As the opulence of the fall/winter couture season swirls around Paris in real time, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs is celebrating Dior’s 70th anniversary with a lavish exhibition. Over 300 gowns, designed between 1947 and the present day, are juxtaposed against fashion photographs, original sketches, loaned artwork, and key accessories across a richly themed layout.
The show opens with a presentation of Christian Dior’s life, running through his comfortable childhood in Normandy and his training as a fashion illustrator for Claude Saint-Cyr in the late 1930s and the illustrious Lucien Lelong in the 1940s. When he launched his own couture label in February 1947, Dior revamped the female silhouette with his “New Look” spring/summer collection — so dubbed after an offhand compliment by Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Carmel Snow.
The museum put on its party hat for other Dior designers as well. The show traces the label’s enduring nature across the six artistic directors who carried on the couturier’s legacy after his sudden death in 1957, and indeed built up the label’s influence through their respective eras. This lineage is carefully examined in the exhibition, unspooling from the risqué choices of 21-year-old Yves Saint Laurent, followed by Marc Bohan’s more straitlaced sense of classicism, to the architectural stravaganza of Gianfranco Ferré, to the hallucinatory flamboyance of “enfant terrible” John Galliano, to the pointed anti-drama of Raf Simons and, most recently, into the freshly ordained hands of Maria Grazia Chiuri.
Before turning to fashion, Dior ran a gallery (1928–1934) in partnership with friends; he frequented then-up-and-coming artists including Giacometti, Dalí, and Jean Cocteau. Marc Chagall signed one of Dior’s guest books (“Dior, grand artiste”), and the expressionist Bernard Buffet painted his portrait in 1954 (which Dior hung in his apartment). The designer loved antiques and objets d’art, and drew on these as inspiration for the décor of his private residences and his couture designs.
The exhibition concludes in a sumptuous high-ceilinged ballroom setting, with exquisite evening gowns creating a fever dream of petaled and draped and cinched silhouettes in tulle, satin, paillettes, silk, faille, beading, Swarovski crystals. (The sequin-embroidered 1949 Haute Couture Junon gown, as its centerpiece, leaves one positively agog.) A mirrored back wall reflects not only the twinkling ensembles, but the maison’s multifaceted, prismatic nature.
“Christian Dior, Couturier du Rêve” on view July 5, 2017–January 7, 2018 at 107 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris.