Christian Dior had one great ambition: to make women “not only more beautiful, but also happier”.
The Paris-based fashion designer launched his haute couture line in 1947, and his sleek, cinched-waist jackets and extravagant skirts caused a stir after the grim austerity of WWII.
“The world is wonderfully full of beautiful women whose shapes and tastes offer an inexhaustible diversity”, explains the couturier in his autobiography of 1956, “Dior by Dior”. “My collection must respond to each of them individually.”
At first glance, the idea that a couture designer can satisfy everyone in the world is ludicrous. (Taste aside, a custom dress costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.) Yet a new exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum shows that Dior truly believed in it.
“Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams”, at the Brooklyn Museum until February 20, explores more than 70 years within the fashion brand. (Dior died in 1957, and the brand has since had six designers, including Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano, and Maria Grazia Chiuri, who is currently in charge.) The show features over 200 garments – including dresses worn by Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Princess Diana – plus photos, designs, accessories and other artifacts that show the seductive power of this rarefied fashion house.
“At the creation of Christian Dior [brand, he] talked about making clothes for a diversity of women, ”Matthew Yokobosky of the Brooklyn Museum, who hosted the exhibit with historian Florence Müller, told The Post. He made women feel special, loved – and not just through his clothes. In each of his salons, he had models of different skin tones and body types. So when a client visited her, she could see the clothes of a woman who looked like her. He allowed you to “visualize yourself in his clothes,” Yokobosky added.
Dior debuted in February 1947, and American fashion editors faded away. Carmel Snow of Harper’s Bazaar introduced her wasp-waist, full-skirted figure as “the new look” after years of cropped hems due to shortages of fabrics and war-inspired military-style jackets. Young American photographers, such as Richard Avedon and Gordon Parks, photographed her lavish clothes on the streets, giving them an appealing casual glamor.
By the time he made his first trip to the United States later that fall, Dior was a star.
“When he got into a taxi, the driver would recognize him and say, ‘Do the hemlines of the skirts go up or down? Yokobosky said. “Even men were having these conversations with him.”
Not everyone has embraced the French: a group of women, calling themselves the “Little Under the Knee Club,” organized their picket line upon arrival in Chicago with signs stating “Mr. Dior, we abhor hemlines. on the ground.
Dior, however, conquered the country, in part thanks to a host of Hollywood fans, such as Grace Kelly and Marlene Dietrich. The feeling was mutual. Amazed by the speed and efficiency of the makers of Seventh Avenue, he opened Christian Dior-New York, to provide cheaper and less fussy versions of his couture confections, seen in the exhibition.
The show shows how his successors updated Dior’s legacy after his death. Saint Laurent introduced leather jackets in the late 1950s; Gianfranco Ferré brought postmodern glitz in the 80s. Galliano tapped into the founder’s love for whimsy and romance in the late 90s and early 2000s, while Chiuri gave the brand a twist more feminist. What has remained of Dior’s initial vision, and what shines most in this dazzling exhibition, is this ability to make a woman dream of a more exquisite, more fabulous, more beautiful life – just through the fashion.
“It’s putting femininity on a pedestal,” said Müller of the brand’s enduring appeal. “To be proud to be a woman and to be proud of every aspect of her. It’s Dior.