By Thomas Wagner.

Rediscovering the magic

The “Christian Dior. Couturier du Rêve” exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris inspired the fashion world and the public in equal measure in 2017. A film now available online retraces the creation of this fascinating show and celebrates the magnificent art of haute couture.

Clack, clack, clack … an evocation of the revolution, coming with a narrow waist and high heels. A woman marches through a large, high-ceilinged and empty room. She is wearing a simple, full skirt in black, accompanied by an eggshell-coloured jacket padded under the waist and conspicuously closed with six buttons. An Asian rice hat adorns her head. She comes into the foreground and poses in a rigid stance, with arms akimbo, her left foot pointing left and her head turned to expose her profile.

Camera flashes suddenly brighten the scene. A photo shoot. In one of the next shots, the model can be seen in the legendary “Bar Jacket” surrounded by four colleagues in dresses of various colours. They are told to “go”, and start moving about. Photography full of gentle, graceful motion is created; the scene for the “Christian Dior. Couturier du Rêve” (Christian Dior. Designer of Dreams) exhibition poster is in the frame. It will be encountered again towards the end of the film on hoardings on the streets of Paris.

Original French version

Extravagant gowns rising out of boxes

Recording over 700,000 visitors, the exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs broke all records and ensured months of long queues in front of the historic museum building in Paris. There is now a film on YouTube allowing viewers to follow how the exhibition for the 70th anniversary of the House of Dior was created. The film by Benjamin Vu reveals a great deal, not least how fashion was made in a company that has always been adept at connecting tradition with the contemporary and helped shape recent fashion history decisively.

Vu invites the viewer to a dialogue with the two curators, Florence Müller and Olivier Gabet, following step by step how the exhibition was conceived and installed at the museum. The viewer accompanies Florence Müller into the perfectly organised Dior archive, leafing through folders full of drawings as well as material and colour patterns. The viewer is there to see extravagant gowns as they are unloaded from common cargo boxes and flawless and sumptuous dresses being selected, restored and draped. The viewer is also given the chance to marvel at how the expert scenography was developed. The film gradually makes it clear just how difficult it is to showcase garments in an appealing way. As Florence Müller explains, arranging them on mannequins is similar to the work of a sculptor and it can almost be futile to want to restore the magic of a dress once worn by a live model.

The film continuously lets the viewer soak in the luxurious materials, admire the cuts and become lost in mountains of tulle, until it gives an impression of how incredibly onerous it is to present fashion in an exhibition.

Accordingly, there is much to be done. Accessories, archive photos, sketches and gowns by Christian Dior and all his successors need to be selected – along with paintings, too. After all, Dior was closely affiliated with the art world, managing an art gallery with two friends from 1928 to 1934 before he released his first collection in 1947. The film continuously lets the viewer soak in the luxurious materials, admire the cuts and become lost in mountains of tulle, until it gives an impression of how incredibly onerous it is to present fashion in an exhibition. One of the difficulties of exhibiting clothing, Müller explains, is that at a fashion show the audience sit and the models walk the runway, while at a museum it is the reverse.

In the footsteps of the New Look

When Christian Dior presented his “Bar Jacket” at the debut of his first collection on 12 February 1947, he revolutionised fashion and changed the Paris streetscape which had been scarred by the Second World War. The preceding years had been marked by loss and frugality, and the designer now drew attention back to the glamour of fashion and shaped a completely new silhouette: the New Look. His “Ligne Corolle” encapsulates the combination of a cinched waist and full, A-line skirt, which consumed a seemingly extravagant amount of material for the late 1940s. The manifesto of the New Look was the small jacket with rounded shoulders and highly cinched waist, visibly padded at the bottom to emphasise the hips. As the curator says, it became the emblem of a fashion that seemed revolutionary even though it considered itself “retro”. The Bar Jacket henceforth stood for vibrancy, freshness and modernity, and became a foundation of Dior’s success. It has resurfaced in many of the house’s collections in the 70 years that have passed since its first presentation.

The manifesto of the New Look was the small jacket with rounded shoulders and highly cinched waist, visibly padded at the bottom to emphasise the hips. It became the emblem of a fashion that seemed revolutionary even though it considered itself “retro”.

Homage to a great art

The film successfully conveys the fascination held by both haute couture and the Dior exhibition. By retracing their creation in their many varied facets, the film pays tribute to the founder of the fashion house while also giving recognition to other designers who have worked for Dior – from Yves Saint Laurent and Gianfranco Ferré to John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. As a result, the film is much more than a documentary. It pays homage in the name of Dior to a great art which, with all its complexity, is like working on a film, as Florence Müller says at the end.


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