DIOR: COUTURIER DU RÊVE

So I live in Paris now.

Oh, how unreal that statement still feels. I am not quite sure that I will ever be able to say those words without feeling a certain thrill. I will be spending the next two years studying towards a masters degree in fashion studies from Parsons The New School. This has already opened up so many opportunities to be immersed in the world of art, fashion, history and culture in a city layered with centuries of it. I plan on documenting all my (even mildly) interesting adventures here, so stay tuned.

First up, I was able to experience the transcendent Dior retrospective at the Museé Des Arts Decoratifs, which is housed in the same building as the master of all museums, the Louvre. The 3 000 square meter dreamscape of couture was installed in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the House of Dior.

The exhibition is divided into two parts, the first showcasing Christian Dior himself; his story, his passions, his inspirations, his collections and most importantly, his creations. Here fans can explore anecdotes about his early life, such as his time as a gallery owner, his love for gardening inspired by his mother’s garden at Villa des Rhumbs in Granville (now the Christian Dior museum), his ventures into the world of fragrance and his global travels and exotic objects d’art. The section features glorious fashion photographs, advertising films, art pieces from Picasso and Dalí and a rainbow passage brimming with perfume bottles, clothing, jewellery and accessories arranged according to colour. Finally, the section also walks fans through Dior’s breakthrough 1947 collection that featured the now-iconic, post-war “New Look” silhouette that gave new shape to femininity after the masculine frames that dominated the war era. The strong curves and accentuated waistlines had a definite hand in putting Paris back on the fashion throne after the second world war. Viewing this iconic collection through a contemporary lens, perhaps it is necessary to wonder whether the “New Look” sent female power back a few steps after the liberation of women from the household during the war.

The second part of the exhibition traverses the museum to a set reminiscent of 30 Avenue Montaigne, Dior’s most iconic address in the centre of Paris. Here, Dior’s legacy comes to life through the varied interpretation of its prominent creative directors, each influenced by their own era, vision and zeitgesit, whilst still capturing the distinctive Dior spirit. Each of Monsieur Dior’s successors are explored in detail, from Yves Saint Laurent’s controversial, yet legendary reign, to Marc Bohan’s rational era, to the romance of Gianfranco Ferré, the British punk twist brought by John Galliano, Raf Simons’ minimalist approach and, most recently, the timely appointment of the first female creative director at the French couture house. Maria Grazi Churi has quickly established Dior as one of the leading brands advocating female empowerment, and has had a major hand in bringing about the current feminist trend and opening up the discussion on what feminism means today. This is quite interesting when contrasted against Dior’s own era and view on femininity.

Further along, fans encounter themed rooms, with the most impressive being the all-white floor to ceiling gallery presenting a vast amount of garment mock-ups from the Dior atelier, showing the work behind the illustrious creations. There is also the enchanting room of the stars, which houses the red-carpet gowns worn by Hollywood’s brightest. Mood music and delightful starry lighting creates a dreamy setting of tangible fantasy. A plaque on the wall explains the coincidentally poetic meaning of Dior’s name: “Dieu” meaning god, and “or” meaning gold in French. Looking around the luminous chamber, it is not difficult to see the designer as a veritable golden deity.

The sheer scale of the lavish exhibition is awe-inspiring. The queues rivalling those of the Louvre next door speak to the fact that this kind of affair resonates with people today. The millennial-minded experience showcases fashion as a cultural phenomenon, focusing on the heritage, craftsmanship and the creative genius of a seminal artist and brand. The beautifully appropriate title, “Couturier Du Réve,” celebrates the quintessentially Parisian dressmaker of dreams, in his city of dreams. Thank you Paris, for loving fashion as much as I do.

Words: Yolanda Senekal

Photographs, Layout, Graphics: Yolanda Senekal

*The exhibition is on until 7 January 2018.