‘It’s quite a revolution, Christian! Your dresses have such a new look!’ Dior’s first presentation, against the backdrop of a Paris still reeling from wartime austerity, was certainly that. By his own admission, Dior designed for ‘flower women’ – soft, elegant and extravagant. Using up to twenty yards of luxurious material for his designs, the ‘New Look’, as it came to be known, was a revolution in aesthetics and a welcome departure from functionality.
It would, of course, be impossible to fully encapsulate the influence of Dior’s work without displaying hundreds of garments and accessories. This exhibition keeps it simple, with nine outfits on display alongside runway footage, sketches and promotional materials. It seeks to cover the primary aesthetics of Dior’s work, which largely focus on an appreciation of the female form and a celebration of classical femininity.
Dresses on display include a 1956 floral silk taffeta cocktail dress from the Aimant line, featuring Dior’s trademark emphasised waistline and full skirt, and a 1950s tartan silk day dress with long sleeves from Verticale. These demonstrate the two sides of Dior’s aesthetic. Not only did he design dresses suitable for socialites, but he also created more practical garments – albeit for those who could afford it. Still, the combination of luxury materials and comfortable, practical dresses offered something to women beyond the solely decorative, and allowed them to pursue their interests uninhibited by restrictive garments.
The centerpiece of the collection, undoubtedly, is a bodice and skirt combination from 1947 and 1949 respectively. Featuring a plunging cabaret neckline and luxe silk tailoring, the dress epitomises the optimism and opulence of post-war tailoring, reveling in its own sense of luxury and presentation. The ability to switch between a full skirt and a more tailored option also allowed the wearer a degree of individuality and freedom.
Christian Dior opened his eponymous label in 1946 and remained as head designer until his death in 1957, after which a young Yves Saint-Laurent took over. The influence of both designers over fashion, through Paris and beyond, is immeasurable. Garments from lines including Corelle, Tulipe, Trompe l’Oleil and Aimant are on show, beautifully and accessibly presented.
‘Christian Dior: Designer in Focus’ is running at Manchester Gallery of Costume until January 12th 2014.