I think I first became aware that there was an extreme style of garment making when I read Paul Gallico’s Flowers for Mrs Harris as a young teenager. I knew rich people had very fancy clothes but had no idea of the artistry and technical skill behind these custom made garments made by hand from start to finish.
The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture at NGV International gives a fantastic overview of the designs from this notable house. Unfortunately only one small area is given over to the atelier which I think is the most interesting aspect. I have seen quite a few documentaries and these will have to be enough to satisfy my curiosity.
Bar, afternoon ensemble 1947 designed, 1987 made, silk shantung wool.
The eighteenth century, an era of great interest to Dior
Maria Grazia Chiudi, seventh designer January 2017 collection
The exhibition is huge, and very popular. Some visitors even dress up for the occasion. As expected it is wonderfully staged, with salons and catwalks with video backdrops. I was most interested in the designs of Dior himself and the embroidery and other embellishments. Garments are organised by design themes rather than chronologically but of course it begins with the ‘New Look’. The Bar Suit was the most discussed and photographed work from Dior’s debut collection in 1947.
Chimène, gala dress 1952
Toile for Look 1 Spring Summer 2015 Raf Simons designer
This amazing dress was almost impossible to photograph being in a dark area and behind glass. It is described as layers of plush black velvet with a bodice of heavy wool lozenges and dozens of handmade tassels. Those lozenges look like EPP with a textual stripe in the fabric going in all directions on the bodice and then making a net hanging over the skirt. I can imagine it having quite a sway when moving down the catwalk.
The toile is a Raf Simons design obviously paying homage to early Dior work. The toile, a prototype of the finished garment in unbleached cotton, is an essential part of the couture process. It left the atelier as the very essence of a design, showing only line, fabric bias, principal seams, balance and volume, and returned cross-examined and corrected, marked up by the designer for further adjustments.
Almée, short evening dress 1955
Embroidery on silk organza
Village party, evening dress 1955
Two silk organza dresses to satisfy any little girl’s dreams of a party frock in the 1950s.
Chérie, dress, silk, 1947
Fanny, ball gown, silk, nylon, metal 1953-54
Look 11, coat John Galliano 2003
pleats held in place by visible hand stitches
silk (satin crepe), lame
Dior hit Paris in 1947 with an extravagant use of fabric. The skirt alone of this stunning deep blue taffeta dress uses 23 metres of silk. Displayed behind this is the pleated look reimagined by Raf Simons in 2015 in silk organza and tulle and colour.
The celestial blue ball gown of 1953 has swathes of taffeta draped in cloud like puffs. John Galliano took the idea of volume to new extremes in 2003 in this coat inspired by the kimono.
Look 67, evening dress, Maria Grazia Chiuri 2017 Tokyo
Cherry blossoms celebrating the connection between Dior and Japan
Recently designers have embraced the art of embroidery and embellishment again, but using non traditional materials. This beautiful dress is covered in split raffia stitching and has trails of branches with silk cherry blossom.
Broussaille, evening dress, Maria Grazia Chiuri 2017
tulle, rafia, silk (embroidery)
Another design by Maria Grazia Chiuri the current designer for The House of Dior. The dress features three-dimensional raffia and skill thread embroidery.
Look 66 evening coat, Maria Grazia Chiuri, 2017
Her evening coat from the same collection has densely embroidered panels of flowers and branches.
Look 44 dress, Raf Simons, 2014
silk (organza), glass (beads), acrylic
silk (chiffon) tulle
Look 47, evening dress, Raf Simons 2012
Two Raf Simons designs appear at first to be quite simple. The sheath dress however is covered in tassels made from pressed droplets of paint and attached in strands to the surface of the fabric. The second dress required really close inspection to understand how the graduated colour was achieved. Hundreds of chiffon petals have been attached to the surface, looking much like a pointillist painting.
Adriatic, dance dress 1956
Sometimes just a gorgeous fabric is needed such as this one successfully evoking the deep sparkling waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
Mexico, evening gown, silk (tulle, velvet) gold (thread) 1951
The epitome of Dior design, highlighting the skills of the atelier with the layers of tulle and the graduated embroidered crescent moons. This is haute couture.