shows display the world’s most beautiful clothing, styles and stories across a programme of la crème de la crème of sartorial exhibitions. The current Christian Dior display, aptly titled Couturier of Dreams has even surpassed the sky-high standards already set by the museum to comprise an exhibition that chronicles not just the life of Christian Dior, but the House’s designs and the designers who have succeeded the master of couture.

2017 marks that 70th anniversary of the birth of the House of Dior in 1947. The new exhibition covers 3,000 square meters across multiple floors and is richly layered with costume, art and photography. The display, which moves both chronologically and by theme, begins with the birth of Christian Dior in 1905 in Granville, northwestern France and tells the viewer about his life before his entry into the world of fashion. Dior began as a fashion illustrator and also ran an art gallery between 1928 to 1934. He had a close relationship with the French avant-garde, with the start of the exhibition not being populated by clothes but early twentieth-century artwork by the likes of Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali, Alberto Giacometti, Man Ray and Yves Tanguy, to name but a few.

Following from last summer’s Barbie exhibition, Des Arts Décoratifs have included a ‘wall of colour’, a series of winding walls and passageways in which miniature versions of ball gowns are displayed alongside, shoes, jewels, hats and other accessories in every colour and shade of the rainbow. It appears that Dior caters for every mood and even looks just as enchanting in the dowdiest of greys as the sparkliest of pinks. A highlight of this section is a hat in the form of a painter’s palette, complete with multicoloured samples of paint and a brush attached as an accent to finish the ensemble.

Also on display are dozens upon dozens of photographs of some of Dior’s most elegant of gowns worn by the world’s most beautiful women. Amongst the portraits are Princess Margaret and Grace Kelly, and there is also a huge wall covered floor to ceiling in magazine covers in which the model on each cover been dressed in Christian Dior designs from over the past seven decades. And, while fashions have of course changed since Dior founded his eponymous label, there are some aspects that have stood the test of time: big skirts, nipped in waists and an overwhelming air of elegance and femininity.

With over 300 haute couture gowns on display, the exhibition is the biggest ever Dior retrospective to date. Many of the pieces on show have come straight form the Dior Heritage Collection and are on display for the first time. Amongst the fashions on display pieces from each of the house’s line of head designers are on show with sections devoted to Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. The designs range from the demure and classic to the exotic and striking, with a portion of dresses on display inspired from different regions and eras of the world. There is even a figure of Anubis dressed in a striking turquoise blue suit, while close-by, some delicate duck-egg blue dresses look as though they could have been worn many centuries ago by Marie Antoinette.

Besides womenswear, Dior also has a line of perfumes and make up. This culminates in the creation of a garden in the centre of the exhibition, where white flowers hang from the ceiling with floral gowns on display alongside bottles of Dior’s sought after fragrances, created by Francois Demachy. In fact, it is worth noting that Christian Dior believed that perfume finished an outfit.

The standout of the exhibition though is the palatial room in which the ‘Dior Ball’ is housed – a stunning array of gowns to be worn at only the most beautiful of occasions. Ball gowns, red carpet dresses, feathers, lace and diamonds sparkle from every angle with pieces worn by Jennifer Lawrence and Charlize Theron twinkling like magic. At the centre of this room golden dresses are displayed on top of one another like a shimmering tower for the viewer to stare speechless at their splendour. Outside from this ballroom, the audience is given another chance to look up at a huge display of toiles – the white early version of a finished garment made in cheap fabric so that the design can be tested and perfected – to ever be displayed. And even in their imperfect, preparatory versions, these garments are still gorgeous.

The exhibition is too beautiful to write about in words and pictures do not do it justice, you simply have to see it before it closes next year.

The exhibition runs until 7 January 2018

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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