House of Dior gets display in Denver

Exhibit covers more than seven decades of high fashion history

Posted 11/27/18

Fashion fans need wait no longer for the Denver Art Museum’s latest showcase of high fashion and its place in the art world. “Dior: From Paris to the World” opened Nov. 19 and runs through …

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House of Dior gets display in Denver

Exhibit covers more than seven decades of high fashion history


Fashion fans need wait no longer for the Denver Art Museum’s latest showcase of high fashion and its place in the art world. “Dior: From Paris to the World” opened Nov. 19 and runs through March 17.

The exhibit marks the first major retrospective of the House of Dior in the United States, meaning it highlights nearly all 70 years of the brand’s existence. It’s not a traveling show and was curated especially for the Denver Art Museum, featuring some pieces rarely seen outside Europe.

“This is really an exciting and amazing moment,” Christoph Heinrich, the Frederick and Jan Mayer director of the Denver Art Museum, said three days ahead of the exhibit’s grand opening.

The exhibit originally ended in early March, but in January the museum announced that it had been extended for another two weeks.

The project took more than two years to plan and bring to fruition, project leads said. Dressing the mannequins alone took a team of 12 people one month to complete. Shaping one dress to a mannequin could take a full day, and there are more than 200 dresses in total.

That’s not counting the other accessories, sketches, photographs and artworks (such as Renoir’s and Monet’s) featured in the exhibit. Overall, there are more than 500 objects from throughout Dior’s history in the exhibit.

“It was a very important and ambitious project,” said Florence Müller, the Avenir Foundation Curator of Textile Art and Fashion for the museum, who curated the show.

Müller, a fashion and art historian, has worked on 15 exhibits about Dior in her career but said this one was “shaped for Denver.” Half of the 15 rooms follow a chronological timeline of the fashion house’s seven creative directors. The other half are thematic.

Each designer to follow Christian Dior — Yves-Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and the present director Maria Grazia Chiuri — brought their own vision to the brand while still paying homage to the founder, Müller said.

Building a legacy

Christian Dior founded the fashion house at age 42, approximately 10 years before his death. Leading up to the venture, he’d taken up fashion illustration as a way to support himself during the Great Depression, leaving behind a career running art galleries.

In 1946 he received the financial backing necessary to open a couture house, and in 1947, Dior the label was born from a townhome at 30 Avenue Montaigne in Paris. The company still operates from this location.

Dior rose on the promise of a “New Look,” also the name of its first collection.

The collection offered women feminine, glamorous styles craved by many in the postwar era and which starkly contrasted with the masculine shapes worn during World War II.

The first room of the exhibit begins here. Two rows of nearly all-black ensembles from the New Look collection flank the walkway that leads visitors from the exhibit entrance back through time. One line features full skirts and the other narrow silhouettes.

Some criticized this first collection, pegging it as wasteful luxury, according to the Denver Art Museum, while others took offense to the sensual designs. Many New Look pieces featured emphasized busts, accentuated hips and slim waists.

Still, the house created a lasting legacy and has attracted some of the most famous women in history to its doors, hence the exhibit room dubbed “Ladies in Dior.”

Grace Kelly wore Dior for her engagement announcement, Marilyn Monroe wore Dior in her last photo shoot and Elizabeth Taylor was among actresses who wore the fashion house’s designs.

Other current names like Charlize Theron, Jennifer Lawrence, Natalie Portman and Rihanna are but some of the famous women to don Dior pieces today. Dresses worn by each can be found at the exhibit.

More recently, Michelle Obama wore an all-Dior outfit on the cover of Elle magazine’s December issue, and model Karlie Kloss wore a custom Dior dress for her October wedding to Joshua Kushner.

Going global

Dior forged a global reach — the result of strategic business moves that earned Christian Dior a reputation for pioneering key aspects of the fashion industry.

“This house was always on the top of the game of the fashion world,” Müller said.

He championed offering women with everything they would need to complete an outfit in one boutique. From lip colors to shoes and jewelry, the exhibit outlines this approach to fashion in a showroom called “The Total Look.”

Dior also took his fashion house global by licensing other companies to manufacture products under Dior’s control and establishing locations in countries including the United States, Mexico, Chile and ultimately on five continents.

Christian Dior and his time around the world can be seen and felt in designs throughout the fashion house’s history. This largely inspired the exhibit’s finale — a large room with stair-like platforms that stack internationally influenced designs high above the floor.

The exhibit was designed by architecture firm OMA New York and led by Shohei Shigematsu, partner and director of OMA New York.

The team drew inspiration from Christian Dior’s life and from the Denver Art Museum’s Hamilton Building, merging the two worlds of classical Paris and contemporary Denver. Walkways mimic paths from Christian Dior’s private home and garden, and backdrops are built of raw aluminum, mirroring the Denver Art Museum’s modern exterior.

“I think it gives a very interesting environment, an immersive environment,” Shigematsu said.

Müller said it’s difficult to pick a favorite or most significant piece featured in the exhibit but praised a taffeta evening ensemble worn by Rihanna in 2017 and designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri. Most significant may be the New Look collection, she said, calling it “the manifesto” of Dior.

Heinrich said the museum hopes their exhibit draws people to Denver and showcases the artform of haute couture. On Nov. 16 Müller said she was eager for people to see the show but was sad to think about their time working on it coming to a close.

“The opening of the exhibit is almost,” she said, “the end of the adventure.”

Dior, Denver Art Museum, Yves-Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferre, John Galliano, Maria Grazia Chiuri


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